Negotiations for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU couldn’t have got off on a weaker footing with a Prime Minister at the helm who’d just lost both her majority and her authority in a General Election she’d surprised many by calling.
Whether out of hubris or a perverse sense of duty, she did not offer to resign. Nor did her dithering party call for it. She’s proved a lame duck PM ever since, undermining Britain’s negotiating position. Quite rightly has Nigel Farage named her Theresa the Appeaser. Within months, with talks in deadlock, she promised to maintain our EU payments regardless. Brexiteers grumbled but put party loyalty and self-interest above principle. In January they welcomed her Lancaster House speech, hard on aspiration but soft on action. Predictably it made no inroads with an intransigent and gloating EU.
Instead of standing her ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ ground, by the time of her Mansion House speech in March, Mrs May had calculated ‘the softest hard Brexit’ position that would keep her Cabinet Brexiteers onside, only to draw more scorn. What had taken months for her to arrive at was rejected by the EU in minutes.
She then allowed Michel Barnier to run rings around her over the specious Northern Ireland border problem, one that Remainers leapt on to with glee. The summer wasted, David Davis visibly demoted (Olly Robbins long since moved from the Department for Exiting the European Union to run the show from the Cabinet Office), fractious remainers taking full advantage to start a No Deal Project Fear campaign from inside and outside Parliament, BRINO became the byword for Brexit. Yet still the Cabinet Brexiteers sulked or skulked inside their various tents. What would draw them out? Was BoJo just going to content himself with publicly belittling Mrs May?
So it seemed until Mrs May went a step too far to regain control of her recalcitrant army. Her July ‘Chequers Plan’, sprung on them with little notice and no consultation, brought David Davis’s and Boris Johnson’s resignations. It looked as though the clock had finally begun to tick on her beleaguered premiership.
As Michael St George wrote at the time, in TCW’s sixth most read post of the year, it had just got a lot bigger than Brexit.
A dramatic three days after the virtual imposition, including the use of threats almost comical in their puerile pettiness, by an embattled but stubbornly-authoritarian Theresa May of her Brexit proposals, culminated yesterday afternoon in the resignation of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, following those of Brexit Department Secretary David Davis and Minister of State Steve Baker late on Sunday evening.
May has no right to feel aggrieved. First, the Chequers proposals for a negotiating stance, about as far removed from her 2017 manifesto promises and previous negotiating pledges as chalk from cheese, were rightly labelled Remain-By-Any-Other-Name and Brexit-In-Name-Only, and lacerated by multiple commentators for their disingenuousness and lack of ambition, undue deference to Remainer intransigence and Brussels diktats alike, and even downright mendacity.
Foremost among these was a devastating memorandum from Lawyers For Britain’s Martin Howe QC, exposing how, in contrast to the claims advanced implausibly by her sycophantic Remainer colleagues, May’s proposals would lead directly to a worst-of-all-worlds black hole Brexit with Britain stuck permanently as a rule-taking vassal state in the enduring grip of the EU’s legal and regulatory maw.
On the BBC’s Sunday Politics, presenter Sarah Smith extracted an admission from deputy party chairman James Cleverly that, in contrast to what had hitherto been spun, the UK would automatically adopt any new EU rules, despite having no say in devising them, unless a (Remainer-dominated, remember) Parliament decided not to. Hardly the claimed ‘taking back control of our laws’.
Then it all got much worse. It emerged that May had ‘shown’ (or submitted for approval?) her Brexit proposals to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin even before their disclosure to Cabinet, ignoring every convention of collective Cabinet government. May was duly excoriated both for a grave breach of constitutional protocol, as well as a characteristically appalling lack of judgement.
This was followed by the revelation that her No 10 chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, and her staunchly anti-Brexit, pro-EU, éminence grise Olly Robbins, had seemingly been working on her ultra-soft Brexit plan in secret, not even confiding in the Cabinet, apparently for months.
Fuel was added to the fire both by the unequivocally critical terms of David Davis’s utterly damning resignation letter, in which he said that
‘the inevitable consequence of the proposed policies will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real’ and that the common rule book policy ‘hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU’, and the blatant lie in May’s reply, that we are ‘ending free movement’. It may be that one type of free movement is being cosmetically ‘ended’, but only to be replaced by a different kind of free movement, and May refuses even to guarantee not to discriminate against non-EU nationals in its application.
Speculation was rife yesterday morning that May would use the opportunity presented by the Davis and Baker resignations to abolish the Brexit department completely, and fold its functions into the Cabinet Office, to be oversighted by none other than Robbins. This truly alarming prospect turned out not, so far at any rate, to be true, but that it was regarded as a strong possibility at all surely speaks volumes.
Soon came the news that May’s chief of staff was to brief Labour, Liberal-Democrat and SNP MPs on her Non-Brexit Brexit plans. Although subsequently shelved, the implication was momentous and clear: the uber-reluctant Brexiteer May was prepared to solicit the votes of the pro-Remain Opposition parties to get her proposals through Parliament, against both her own backbenchers trying to hold her to her manifesto commitments and the votes of 17.4million people.
For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the scaremongering by business of the past week, with Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark acting as the willing mouthpiece of pro-Brussels, crony-corporatist big-business, is inextricably linked to this. Who knows what donations have been threatened to be witheld unless Brexit is effectively killed off, or promised if it is?
It’s now abundantly clear that we have a political class resolutely determined, at almost any price, not to enact the instruction given to it by the British electorate, and that it is led by a Prime Minister prepared to destroy her own party, even democracy itself, to perpetuate Britain’s subservience to the anti-democratic supranational EU. Always more Milibandite than even Blairite, May’s mask has finally slipped.
This means that the quasi-constitutional crisis we face is greater than the extant issue. This has just got bigger than Brexit. It’s about nothing less than whether we’re a functioning citizens’ democracy at all, or unwilling subjects of an unaccountable apparatchik-elite pursuing its own agenda.
We just have to win this fight, and in a much wider sense than merely holding a reluctant or even intransigently-defiant government to the referendum verdict it promised to implement, or the manifesto pledge on which it stood for election.
It’s now about so much more than Brexit. We can’t afford to lose. Because if we do, a triumphalist and overwhelmingly Remainer Left-‘liberal’ elite oligarchy, who dominate Britain’s political, media, academic and cultural classes and thus control virtually every institution of public life, are likely to try to wreak a terrible revenge on the ordinary people of this country.
We saw a taste of it in their furious reaction to the Referendum result, about which I’ve previously written at TCW. I suspect it would intensify. So nearly deprived of one of the main anchors of their entire worldview, and moreover by what they contemptuously regard as a backward, racist, xenophobic, unsophisticated, uneducated, politically-illegitimate rabble, they would probably redouble their efforts to foist EU rules, uncontrolled mass immigration, progressive loss of civil liberties, multiculturalism and divisive identity-politics on us for having had the temerity to rebel.
I recall tweeting just after the 2016 EU Referendum that the ‘liberal’ elite oligarchy would not give up its power back to the demos without a fight, and that we might well have to take to the streets to achieve it, preferably non-violently, however repugnant the prospect.
But we may have no choice. To quote Thomas Paine: ‘If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.’