The intransigence of raving right-wing No Dealers and the People's Vote lobby means the chance of a compromise Brexit deal that most of us could have lived appears to have gone, writes Brian Wilson.
I’m not sure the “People’s Vote – nothing less” plan is going terribly well. So far it has provoked the resurrection of Nigel Farage and kick-started renewed planning for the ultimate folly of No Deal.
With Mrs May having been dispatched to the Tory tumbrils, it is unfashionable to reiterate that she had a point, even if it was shouted down. The alternative to No Deal or No Brexit has always been a deal to make the best of it. That third way might look more attractive after she is gone.
Before the pace of events quickened this week, I noticed Hilary Benn MP tweeting about the implications of Brexit for the Falkland Islands fishing industry – admittedly, an under-reported consideration.
“Fishing represents 56 per cent of the Falklands Islands economy,” he exclaimed. “A No Deal Brexit would be damaging to its economic prosperity. Could someone who supports No Deal please explain why you want this to happen?”
Notwithstanding Mr Benn’s relative reasonableness in these matters, I found this a tad sanctimonious. After all, the threat to Falklands fisheries (and much else) is not solely the responsibility of No-Deal Brexiteers. Every MP had a vote, himself included.
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So (though it’s always a mistake), I replied: “Will someone who opposes No Deal please explain why they will vote against a deal which is the only way of guaranteeing that No Deal won’t happen?”
Back came the answer: “Because we want to stay in.” And there in a nutshell lies the explanation of why Theresa May never stood a chance of getting any deal through the House of Commons, regardless of its merits.
In People’s Vote eyes, the whole sorry mess is the fault of Leave voters and the only escape route is through a re-run. Logically therefore, collateral damage – to Falklands fisheries, Northern Ireland stability, Scunthorpe steel jobs, make your own list – is the responsibility of their opponents, and not for themselves to ameliorate or pre-empt.
There are two immediate problems with this high-minded approach. First, it has eliminated the middle ground, removing any prospect of a negotiated deal that most people (and jobs) might have lived with. Instead, the field is cleared for the great “No Deal” versus “People’s Vote” showdown.
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The second difficulty is that there is no guaranteed winner. Sunday’s results from the European elections are unlikely to encourage the assumption that a second referendum equates to Brexit disappearing in a puff of smoke, the hoi-polloi having mended their ways in the meantime.
The No-Dealers have slaughtered Theresa May and moderate Tories. The People’s Vote non-negotiables have elbowed aside all efforts to find a middle road. But the hard fact remains. Ultimately, only one of these forces can win – No Deal or No Brexit. Place your bets.
In the last analysis, Mrs May was betrayed from within her own party – specifically by the 35 MPs from the raving right who voted against the deal she negotiated with the EU. Equally, her attempt to buy the DUP was doomed to failure the first time they had the chance to say “no”.
It is also true that it was not the duty of opposition parties to bail her out in these circumstances, though in Labour’s case, it never seems to have occurred in the midst of their prevarications that more than one ship can go down in a storm.
The problem for Labour was that the longer they failed to follow through on their manifesto commitment to honour the referendum outcome, the more ground was ceded to those who demanded their bottom line must be a second referendum. In a situation which required leadership and clarity, there were neither.
In Scotland, the Nationalists will enjoy some short-term pickings. At least they knew what they were doing since “No Deal” is the course of maximum chaos, from which they might prosper while the off-chance of a second referendum also has obvious attractions.
The longer-term lesson, however, is likely to be that referendums, division and the endless complexities of breaking up unions that work reasonably well is madness. A view probably shared by Falklands fishermen.