Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems will soon have to stop their political manoeuvring and choose between the no-deal sought by Rees-Mogg’s extreme Brexiteers and the pragmatism of May’s deal or one like it, writes Brian Wilson.
Amidst the Brexit “whatiffery?”, one question tends to be overlooked by those with a vested interest in overlooking it. What if Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker are, more or less, telling the truth?
What if it really is this deal or no deal? Regardless of public postures, this dilemma demands urgent contemplation by any party or MP who may, at some point, face that decision.
An alliance of wildly differing motives, united only around what they think they are opposed to, leading us dogmatically into a “no deal” Brexit would surely be the craziest option of all.
For the time being, posturing still comes cheap. Labour is entitled to exhaust possibilities for forcing a General Election. Nationalists will stir the pot in the hope that pickings will finally emerge. The DUP behave the only way they know – which is to say “no”.
Like the Tory mutineers, they are all expert in hyperbolic denunciation but weak on credible alternatives which the EU might buy into. Demanding the undeliverable is a standard political tactic but with Brexit day closing in, its relevance becomes marginalised. We are where we are.
The most interesting Tory this week was Kenneth Clarke who has been around long enough to cut through all this nonsense. He also saw John Major’s Government destroyed by the same obsession that drives Brexit and quite a few of the same obsessives.
There is no more pro-EU MP than Clarke yet it took him no time at all to say he will vote for Mrs May’s deal. He called it “a bit of a dog’s breakfast” and must heartily wish the whole thing wasn’t happening. So why will he vote for it?
In his own words: “I’ll settle for this ... it keeps everything continuous for British business ... it paves the way for the transition period, because the serious negotiations start now really, about the long-term arrangements which will affect all our children and grandchildren.” Has anyone heard similar coherence of reasoning from any MP planning to vote against the deal?
It is possible, of course, that one of the other options being touted will turn up over the next few months – a General Election, second referendum, the revocation of Article 50, Norway plus, Canada minus and so endlessly on. But what if none of these survives the tests of acceptability to the EU and a majority in the Commons?
Then, once the huffing and puffing has petered out, it may well come back to this deal, with a few bells and whistles, or leaving the EU in three months’ time with no deal. There would be another Commons vote and that exceptionally serious prospect would face each MP.
There is no point saying sniffily that, under no circumstances, will any self-respecting Labour/Nationalist/LibDem vote with the Tories. That would not be the choice – rather it would be which Tories to vote with? Kenneth Clarke’s pragmatists or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s obsessives?
By then, every sector of the Scottish economy will be shouting that they cannot live with “no deal”. It has started already. Ineos, which owns Grangemouth, warn of “unquantifiable risks”. Scottish Food and Drink say no deal would be “catastrophic” for its members.
There will be a growing cacophony of similar sentiments and decrying what’s on offer will become insufficient alibi for effectively supporting an outcome that would be incalculably worse. The starker these options become, the less interested normal people will be in political manoeuvring or grandstanding.
If Rees-Mogg, Corbyn and Blackford are in the same lobby to achieve the same outcome – rejection of the only available deal – then that is how they must expect to be judged. Brinksmanship is all very well, but it is a fine line between the brink and the chasm. Forward planning is required to avoid that trap.
Personally, I would take the Kenneth Clarke tack and just get on with it. Those who disagree must start thinking about the point at which the phoney war will be over and we may be back to where Mrs May and Mr Juncker insist we currently are. Deal or no deal?