The next few weeks and months will see the culmination of a 40-year civil war in the Conservative party.
From the days of Heath taking us into the Common Market, Thatcher signing the Single European Act, Major the Maastricht treaty and Cameron’s referendum dilemma, each has faced a hostile onslaught of criticism from the within their own ranks – Enoch Powell, Norman Tebbit, Teddy Taylor, David Davis immediately spring to mind, all buoyed and sustained by a romantic and outdated notion of British nationalism where Britannia still rules the waves. For many Tory zealots, the EU and hatred of it is why they got into politics.
Their vision is one of a deregulated, ultra-free market world where corporations and capital can do what they like with no pesky interference from Government or any other institution. To hell with workers’ rights, consumer protection or environmental cooperation.
For the Tory far-right, this is their big chance and it won’t come again. It is all or nothing – all the chips are in in this insane game of chance. The stakes are huge.
It’s not their inherited millions that are at stake, they won’t need to wait weeks on a Universal credit payment to settle the bills, their private school fees will still be paid. As UK workers hold their collective breath, balloons like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg jockey for position to be the far-right candidate when Theresa May is despatched.
All through this process, Labour has called it right – suggesting and winning the argument for a transition period, suggesting and winning the argument for a ‘meaningful vote’, advancing and winning the public argument for a customs union.
Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn set out six tests that Labour will apply to any Tory deal, the day of reckoning for these tests is almost upon us, any deal must:
1) produce a strong collaborative relationship with the EU, where we work with our friends and colleagues in countries across the continent to improve the lives of working people;
2) secure the benefits of the single market and customs union, protecting jobs, building a prosperous future for Scottish businesses and their workforce;
3) have a fair and transparent immigration system – ending the exploitation of workers wherever they come from;
4) maintain all rights and protections enjoyed by people currently, including rights over employment, health and safety, the environment etc;
5) protect our national security – and have a system of cross-border policing to ensure that dangerous and organised crime is tackled internationally;
6) ensure the deal delivers for the nations and regions of the UK.
In Scotland, the SNP are using Brexit as leverage to advance independence and to distract attention from their dreadful stewardship of our public services. They have had numerous positions over the last two years, including joining the Euro, joining EFTA, the EAA, rejoining the EU, single market and customs union membership and now a second referendum.
If Brexit has taught us anything, then it is that the uncertainty and the economic consequences of withdrawing from any political union is complex, time consuming and riddled with problems, surely withdrawing from a 300-year-old arrangement and a market four times that of EU would be many times as seismic as leaving a 40-year-old institution.
So the next few weeks and months will be tumultuous and could end in a new Prime Minister.
I don’t want the UK’s next Prime Minister to be product of another internal Tory election – I want it to be Jeremy Corbyn after a General Election.
Neil Findlay is Scottish Labour’s Brexit spokesperson