It took seven and a half hours of Theresa May arguing about Brexit with Conservatives who want her job to come up with a great new strategy, and that great new strategy consists of arguing about Brexit with a Labour leader who wants her job. They could have done this by email and saved everyone a whole lot of hassle. Brexit strategy has now come down to the worst Prime Minister in history asking the worst opposition leader in history for help.
Sky News’ Beth Rigby reported that 14 cabinet members were pressing for a no-deal Brexit or a short extension. 12 were demanding a lengthy extension, two kept schtum, and David Mundell hasn’t resigned yet. With a cabinet so hopelessly divided, Theresa May scuttled out of the cabinet meeting to a lectern to tell everyone that what was needed was a cross party compromise because she couldn’t achieve one with her own colleagues.
Compromise? Really Theresa? You don’t say. You know, if you’d done that immediately after the EU referendum then perhaps we wouldn’t all be in this mess now, and it’s taken you an entire day of arguing in order to come up with a cunning plan that ought to have been your first option all those many months ago. The cabinet came out and immediately they individual climbed into separate cars, refusing to answer questions because they don’t have any answers, refusing to speak to one another because they’re no longer on speaking terms.
This is so bad that sitting down with a nice cup of tea and a chocolate hobnob won’t make it all feel better. It’s like after months of arguing about Brexit, and now we’ve drawn the office energy vampire as our secret santa. That’s the future for British politics, arguing about Brexit forever. We didn’t even get a reaction shot of one-man harrumphage Mark Francois as he heard the news that the Prime Minister was apparently ruling out a no-deal Brexit. We could have done with the laugh. Arch-Brexist Mark is what you would get if Captain Mainwaring and an erupting pluke had a love child.
Theresa May’s words were warm like a toilet seat in a public lavvy. It’s not what you expected and it leaves you feeling uncomfortable. And you’d be right to be uncomfortable. There is an implicit trap lurking in Theresa May’s offer to hold talks with Jeremy Corbyn and to seek a short extension to Article 50. Beware of Theresa Mays despairing rifts.
The concern here is that the Prime Minister still wants to avoid any need for the UK to participate in the EU elections. That’s why she’s insistent on a short extension, and she wants the UK to leave the EU by May 22. If the UK remains in the EU beyond that date, legally it must participate in the European elections, which the Prime Minister is determined to avoid, despite all her talk on Tuesday evening of finding a cross party compromise. The worry is that if Labour, and the EU, are foolish enough to consent to her short extension, then the date of May 22 becomes the last possible date for the UK to remain in the EU because by then it will be too late for the UK to organise European elections. It would mean that there could be no further extensions. Then it really does come down to a choice between Theresa May’s deal and no deal at all, because the Prime Minister will have succeeded in taking the possiblity of further extensions off the table.
The other part of the trap is by involving Corbyn, May broadens the blame for failure to come up with a deal that Parliament can agree on. It means that the Conservatives can blame Labour for a Conservative-made disaster. Theresa May doesn’t do compromise. She doesn’t do listening. She doesn’t do consensus. She doesn’t do honesty, and she certainly can’t be taken at her word because her words are always hedged about with caveats and unstated conditions. This is compromise, but only if you define compromise as setting up a fall guy so that there’s someone else to take the rap. This is a compromise that will consist of meeting with Jeremy, having a wee chat about a customs union, rejecting it, and then blaming Jezza for the breakdown in talks.
She’ll probably invite Chuka Umunna as well, so Jeremy will flounce off before the meeting even starts. May says she is offering to sit down with Jeremy to come up with a plan to leave with a deal. But that deal must include her withdrawal agreement. So in other words she doesn’t really want compromise at all. She just wants to see if she can get some Labour MPs to support her.
If Labour were at all wise, they would remind the Conservative leader that in 2016 she said that only the Conservatives could deliver Brexit, and they are going to ensure that she’s held to her word. This is a Tory mess, they need to own it. They need to take responsibility for it. But then Labour and wisdom are two concepts that usually only appear in the same sentence when there’s a negative in there too. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he’s “very happy” to meet with Theresa. The first item on the agenda at the meeting should be “How can anyone believe a word that Theresa May says?” Her last statement was to blame it on Parliament. Her next will be to blame it on Labour.
Still, at least she’s not seeking to speak to the SNP as well. But then Scotland isn’t for listening to, it’s only for being ignored and existing as a reason that whatever Brexit plan is finally decided the British government will still be able to threaten the Scots with pauperisation. We learned today that one of the reasons Theresa May is opposed to the so-called Norway plus option is because it would mean that in a future Scottish independence referendum campaign, the British government would no longer be able to threaten Scotland with a hard border and trade barriers.
So we will give the final word to Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP who left to join Ukip, and who was a co-founder of the Vote Leave campaign. Today Douglas shared some wisdom, and said, “Imagine that there was a union of free nations, but that it then attempted to punish one of its members for wanting to leave it? What might that say about the moral claims of such a union?”
Yes Douglas. Indeed. What does it say about the UK?
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