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By Jason Michael
GOVERNMENT CRISES DON’T COME WORSE than this without there being an actual failure of the state, and it looks very much as though the United Kingdom is on the verge of a state failure tonight. In less stable countries – and, yes, those do exist (hard to believe as it is) – this is about the point at which we would expect to see a military coup. Thankfully, we are not quite there yet, but things are bad. Things are really bad. Theresa May’s government has proven its absolute inability to govern. Yesterday the Prime Minister reneged on her promise to hold a vote in the Commons on her EU Brexit deal, after losing three consecutive votes in a single day – a catastrophic failure of government that has not happened in the UK in over forty years.
Rather than hold the vote and face the music of her deal being rejected, Theresa May fled on a whirlwind tour of European capitals in a desperate last-minute effort to win a renegotiation; leaving her party at home to pick up the pieces. MPs on the opposition benches were met by a wall of silence; the party in government never showed up for work. They were all “hiding in the toilets” as the gravity of the situation dawned on the rest of the country. Over on the Piers Morgan Show Nigel Farage was excitedly jumping up and down in his chair squealing “Just leave!” as Alastair Campbell slumped in his like a morose half-deflated balloon. It was clear for all to see that Brexit and the whole of the UK were in a state of dumbfounded confusion. The wheels are off the bus.
An outstanding act of spinelessness and moral cowardice! This looks like the end of the road for Theresa May and th… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) December 11, 2018
What’s for sure is that May’s two-day dash to Brussels, Berlin, and Dublin is a waste of precious time and scarce resources. The deal she proposed to the European Union was the fruit of eighteen months of talks and careful negotiations in which the British government learnt that it was not in any position to dictate terms. This was the only deal Europe was ever going to accept, and – as has been confirmed by the vice-president of the EU parliament, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness – Europe is not going to entertain any renegotiation. Britain will be given no concessions. May is faced with getting the Irish backstop through Westminster or watching the UK crash out of the EU without a deal.
This deal will never pass through the Commons, meaning that the UK is – barring a miracle – headed for the hardest of all possible Brexits. Farage and Boris Johnson’s dreams have come true, and now the knives are out for the fall guy – Mrs May. Just now, as I write, the news is breaking that the Palace is in talks with the Cabinet Office. Reports from The Times are saying that the Conservative 1922 Committee has received its 48 letters, which means May’s tenure as PM and leader of the Tory party is about to be put to the vote. Not only this, but both the SNP and Labour are now working towards a vote of no confidence in the government, which, if won, will see yet another general election. There is simply no way of overstating the depth of this crisis.
At this point, this article – something that is now clearly going to be overtaken by events in real time – has to try to take stock of where we are at. Even before May reaches Dublin in the morning it is certain she will be weighing up her options; either she can resign or face a vote of no confidence. The safe money at this point is on her resignation. She has no way of securing better terms from Brussels, and this may be her only way out of an unwinnable mess. The question we are then left with, is who will take her place? Given the length of time it took for the 1922 Committee to get the required 15 per cent support for this vote, it is not likely the Conservatives will go for Johnson or Jacob Rees-Moog. There is no real appetite for a hard-line Brexiteer.
Marky Booth (@markybooth97) December 11, 2018
The most likely outcome of another leadership contest would either be another May – a Remain campaigner in 2016 – or a soft Brexiteer in the rapidly shrinking centre of the party. All of this, however, might prove academic. Labour and the SNP are on course to launch a vote of no confidence in the government, the result of which would see the dissolution of the current parliament and another general election. Both Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, and Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP Westminster group, have made overtures to the Westminster Labour Party; saying they will support Corbyn in a vote of no confidence in the government. When business resumes tomorrow morning, it is likely there will be a race to the Speaker from both sides of the House.
Mrs May’s Prime Ministerial career is on the line, that much is for certain. But Brexit remains as much in the air as ever. Whatever happens now, when the dust settles – and remember the Article 50 clock has not stopped ticking, it still looks likely the deal will flounder, pushing the UK perilously close to a no-deal crash. Yet, with another PM – even with another party in government – there remains the option of calling a stop to Brexit altogether by cancelling Article 50.
Notwithstanding all of this, what is most concerning is what has been exposed in the past forty-eight hours; that no one is in charge, that the government and the whole business of governance in the UK have all effectively collapsed. However much, as a Scottish independentista, I like to see Westminster in trouble, no one wants to see the total failure of government and the state. Bad things happen when the state collapses – ask Colombia or any number of countries that have experienced the horrors of a total failure of the state. This is what we don’t need. What we urgently need – and in short order – is the return of grownup and sensible politics.
Nigel Farage and Alastair Campbell Clash in Heated Brexit Debate