Mrs May’s infamous Chequers Plan has yet to bring about her downfall. It has, however, put the party at war with itself. Tory grassroots are at their wits’ end. Her mishandling of the Brexit negotiations, her charisma bypass and inability to lead, alongside her resentment-feeding victim politics, had already driven them and TCW’s readers to despair.
By June you’d had enough. Polled on whether May should stay or go, you overwhelmingly by 95 per cent requested her to get on her bike.
She didn’t, of course. But a month later David Davis and Boris Johnson, following Chequers, resigned on principle. Not she, though. Impervious again, she stuck on. So was a vote of no confidence needed? We asked you. Again you overwhelmingly said Yes. Sadly, the politicians have not listened to us and May has stayed, despite the full story of her treachery over the Chequers plan subsequently emerging. Here, in the fourth of our TCW Encore series of most popular posts, Michael St George documents it.
If there were already a whiff of treachery surrounding Theresa May’s Machiavellian double-dealing revealed in her Soft-Remain (non)-‘Brexit’ plan sprung on her Cabinet at Chequers, the past week has turned it into nothing short of an overwhelming stench.
Last Thursday, it emerged that May had not, as she claimed, merely ‘shown’ her plan to German Chancellor Angela Merkel: as many had suspected, it had actually been submitted for approval. At the Chequers ‘summit’, the then Brexit Secretary David Davis was reportedly told by May that her plan could not be changed because ‘I have already cleared it with Angela Merkel’.
What an admission! Britain’s head of government requesting approval of her plan for Brexit (if the ‘Brexit’ label can any longer be accurately applied) before its disclosure even to her own Cabinet from a foreign leader who, if not an enemy, must certainly be regarded as an adversary.
Was May so naïve as to imagine that its contents would not immediately be relayed to Michel Barnier and the EU’s negotiating team? The unflattering comparisons to Chamberlain’s 1938-1939 appeasement of Hitler which followed were inevitable but hardly excessive. May’s No 10 team reacted by issuing an (unconvincing) denial of the words allegedly used to Davis, but, tellingly, not of their substance.
Then, late on Saturday, came the bombshell. Former Minister of State at the Brexit Department Steve Baker revealed the cloak-and-dagger operation mounted by No 10 and presided over by May not only to foil a Brexit which would fulfil the pledges of May’s 2017 general election manifesto, and her Lancaster House and Florence speeches so as to engineer as a substitute for it the Soft-Remain plan presented to the Chequers ‘summit’ as an unalterable fait accompli, but also secretly to use the Brexit Department’s functions and output as deception and camouflage to fool ministers, MPs and the public into believing that a genuine Brexit was being pursued.
Baker’s quotes are political dynamite, and almost defy belief:
‘An establishment elite, who never accepted the fundamental right of the public to choose democratically their institutions, are working towards overturning them.’
‘The Brexit Department was effectively a Potemkin structure designed to distract from what the Cabinet Office Europe Unit was doing for the Prime Minister.’
May had willingly deceived not just us, the voting public, but even her own ministers and MPs. She mobilised them to defeat the Lords’ Brexit-wrecking amendments in the House of Commons over the past few weeks to preserve the façade of a plausible-sounding Brexit. At the same time, she was presiding over a secret plot cynically to deceive and exploit her own Brexit Department as a camouflage to conceal her Cabinet Office Europe Unit’s backstairs operation to procure her preferred Soft-Remain (non)-Brexit, in collusion with the EU negotiators.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see why the Eurocrats refused to negotiate with us on the basis of May’s fabled ‘Red Lines’ if they were at the same time being privately sounded out on what became the Chequers Deal. The ineradicable suspicion is that Brussels was being secretly assured all the time that our ‘official’ negotiating stance was mere theatre for the consumption of the gullible masses, and that the UK would accept whatever crumbs were chosen to be dropped from the Brussels table, at whatever cost.
Almost simultaneously, from sources close to Airbus came allegations that May’s arch-Remainer inner circle had manipulated it into issuing, in the week preceding the Chequers ‘summit’, its much-publicised dire warnings about the dangers for jobs and exports of a No-Deal Brexit. They were, it was said, agreed after discussions with the Government – presumably signifying that Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark had not merely been the willing mouthpiece of pro-Brussels, crony-corporatist big-business, but its persuasive script-writer too.
It spoke volumes that, in the midst of all this, both Business Minister Andrew Griffiths’s forced resignation after sending ‘lewd’ texts to two women, and the Government’s award of a £2billion RAF contract, not to its compliant partner-in-deception Airbus but to Boeing, passed almost without comment.
Political observers were still trying to digest the Baker revelations when May herself appeared on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday – though not before claiming, somewhat incredibly, in the Mail On Sunday that she was ‘fighting for the Brexit that the British people voted for’, but later contradicting herself by issuing her ‘Back my Brexit, or I’ll abandon any Brexit’ threat. How the latter was meant to assist the former was unclear.
Predictably, May’s interview with Andrew Marr did not go well. It culminated in what May obviously intended to be the takeaway soundbite, but which backfired spectacularly. Her remark that ‘People may have voted with their hearts, but I have to be hard-headed’ managed to disparage 17.4million Leave voters by condescendingly portraying them as unthinking and emotion-driven.
It emerged later that day that, as if No 10 threatening dissenting ministers with a walk home from Chequers on July 6 wasn’t petty enough, Conservative Central Office was now apparently threatening to withhold centrally-disbursed funds from Brexiteer Tory MPs.
Although its enthusiasm for this may be tempered by the prospect of some of the £4million loans extended to it from constituency associations being recalled and used locally to support Brexiteer MPs, it showed May’s claque behaving more like the henchmen of a paranoid Mafia boss than the office of the Prime Minister in a democracy.
With the possible, and even then disputable, exception of Blair on Iraq (the strange death of Dr David Kelly is discussed elsewhere on this website today), I cannot recall in recent political history an example of a Prime Minister practising sheer anti-democratic duplicity and deception on a level and scale equivalent to what has been revealed about May in the past week.
While pretending to be implementing the democratically-expressed wishes of the British electorate, she has in fact been systematically deceiving her own Cabinet, ministers, MPs, activists, voters, and the public, in order to manifest the wishes of a small coterie which regards both the demos and the institution of democracy with undisguised contempt and as something to be ignored, if not covertly circumvented, if it delivers an outcome uncongenial to them.
Moreover, the Party she nominally – I use the word advisedly – leads cannot escape the charge of complicity in her perfidy. Which other ministers were in on the plot? Who knew what, and when? At the very least, that the majority of its MPs, even now, support her desire to mute if not negate the largest mandate for one specific policy in British political history leave them open to that charge.
Were her chicanery and double-dealing, and their own charlatanry, restricted to matters of domestic politics, they might, though still egregious, evade the ultimate accusation of treachery. But they are not. They prejudice and endanger not only the enduring public consent for our constitutional settlement and the continuing validity of our democracy, but also the nature of our relationship with a foreign power which, though it may not be an enemy, is arguably an adversary and certainly not, in this matter, a friend. It is this latter element which surely makes the accusation of treachery tenable.
The present ‘Conservative’ Party, at least in its higher echelons, has been exposed this past week as a morally bankrupt cesspit of political putrefaction, a rotting husk. In another, perhaps better, time, a Prime Minister accused of what Theresa May stands accused of would have been out of office within days, if not hours. That she is allowed to cling to office, insecure, incompetent and ineffective in everything but betrayal, is the visible manifestation of the overpowering stench of treachery that envelops her and her party.