May’s plan to trigger Brexit ‘a catastrophe’ and ‘insult’ to Scotland
THERESA May has “ram-raided” Scotland into a chaotic hard Brexit it was claimed last night following reports the Prime Minister is likely to have the authority to formally begin the process of leaving the EU as early as Tuesday. Last night, Downing Street refused to comment on the reports and stated that “our line is unchanged”, reaffirming that Article 50 would be triggered by the end of March.
However, the Scottish Government said the news was a “measure of the failure” of the UK Government’s approach to Scotland since the referendum vote to leave the EU last year.
European leaders were reportedly preparing for the UK to begin Brexit imminently, amid signs that May could activate Article 50 as early as Tuesday.
During a summit of the remaining 27 EU members in Brussels, leaders were told to expect May to trigger exit talks next week and to prepare for a Brussels gathering on April 6 to respond to the UK’s formal letter of notification.
One UK Government official involved in the process reportedly said he “hoped” that Article 50 could begin on Tuesday when May is due to address MPs, but that it would certainly start by the end of the week.
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said that other European capitals would be ready to issue draft “guidelines” for negotiations within 48 hours. The EU is “well prepared for all procedures”, he said at the conclusion of a meeting at which Europe’s political elite continued fleshing out plans for life without the UK in the bloc.
May faces votes in both houses tomorrow which are likely to give her the authority to begin Brexit. She will make a statement to Parliament on this week’s Brussels summit on Tuesday, a day later than usual, prompting speculation that she may use the moment to start the two-year negotiation period.
A Scottish Government spokesman accused the Tory government of rushing Scotland into a hard Brexit before talks with the devolved ad- ministration had been completed. The spokesman said: “It is a measure of the failure of the UK Government to consult meaningfully with the devolved administrations that we do not know either the date of triggering or what will be in the letter that does so.
“The UK Government has previously indicated it would not be triggering Article 50 until there was an agreed ‘ UK approach and objectives for negotiations’ – and our position remains that it is essential UK ministers establish a position that properly reflects all parts of the UK ahead of Article 50 being triggered.
“People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, but instead of listening to Scotland as they promised, the UK Government now seems determined to impose a hard Brexit at any cost.”
Former first minister Henry McLeish branded the move to trigger Brexit this week as “Conservative madness”. He said: “This is confirmation of our worst fears that Brexit will be ram raided through parliament.
“Theresa May is leading us towards a catastrophe and if these reports are true it’s an insult to Scotland to have this imposed in this way. However, it should embolden all of us to do our best to oppose this irresponsible behaviour from the Prime Minister and what is Conservative madness.”
THE Tory government is heading for the sands. This would have sounded a far-fetched thing to say even a few days ago but after a complete shambles of a Budget the Prime Minister’s feet of clay are now in clear view. It is becoming devastatingly obvious that her opinion poll command over English politics is based entirely on Labour incompetence and weakness, not Tory competence or strength.
Recently a government source confid- ed to a London newspaper an insight which sets the scene for the series of events which will make a bad Budget the very least of May’s cumulating problems. “It is possible that we will have to face Nicola Sturgeon calling a second referendum, have to bring in direct rule in Northern Ireland and trigger Article 50 all at the same time.”
The most interesting thing about that quote is it suggests a Downing Street mindset which sees the timing of these things are random acts of fate as opposed to the direct result of action and inaction on the part of the government.
Most people would absolve Theresa May of responsibility for the Northern Ireland deadlock. They would be wrong. If she had invested just a fraction of the political capital of Major and Blair in the province, or appointed a Northern Irish Secretary of any gravitas whatsoever, then this potentially dangerous impasse could have been avoided or at least avoided for now.
Meanwhile, the imminent triggering of Article 50 is entirely of her doing.
Back last year a guy called Dominic Cummings was running the Leave campaign. He was trying to knock down the previous prime minister’s suggestion that Article 50 would be triggered quickly and chaos would ensue. He gave The Economist this revealing reply: “No-one in their right mind would begin a legally defined two-year maximum period to conduct negotiations before they actually knew, roughly speaking, what the process was going to yield.”
He compared it to putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger. Yet this week, almost unbelievably, the Prime Minister intends to do exactly that.
The moment she sends that fateful Article 50 letter then the balance of negotiating power starts to move into the hands of the 27 other European countries. As the two-year deadline approaches, the power will move even further until eventually the UK will be left clutching at any straw deal to prevent no deal at all.
This weekend, at the European Council, as talk of a £50,000 million leaving bill started to crystallise, it should have began to dawn even on this Prime Minister how difficult it is going to be to avoid that cliff edge she once spoke about.
Finally, we come to Scotland. A couple of days ago a Tory peer, a veteran Tory “wet” from the Thatcher era, stopped me in the Westminster lobby.
“Did you write that speech, Alex? Theresa May in Glasgow. Just like old times, eh? History repeating itself as farce. What on earth was she thinking?”
Delivering that lecture last Friday looked like bad politics on the grounds that most Scots have never liked southern-based politicians talking down to them and are also smart enough to detect a London power grab when they see one.
One week later the latest health statistics exposed not just the full extent of England’s accident and emergency crisis but the extent to which the Scottish health service is performing a full 12 per cent better. The bad politics now also reveal a lack of self-awareness on May’s part which is mind-boggling. Nicola Sturgeon would be well justified in telling the Prime Minister to get on with the day job.
More seriously, that clumsy conference address probably dispelled any lingering notion that the Scottish Government’s carefully crafted compromise on Europe was going to be treated seriously and respectfully by this tunnel-visioned Prime Minister.
Scotland is likely to be dismissed with the same contempt that has been reserved for the 48 per cent of the UK which voted to remain, her own doubting backbenchers, European citizens living and working among us, the House of Lords and everyone else who offers a contrary line to the prevailing wisdom of the Brexiters.
I doubt if that is the only view in the Cabinet, even among the key Cabinet ministers, but it is her view and therefore the only one that counts.
During Hammond’s Budget speech he made a throwaway joke about the last Labour government, suggesting playfully that the Tories would be in power forever. It was a poor line as it smacked of the hubris that always comes before a fall. Lo and behold, by this weekend the Chancellor has been taken down a peg or two. During May’s Glasgow speech she displayed a degree of Tory arrogance which will also soon come unstuck. In the next week or two, the Prime Minister may find that constitutional crises, like London buses, can come along all at once and often three at a time.
Theresa May’s ‘Tory arrogance will also soon come unstuck’