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By Jason Michael
THERESA MAY HAS TONIGHT won a challenge to her leadership of the Conservative Party by 200 votes to 117, maintaining the support of just under two thirds of her parliamentary colleagues. According to the current Tory party rulebook, by facing down this backbench rebellion Mrs May has gained for herself a twelve-month immunity from further challenge; meaning – if there is no successful vote of no confidence from across the floor – she will be the Prime Minister that pilots Brexit to its conclusion, whatever that conclusion might be. But tonight’s victory for the Prime Minister is really little more than a stay of execution. In order to persuade her MPs to back her she had to promise she would not lead the Tories into the next general election.
Speculation at Westminster tends to support the idea that this challenge was a ploy by her supporters to guarantee her place at Number 10, an effort to give the government some semblance of stability in the midst of the greatest political crisis since October 1940. Certainly, ploy or not, this seems to be what has been brought about. Jeremy Corbyn, the only MP in the Commons who can now topple her, is content to sit on his hands until the result of the withdrawal agreement vote – a vote that has now been postponed indefinitely. For the time being, then, May is safe and her shambolic Brexit project remains the only show in town. Nothing has changed.
Jeremy Corbyn has more confidence in Theresa May than 117 of her own Tory MPs do. It’s time Labour acted like an… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
🏴CHRISTOPHER McEleny🏴 (@SNPChris) December 12, 2018
So, we can now reset the clock to the moment the vote was called off and the Prime Minister fled the country in a desperate attempt to garner support from European heads of state. After the embarrassing and highly symbolic episode of being locked in her car, Mrs May met with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, before cancelling a trip to Dublin to meet with the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. What was she hoping to get from the Germans? As a member state of the European Union, Germany does not have the freedom to unilaterally negotiate the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc. The futility of this mission is made all the more glaring when we take into account the fact that on the same day Jean-Claude Junker – President of the European Council, Donald Tusk – Vice President of the Council, and Mairead McGuinness – the Vice President of the European Parliament, each released a statement saying “the withdrawal treaty is a balanced compromise,” and that “there will be no renegotiation.” Before jetting off to Berlin Theresa May knew there would be no goodies on offer from the Chancellor. Besides, she really should have prioritised Dublin.
Ireland has always been the thorn in the side of any workable deal between Britain and the European Union. The British border through the island of Ireland is the nub of the backstop issue, the red line neither Dublin nor Brussels are prepared to compromise. Europe will not renegotiate this backstop. Either the British government accepts that the border in Ireland must be shifted to the Irish Sea, or there will be no deal. So, rather than hightailing it to see Angela Merkel, Mrs May really ought to have been paying Leo Varadkar and the Irish government a visit – and maybe giving Ireland the respect it deserves. But no, it’s yet another snub to a former colony.
Brexit, while wreaking havoc in the UK, has produced some quite remarkable results in Ireland. Most importantly, the threat of a hard border on the island has concentrated the minds of Northern Ireland’s unionists; producing a majority in the six counties in favour of a united Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit. In Dublin the threat of infectious instability from the UK has forged the strongest Irish government in Dáil Éireann in living memory, with the opposition Fianna Fáil party renewing its confidence and supply support of the Fine Gael government. At the European level, Ireland has found itself in the strongest position it has been in globally since independence and the foundation of the state. Little Ireland is able to hold once mighty Britain at bay. Britain’s weakness really has become Ireland’s strength. Not heading first to the Taoiseach was May’s big mistake this week.
Extending FG+FF Confidence +Supply deal into 2020 is right decision for the Country + will allow Govt to plan compr… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) December 12, 2018
There are just over three months left for the British government to cobble together a solution. That solution will not be in further negotiations with Europe. Those negotiations are over. As far as the EU is concerned, the withdrawal agreement has been negotiated and settled. Europe is holding the UK to that agreement, saying: Take it or leave it. It is now up to the British Prime Minister to find a solution within the United Kingdom. This is Britain’s problem. The solution will have to be British.
May’s result tonight was more than a stay of execution for herself. This was a stay of execution for the British union state. Brexit, as it works itself out, has a number of grimly inevitable conclusions. It will leave the United Kingdom poorer and in a long-term downward economic decline; a weight that will be disproportionately carried by the poorest. Social tensions will be stretched to breaking point, with a sharp increase in racism and race-related hate crime. We have already seen the beginnings of this in England. A Britain isolated from the rest of Europe will drive the wedge deeper between Scotland and England, as these two countries have two very different opinions of the European Union. Brexit is the toxin that will break the bonds of union – the bonds of every social and political union that have to date held the United Kingdom together. These are the last days of the UK. By holding on to power Mrs May has merely delayed the inevitable.
The day that nearly ended it all for Theresa May