Edi­to­rial Com­ment

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - Es­tab­lished 1855

If it was Theresa May’s in­ten­tion to flush out anti-brexit rebels on her own back­benches with her ar­ti­cle in last week’s Tele­graph, she has cer­tainly suc­ceeded. In an­nounc­ing plans to fix legally the date of Brexit to March 29 2019, she made it clear that she would not tol­er­ate wreck­ers on her own side us­ing par­lia­men­tary process to un­der­mine, or at­tempt to re­v­erse, our de­par­ture from the Euro­pean Union. Now a group of at least 15 Con­ser­va­tive MPS has emerged, de­fy­ing her.

It was al­ways clear that an op­por­tunis­tic, flip-flop­ping Labour Party would, de­spite its prom­ises and the clear wishes of many of its own sup­port­ers in the elec­tion cam­paign, put ev­ery ob­sta­cle in the path of Brexit. But at least Jeremy Cor­byn can of­fer the fee­ble de­fence that he and his col­leagues are in Op­po­si­tion. Such shame­less hypocrisy is to be ex­pected.

What equiv­a­lent ex­cuse can rebel Tory MPS of­fer – MPS who voted in favour of trig­ger­ing Ar­ti­cle 50, yet now sud­denly find they have in­sur­mount­able scru­ples about ac­cept­ing its in­evitable con­se­quences? These are par­lia­men­tar­i­ans who chose to in­voke a process with a clear two-year time­frame. So Brex­i­teers in the coun­try may find them­selves ask­ing, with en­tirely le­git­i­mate scep­ti­cism, why their rep­re­sen­ta­tives can­not bring them­selves to fol­low through now.

De­spite the un­prece­dented strains of Brexit, par­lia­men­tary process has held up well so far. But it is be­gin­ning to fray. In­di­vid­ual threads are split­ting from the fab­ric. Rebels must know that, by op­pos­ing the le­gal fix­ing of Brexit’s date, they can­not stop Brexit it­self. But they can weaken the Gov­ern­ment, and thus the hand that Bri­tain can play in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU. So what is their ac­tual aim?

This is not about a witch-hunt. Ken­neth Clarke, the Fa­ther of House, is one of the group and has long made his op­po­si­tion to Brexit clear. His po­si­tion is es­tab­lished, well-ar­gued and prin­ci­pled. It is pos­si­ble to dis­agree with his point of view, but it is hard to ob­ject. He made an ex­cel­lent speech in the House yes­ter­day, stat­ing his po­si­tion once again and re­mind­ing other mem­bers of its “con­sis­tency”. “Now I find I am the rebel,” he joked.

Only up to a point. For he con­sis­tent, and voted against in­vok­ing Ar­ti­cle 50. His fel­low “rebels” did not. So they must ex­plain why they have sud­denly changed their minds. Is it prin­ci­ple? Or is it an­tibrexit prej­u­dice?

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