Another week, another series of mini-dramas. At the end of it, what has changed? Absolutely nothing.
Realities which have been obvious for months, to anyone lacking a vested interest in avoiding them, are simply becoming more urgent. Yet there are still hiding places in empty rhetoric and useless posturing.
Amidst all the skirmishes, there have been two sets of straight lines with clear destinations in sight. Theresa May is custodian of the first and, let’s say, Jacob Rees-Mogg of the alternative.
The Prime Minister aims to deliver a negotiated withdrawal deal by 29 March, give or take a few months, very close to the one agreed with the EU on 13 November. If that option prevails, life will go on pretty much as at present and negotiations will continue.
This is an interim outcome I can live with. I do not want a physical border within Ireland and I support remaining close to a Customs Union, so I welcome the “backstop” rather than revile it and have yet to hear any convincing counter-argument.
Mrs May is accused of “running down the clock”. But why wouldn’t she? What is her realistic alternative to ultimately forcing MPs to decide between a negotiated deal which they might not like or a “no deal” departure which would represent collective insanity?
It suits her opponents to personalise this as “the Prime Minister’s deal” as if she is its unilateral author. Actually, it represents the limits of what the EU would agree to and is unlikely to revisit because it too has wider interests to protect.
Otherwise uncritical admirers of Brussels direct their contempt at “the Prime Minister’s deal”. This avoids the paradox of explaining how an organisation which they hold up as the font of all good can also be partner in something they condemn so comprehensively – or of admitting that, actually, the deal is not the disaster they pretend.
So Mrs May’s straight line is clear. Go through the motions of flying back and forwards to Brussels, Belfast or even Sharm el-Sheik while she keeps her eyes on the prize – which is to secure an exit based on the existing deal, preferably without going down in history as the leader who split the Tory Party.
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s straight line can be defined more briefly. It is to withdraw from the European Union without any irksome deal and to hell with the consequences which will be for others to cope with. The ideological prize transcends all. Full stop.
I accept there are still a couple of variations to explore. Maybe MPs will take “no deal” off the table without waiting for the final few days. Maybe life can be breathed into the demand for a second referendum, though I doubt it and don’t particularly want it.
But if not, we’re back to choosing between the two straight lines which is where the focus has to be applied much more sharply in order to expose the ultimate intentions of all opposition parties. With which set of Tories will they vote in the same lobby? Is it “deal” or “no deal” they will facilitate when there is no third way?
Ultimately, I believe and hope that Labour MPs will collectively reject “no deal” because that is where their responsibility to working people and their families so clearly lies. I have no such faith in our Nationalist chameleons and it is the question they really must be pinned down on – but never are.
Nicola Sturgeon was making great play this week about having to make emergency plans for “no deal”. It is time to point out with some regularity that one sentence from her over the next few weeks would totally remove the need for any more time to be wasted on such madness.
All she has to say is: “However reluctantly, our MPs will vote for a deal in order to avoid the catastrophe of no deal.” Instead, they seem to be positioning for an attack on anyone who has the responsibility and sense to reach that same, sane conclusion. Must opportunism always prevail? We shall see.