“Am I going to see this through? Yes.” There had been speculation Theresa May would announce her resignation or that she would hand over control of the Brexit negotiations to Michael Gove ahead of her press conference yesterday evening.
But, after Brexiteers Dominic Raab and Esther McVey quit her Cabinet and Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg launched his bid to dethrone her, the Prime Minister signalled her clear intention to press ahead regardless. She even invoked the cricketing style of a famously boring batsman who at times seemed impossible to get out. “Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end,” she said. So the UK now faces three options: May’s Brexit deal, remaining in the European Union, or a no-deal Brexit.
Taking them each in turn, while the Prime Minister insisted her deal was “in the national interest”, this is clearly not true. No remotely sensible UK Government would have decided to take this course without feeling that its hand had been forced by a referendum. The only reason this is happening, despite clear warnings this will damage our economy, is the narrow 52-48 per cent referendum result. The second option, of abandoning Brexit and staying in the EU could only happen if this was approved in a second referendum. Holding one would not be without its risks. If it produced a 51-49 per cent vote in favour of Remain, there might be calls for a third one and the current economic and political chaos would continue.
But the third choice is absolutely not one that the UK should take. A no-deal Brexit risks an economic catastrophe that would affect the lives of nearly everyone in Britain in some way. The country is simply not prepared to entirely quit the EU in a few months’ time – Britain is far too closely embedded within the EU to be wrenched away from it so suddenly and violently.
And yet, when Raab, McVey and others quit the Government and when Rees-Mogg gave his extraordinary “this is not a coup” press conference outside the Westminster parliament, this is what they were effectively seeking to do. The EU is not going to fulfil Brexiteers’ fantasies of a ‘have your cake and eat it’ Brexit and there is no time to renegotiate. All the rebels can achieve now is a no-deal Brexit.
So the main priority of all sensible MPs with the “national interest” at heart should be to prevent this from happening, either by keeping the UK in the EU or backing May’s deal.