There is no doubt that Mrs May is delivering Brexit – on a plate, skewered, disembowelled and garnished with fig leaves, with the promise of more extractions to come. The resignations of Davis and Johnson have predictably provoked a media frenzy with fevered talk of turmoil, implosion and a leadership crisis. The 1922 Committee of backbenchers was, we were told, poised to deliver a vote of no confidence, such was the anger at the Brexit betrayal of Friday’s Chequers agreement.
But Mrs May’s advisors have played a skilful hand: the carefully orchestrated and timed interventions of big business, which has no intention of moving its operations out of Britain but benefits considerably from EU subsidies and protection, the carefully concocted ‘insoluble’ Irish hard border problem (Varadkar surely deserves an honorary knighthood for his efforts on that front), the failure to argue the case for moving onto WTO rules (whose costs are arguably more than outweighed by its benefits, given Britain’s colossal trade deficit with the EU), the failure to prepare for ‘no deal’, the hugely exaggerated benefits of the single market and so on.
The cabinet, cleansed of its most senior Brexiteers, is now united behind May’s Brexit vision – ‘Brexit means Remain’. In the event, last night, Mrs May was cheered to the rafters by her backbenchers, and ministers have been queuing up ever since to sing her praises and to depict the Chequers agreement as a triumph.
Only Jacob Rees-Mogg among the leading Brexiteers has, it seems, broken ranks. But his resembles more and more a voice in the wilderness. Boris Johnson said it all when he wrote in his resignation letter that ‘The Brexit dream is dying’. In truth, it was dead the moment that Mrs May was elected prime minister and her Remainer friends, colleagues and advisors ruled out a principled clean Brexit (the only position that would have enabled us to negotiate with the EU from a position of strength) – because, of course, they did not want Brexit in the first place. As Mrs May wrote yesterday, ‘A “no deal” scenario … risks livelihoods and threatens the Union’ – hardly a position that will cause the EU bureaucrats to fear that we might walk away from the negotiations. The establishment has regained control. Parliamentary sovereignty has been wrested back from the common people.
Especially nauseating are the enthusiastic declarations of support that Mrs May is now receiving from her ministers and MPs for her ‘Brexit vision’. Dominic Grieve announced this morning that the referendum result, the Brexit decision, had been ‘ideological’, and that it was up to government now to fashion a deal that would protect peoples’ livelihoods – Brexit would, of course, have destroyed them. Hammond and Grayling in a joint statement announced, ‘we look forward to constructive negotiations [my italics] with our EU neighbours’. Good grief! What do they take us for? The people are well and truly being ‘delivered’ what is best for them by their representatives.
The Letters page of The Telegraph gives a good indication of what ordinary conservatives think and feel, and over recent days it has made gut-wrenching reading. One letter summed up perfectly and poignantly the general sense of betrayal, disillusion and bewilderment millions of people (not only conservatives) feel at the arrogant disregard of the political class for their electorate: ‘Over the months we have read dire warnings about what this would mean for democracy, that there would be a huge “backlash”. No one has described quite how this might manifest itself. Well, it’s happened. What are we supposed to do now?’
One possibility, now that the Conservative Party has revealed its true colours, is a resurgent UKIP. Nigel Farage announced yesterday that he was prepared, if necessary, to stand again for the leadership and, as an absolute priority, target all Remain MPs in Leave constituencies. It is a big ask for one man. But at least he has the guts.
Any other suggestions?