#Brexit – ‘Seven days is a long time in politics’

| November 17, 2018

It’s not just UK Premier Theresa May who’s currently standing on a cliff edge – so too is her unpopular draft Brexit agreement. May has, after a spate of dramatic resignations last week, managed to shore up her support in the last few days, notably by keeping arch critic Michael Gove in the cabinet, writes Martin Banks.

But she still faces a hugely uphill battle trying to get the draft Withdrawal Agreement through the UK parliament. And, if she fails to win over enough MPs between now and the House of Commons vote – probably in December – the whole Brexit drama could once again plunge into freefall.

First, after a truly tumultuous few days in Westminster, the like of which most pundits readily to admit never seeing before, a brief recap might be useful.

Though it seems like an eternity, it was only a week ago that Mrs May won the support of her cabinet – or apparently – for the draft deal that paves the way for the UK to leave the  EU  next March. That, though, triggered a mini revolt, notably in the shape of the resignation of Dominic Raab who, as   Brexit Secretary, had ironically negotiated large chunks of the deal with his EU counterparts.

But not only does the agreement have to pass muster within Mrs May’s cabinet, it also needs to be approved by Parliament and, currently with the DUP and Labour among those saying they will vote against it, the odds seem stacked against that happening.

The so called Irish backstop issue remains, as before, the big obstacle.

The UK now has its third Brexit secretary, albeit with much reduced powers, as May has decided to take over direct control of things.

The next few days will be particularly fascinating to see if those opposed to the draft, who actually include Gove, can scramble enough colleagues to write letters forcing a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.

At least 15% of Tory MPs must write letters to force a vote.

Even if that happens and these is a no confidence vote, do not put it past this apparently inscrutable and undoubtedly redoubtable PM to see off yet another challenge to her positon.  She has now done it so often that she’s rightly earned the nickname of the ‘Teflon PM’ (nothing sticks).

The next big date on the horizon is just a few days away – the specially convened EU summit on Sunday 25 November – where EU leaders are supposed to sign off the deal.

As far as the EU is concerned, as has been oft repeated of late by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the deal now being trumpeted by May and her supporters (yes, there are some) is the best the UK can expect to get.

The message of the past few days is loud and clear: Take it or leave it.

And there is the rub, of course. If the House of Commons decides to “leave it”– vote against the draft – what happens then?

It would leave Mrs May almost certainly facing yet another leadership challenge and also raises the spectre of a second referendum, something she has constantly ruled out.

It also raises the likelihood of a No deal Brexit, something that will concern the 3.5m EU citizens in the UK and 1.5m Brits in Europe whose legal status, and with it their futures,  could be thrown in to jeopardy.

Tony Blair, the former UK PM, has said a second referendum, the so called People’s Vote, is the only way out of the current impasse.

The former UK Europe minister under Tony Blair, Denis MacShane, believes May “has created her own nightmare,” adding: “She refused after June 2016 to bring the nation together but kept repeating hard Brexit slogans. As a result too many Tory MP believed it was not necessary to unite a divided UK around a sensible pragmatic compromise. Now she needs support for such a compromise based on the UK leaving the EU in political terms but staying part of the EU in economic terms she has lost the support of too many MPs.”

Elsewhere, a group of MEPs have now written to their colleagues in the European parliament asking them to support calls for an extension to the Brexit talks.

The 14 MEPs, who come from different political groups in parliament, say buying more time is necessary in order to allow both the EU and UK the time to find a satisfactory solution.

Some of the fiercest critics to the draft deal have come from within Mrs May’s own Tory Party.

Charles Tannock, a senior Tory MEP, is unimpressed with the current situation and told this website: “If I were to look into a crystal ball the meaningful vote in late December or early January 2019 in the House of Commons may well result in a defeat of the Government’s withdrawal agreement, creating a constitutional crisis as Labour will whip its MPs strongly to vote against it.”

The ECR member said: “In the event of a no deal outcome Labour will push for a general election and a vote of no confidence, which is very unlikely to succeed but there is a bigger chance of a people’s vote or (second referendum) being agreed.”

In the meantime Europe and Brussels look at the political chaos in the UK with a mixture of bewilderment and sadness. After all, it the UK, not the soon-to-be 27 bloc, that voted to leave the EU club after 40 years’ membership. The likes of Tusk, Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker would still dearly love the UK, a key economic and military power, to remain.

European council president Donald Tusk says preparations have been made for a no-deal scenario but this is “an outcome which we hope never to see”.

Yes, we’ve heard it before but most would agree that the Brexit drama really has reached crunch point. It was Harold Wilson who once said seven days was a long time in politics and I suspect we’re about to see exactly what the former Labour PM meant.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Category: A Frontpage, Brexit, Politics, UK