Amidst the fiasco at Westminster, the only thing that’s certain is that the UK is damaged both economically and politically, writes Kenny MacAskill.
Some of the former may be recoverable in time but most of the latter’s permanent. It’s diminished in stature, losing respect even amongst friends.
Now the only credible option is to go to the EU and seek an extension. That’ll be the most humiliating climbdown from a Prime Minister since Anthony Eden was forced to pull out of Suez. But the alternative is national disaster.
However, the EU won’t grant it on a whim or fancy. It’ll have to be for a set period and more importantly a clear purpose. That can only be one of two things, either an election or another referendum.
Either is possible and amidst the febrile atmosphere where the Prime Minister has lost respect, never mind control, anything could happen. Party discipline has been breaking down as seen in Labour departures and Tory rebellions. So political collapse could lead to an election but there are two good reasons why a referendum makes more sense for politicians and the country.
Firstly, it’s not just the democratic process but the parliamentary system that has failed. A referendum allows, for better or worse, the people to have their say, especially when politicians have been unable to agree. There’s also the possibility that an election might still leave us stalemated, as now with the clock still ticking.
Secondly, May has lost credibility on her own benches and it’s going to be more than her voice that’s going to give. It’s not long now before she’s gone. How can you hold an election without knowing who the party leader is?
Time is short and even truncated internal elections take time. What would the manifesto say about the EU? Given that current Tory MPs don’t want the Withdrawal Agreement, how could they sell that to an already sceptical public? If it wasn’t that, would it be the ERG position or what?
Who would be selected as candidates and would they really allow leading Remainers to be deselected? An early election is a recipe for the Tories falling apart. In any event, why would a new Prime Minister be rushing to the polls and on what manifesto? The last thing they’ll want is an immediate election before they’ve even got their feet under the Number 10 table.
Labour are in a slightly better position but not much. Corbyn’s supposed better deal is an absurdity and the EU won’t buy it. Labour would have to choose a policy, not continue to fudge one, and further splits could beckon. And, despite all the calamity and catastrophe that is the current Tory Government, Labour still languish badly in the polls. The party’s struggling to retain members, let alone voters, and the new Independent Group or party also clouds the electoral waters.
So politically, as with a free vote in Parliament, putting it to the people is the only way that the Tories can stay together and that Corbyn and Labour can hang on. There are also political realities that dictate a referendum will be held, as opposed to an election. The one thing that sobers up MPs from political stupor is preserving their seat. And the omens for many aren’t promising.
The Liberals and the SNP might welcome it, but the former can only make limited progress and though the latter could sweep up handsomely, there’ll be efforts made by the combined British state to avoid that opportunity ever being given. Even the DUP might find their vote threatened, given Northern Ireland’s position on Brexit and, more importantly, they could see their leverage lost in a new parliament.
So, whatever the issues with a second referendum, it seems the only way out. Let’s just hope the people can see it this time and the EU are willing to allow it. The nightmare remains and I’m minded by Brexiteer war mania that Europe stumbled into the First World War. Mutually assured economic destruction is sadly still possible.