We are approaching the end game, the crunch point for Brexit. Every day is full of speculation of what the EU will say, what plan will be acceptable, how the backbenchers will react etc; but most of that misses a key point:
There are really just three scenarios:
The government gets a brilliant deal a la Chequers. The EU stops complaining and puts aside their oft stated objections, the Northern Ireland backstop problem miraculously goes away, and there’s a vague political declaration that we will all be nice to each other.
It allows Theresa May comes back triumphant to Parliament where the EU Withdrawal bill and the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement both require her to now get Parliamentary approval.
She won’t get it.
There are 50-60 Ultras in Parliament in the ERG who will vote against it crying “that it betrays Brexit”. They refuse to engage in any of the practical realities of Brexit dismissing it all as Project Fear and frankly have no clue about them (as this interview clearly shows)
Ah, people say, but Labour will support the Government because Corbyn is a closet Leaver and they wouldn’t want to betray Labour voters. Two problems there. Firstly, there are no swathes of Labour Leave supporters out there for whom the issue of Brexit will persuade them to vote Conservative. Anyone who thinks so has not been paying attention. Labour was always heavily Remain and it is Labour Leave voters who are having the most second thoughts.
Secondly, whatever Jeremy Corbyn’s views on Brexit, what he wants more than anything else is to get rid of this government. So to expect Labour to prop it up when a vote against its Deal would almost certainly be seen as a confidence vote is naïve. The deal would also fail their six tests and they’ve been quite open about saying they will vote it down.
So the government falls and we’d probably have a General Election.
Full Soft Brexit
Secondly, the Government listens to business and its own experts and concludes the only way to get through all of this with the economy intact is to go full soft Brexit and stay in Single Market and Customs Union.
See Chequers option x 10. Government falls.
They might have more hope of attracting some Labour support here; but with the prospect of a General Election if the Government loses that vote, they won’t get it. Labour would get nothing from blindly supporting the Government and so won’t.
Thirdly, talks collapse. Depressingly, this is probably the most likely scenario. One could debate at length the ineptitude, arrogance and downright foolishness that has made it so; but that’s not relevant for this discussion.
So the talks break down. Or, more accurately, we get to November and we still don’t have any agreement. The Government is still hoping to do something last minute yet the EU has given up on ever getting anything sane out of the UK and has gone to full no-deal preparations.
This would be a major UK political crisis that will last for weeks as everyone in government runs around blaming everyone else and desperately trying to dig out the plans that required years of implementation and work out how to do them in a few months.
The ERG Ultras believe that they can manage this chaos allowing us to still crash out and finally leave the EU at the end of March. But I doubt it. And the reason I doubt it goes to the motivation of the rebels to the EU Withdrawal bill and the many statements made by them since.
Their fundamental goal was to avoid a no-deal crash out Brexit. That’s what they were pushing for in the meaningful vote amendment; and I believe they’ll stick to their guns even after all that has gone before.
If you remember, in the summer, right at the last moment, the bulk of the group said that they would back the Government after private conversations with the prime minister. So what was said? I believe the Prime Minister asked them not to split and embarrass the Government and promised them she had no intention of a no-deal Brexit and would publish appropriate plans soon. The rebels – not wanting to damage the party – agreed but warned that if the Prime Minister did not deliver, they would vote the Government down. Weeks after that, she made good on her word and proposed the Chequers compromise which they duly supported.
But in this situation, Chequers is dead; yet the Government still has to come back to Parliament. Would the rebels get the opportunity to vote against the Government? Definitely; but there was much talk about the final meaningful vote and it being non-binding. Would it be? Perhaps. However, there is one motion that can always be discussed and is always binding. A vote of no-confidence.
I think those rebels made it clear to the Prime Minister that if push comes to shove and she tried to crash out of the EU, they would vote against the Government and bring it down. Then with Chequers they didn’t have to; but with collapsed talks, the ony options would be this or a crash out Brexit.
So would they? Would these people who have said they would leave the party if Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson became leader vote against a government implementing the hardest most damaging Brexit possible? Would a group of people who share values with those like Lord Heseltine who said that a Corbyn government would do less damage than Brexit, vote against Brexit? Would people whose unofficial leader said he had thought and worried about bringing the Government down on this issue, bring the Government down? Yes, I think they would. A government that could even seriously consider this is not one they would feel that they would belong to; and so they would do it knowing that it meant they would leave the Conservative party and never be part of a Conservative government ever again.
But I beleive they would still do it.
So three options, all of which end with the Government collapsing and a General Election. Labour would probably win it, though not convincingly; but it depends on the stance they take. (And that is a discussion for next time.)
Is there a way out of this for the Government and the Conservative party? There is; but it requires the Government to think the unthinkable. Back a new vote on the deal (or no deal). As far as I can see, that is the only way they can avoid an ignominous defeat.
Though whether they have the imgination to embrace that idea is another thing entirely.
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