May’s plan to trig­ger Brexit ‘a catas­tro­phe’ and ‘in­sult’ to Scot­land

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - BY ANDREW WHI­TAKER Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May

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’

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