Rethinking Europe

Brexit: Can Mrs. May Win Backing From the Commons?

Never has British politics been so polarised and never has the quality of political leadership in Britain been so weak. The Brexit saga is far from over.

Credit: GrAl Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Never has British politics been so polarised and never has the quality of political leadership in Britain been so weak.
  • For supporters of a new referendum, only a huge defeat of the deal now announced can open the way to re-voting the 2016 Brexit result.
  • In Switzerland it is normal to vote more than once on a difficult referendum issue.
  • London press “coverage” of UK politics is based on maybe at best 15-20 MPs in each party.
  • Many British MPs are torn between party loyalties, support or dislike of their chiefs, pressure from party activists and worries about the UK’s economic future.

Can Mrs. May win backing from the Commons? One minister has resigned saying he cannot accept the deal because it allows for different arrangements in Northern Ireland.

The paradox here lies in the fact that the fundamentalist protestant political sect called the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refuses to accept the laws of the UK on gay and women’s rights.

The DUP is homophobe and anti-women as well Europhobe. In all likelihood, Mrs. May will have to live without their 10 votes.

How many of her 315 Tory MPs will back the deal? There is an alliance against nature between passionate Leavers and fervent Remainers. The strong Leavers like Boris Johnson will vote against the agreement and insist that a “No Deal” crash out of the EU is the best course.

Another hard-line anti-European cabinet minister, Dominic Raab, has also resigned. He has been Brexit minister since July, but was sidelined by the Downing Street.

It entrusted the negotiations to a senior official, Ollie Robbins, who treated Raab with indifference bordering on contempt. Two other minor ministers have resigned but they are seen as light weights.

If the alliance against the deal strengthens, it means destroying Mrs. May to elect a new prime minister. Of course, in the frontline are wannabe replacement PMs.

And the Remainers?

On the other side of the political divide are Remainers who also want to defeat the May-Barnier deal. Their goal is to provoke a great political crisis that can only be solved by a new referendum.

Tony Blair is the most articulate exponent of this politique du pire – the old Trotskyist line of “the worse, the better.” In other words: The only way to bring about fundamental political change is to show that normal politics is unworkable.

For supporters of a new referendum, only a huge defeat of the deal now announced can open the way to re-voting the 2016 Brexit result.

Their approach won support from the Swiss political journalist Andres Allemand who explained in a UK newspaper, the Independent, how in Switzerland it is normal to vote more than once on a difficult referendum issue.

Corbyn’s contortions

The official Labour Party position is also to oppose the deal. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been insistent since the 1970s that the EU venture is a capitalist plot of no relevance to his socialist ambitions.

Corbyn hopes that if the Withdrawal Agreement now announced is defeated in the House of Commons, a general election will then follow and, he believes, Labour will take office.

But Corbyn has only 257 MPs and most of the other 393 MPs are not turkeys voting for Thanksgiving (i.e., them potentially losing their seat). Few MPs, Tory and Labour, give credence to the idea of a new election.

Caught in the middle are hundreds of British MPs. They do not make headlines, don’t get quoted or interviewed. They are torn between party loyalties, support or dislike of their chiefs, local pressure from party activists, worries about future jobs in the UK and the country’s overall economic future.

No one knows yet how they will vote. It does not help that London press “coverage” of UK politics is based on maybe at best 15-20 MPs in each party.

Perfidious Albion comes back to life

Will Tory anti-Europeans take their lead from the most intellectual of the Tory Europhobes, Michael Gove, who is in the cabinet? In the stormy five-hour cabinet meeting, Gove said they should accept the deal as getting out of the EU is the priority.

According to this logic, once it is no longer an EU Treaty member, Britain can do what it likes. Perfidious Albion comes back to life.

One senior Tory Brexiteer, a member of the so-called “European Research Group” which is a holding pen for anti-EU MPs headed by Jacob Rees Mogg, told me that he and many of his colleagues would not provoke a crisis in December by voting down the deal.

“We will accept the deal and soon after we will get rid of Theresa May and elect a new leader and prime minister who will complete a full Brexit.”

On the Labour side, the whips privately say they do not know where all Labour MPs are. Most will see the vote as a chance to defeat Mrs. May.

Some have called for a new referendum but there only nine Tory MPs signed up for a new vote. It is thus not clear that a majority in the Commons can be be found for a new referendum.

However, some Labour MPs have said they cannot vote for anything that destroys jobs. They believe a “No Deal” crash-out guarantees a major economic crisis. Many foreign firms, including all the Japanese auto companies, say they will have to relocate to the continent.

Tory whips may try and bribe one or two elderly Labour MPs planning to retire at the next election by offering a seat in the House of Lords with its £300 a day allowance for the rest of their lives.

Under those circumstances, no one can say with honesty what the final parliamentary vote will be.

Three conclusions

• Never has British politics been so polarised.

• Never has the quality of political leadership in Britain been so weak.

• The Brexit saga is far from over.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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