Theresa May is leading Britain into Brexit's meltdown phase

If you imagine the pro-Brexit case as the intellectual equivalent of a toddler let loose on a drum kit, over the past two years 'parliamentary sovereignty' has been the cymbal, clattered over and over again with wild excitement

Tom Peck
Monday 11 June 2018 20:05
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Theresa May faces a tough week of Brexit pushback in Parliament
Theresa May faces a tough week of Brexit pushback in Parliament

Oh, to be Theresa May. On Friday, the anniversary of her needlessly throwing away her parliamentary majority, she boarded a plane to Canada to watch the President of the United States be too busy dismantling the rules-based international order to have time to speak to her.

Once upon a time, people imagined Tony Blair to have been unlucky in regard to the hand dealt him by the White House. Not anymore.

That the G7 summit began with Trump petitioning for the return of Russia is fitting enough. And then, on Sunday, emails were leaked suggesting Russian involvement in Brexit to have been even more significant than previously imagined.

Now Theresa May stands on the brink of two days of the most crucial House of Commons votes on Brexit thus far, ones that have the capacity to pull apart what is an already threadbare negotiating strategy with the European Union.

On Monday night, she had to make a rare visit to a weekly meeting of her own backbench MPs, to persuade them to back her or else potentially end her premiership. It may just be that these coming votes mark the starting point of the end of what Boris Johnson has called Brexit’s “meltdown” phase.

Whether the Conservatives are in meltdown already is not clear, but many of them will have had to hold themselves against direct heat for some time, so as to be malleable enough to pull off the kind of political contortions that the next two days will require of them.

The most important arguments in favour of Brexit, notably the risk of Turkey joining the European Union, were deliberate and straightforward lies. Among the lesser ones was the “restoration of parliamentary sovereignty.”

If you imagine the pro-Brexit case as the intellectual equivalent of a toddler let loose on a drum kit, over the past two years “parliamentary sovereignty” has been the cymbal, clattered over and over again with wild excitement.

The most meaningful vote among Tuesday and Wednesday’s 15 votes will concern the “meaningful vote” – that MPs should be given the power to say yes or no to the eventual deal that returns from Brussels and, should they say no, the UK’s negotiators should be sent back to Brussels to carry on negotiating.

Unsurprisingly, it is not Bernard Jenkin, John Redwood, Bill Cash, Jacob Rees-Mogg or indeed anyone else who have spent years, if not decades, talking about restoring parliamentary sovereignty, who need to be convinced to vote against parliamentary sovereignty in this case.

Rather it is the likes of Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve and the rest.

Theresa May faces a difficult challenge. She must convince her party to give her the backing to get on with negotiating the Brexit she wants. To strengthen her hand, if you like, in her negotiations with Brussels. The very thing that the public so emphatically declined to do almost a year ago today.

Still, her hand has been re-dealt since then. She is moving in a direction far more amenable to Conservative Remainers.

The “out of the single market, out of the customs union” plan lives on in rhetoric only. Instead there is the “customs partnership”, as frictionless trade as possible, the transition, the backstop option, all of which intimate at Theresa May’s Brexit train inching slowly, and with vast internal fuss, toward the destination Brussels has always had in mind for it.

No one is taking or making much in the way of bets on what will happen in these many votes. The vote on the meaningful vote bears great resemblance to the only one Brexit vote she has thus far lost.

Brexit’s meltdown phase will leave no one happy with the outcome. But in a nation that has been utterly divided by the most divisive issue it has faced in generations, that no one will end up happy is both appropriate, and, arguably, comforting.

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