The Government’s Brexit White Paper has come under attack from all sides but at least provides hope of avoiding a disastrous ‘no-deal’ divorce from the EU.
“Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell, Rode the six hundred.”
The Charge of the Light Brigade was an infamous military mistake, but it is sometimes forgotten that the near-suicidal cavalry charge actually succeeded in taking the Russian guns during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.
In finally spelling out the detail of what “Brexit means Brexit” actually means with the publication of a White Paper, Theresa May has sounded the charge.
Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – along with assorted other hard Brexiteers – was quick to open fire from the right, declaring May’s plan to be the “greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Phillip II at Le Goulet in 1200”.
And, from the left, Labour said the Government was in “a mess”, Len McCluskey, of the Unite union, said the proposals were a “fudge which pleases no one”, and the SNP’s Fiona Hyslop warned May’s plan would “harm our economy”.
Directly ahead lies the European Union, whose big guns have yet to start firing but may well do if they conclude the White Paper would undermine the principles that hold the EU together.
With some politicians viewing May’s Brexit as too soft and others too hard, opinion further divided by party affiliations, and Labour looking for any chance to bring down the Government, it is difficult to see how the Prime Minister can win a vote in the Commons.
And, if the UK cannot agree its position, it appears there will be a “no-deal” Brexit in March next year with severe economic consequences for Britan and the real risk of disaster – companies relocating or going bust, mass job losses and social unrest. That must not happen.
Perhaps May and her supporters will manage to make it through their own metaphorical Valley of Death, but if they do not, there needs to be a plan for what happens next.
Earlier this week, Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, called for cross-party talks “with a view to establishing a government of national unity” and for a second referendum. If the UK is to avoid a no-deal Brexit, both suggestions – met with scorn in the Commons – may need to be seriously considered.