NOW WE’LL KNOW WHO TO BLAME FOR A DISASTER
IT WAS a very British coup. No troops or tanks, just a letter delivered by hand on behalf of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to Gavin Barwell, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. Their demands were clear – the ambiguity over Britain’s departure from the EU had to end. It was time to prepare for a ‘no deal’ Brexit. A clear timetable would be set. Chancellor Philip Hammond would need to be silenced. And, crucially, Theresa May would cede control of negotiations to a ‘war cabinet’.
The past few days have seen growing speculation in Westminster about whether Mrs May is on the verge of being ousted. But with the emergence of the ‘ Gove/ Johnson Ultimatum’, such conjecture can cease. The PM has already been overthrown – replaced by a Brexit junta.
To her credit, she resisted to the very end. Her Florence address was a brave and sincere attempt to broker a mature, fair and honourable withdrawal. But her reward was archetypal EU intransigence. And the subsequent implosion of her authority – starting with her conference speech catastrophe and culminating in former International Development Secretary Priti Patel’s bizarre venture into freelance diplomacy – sealed her fate.
On Friday, Mrs May wrote a newspaper article outlining her strategy for managing the passage of the upcoming EU Withdrawal Bill. It read like a ransom note.
‘We will not tolerate attempts from any quarter to use the process of amendments to this Bill as a mechanism to try to block the democratic wishes of the British people by attempting to slow down or stop our departure from the EU,’ she said.
You could almost see Mr Johnson and Mr Gove hovering over her as the column was penned. ‘Well done, Prime Minister. Don’t worry. So long as nobody does anything stupid, you’ll get to see your family again.’
THE long-running Cabinet civil war on Brexit is over. The Leavers have triumphed. ‘ We’re basically running a positive discrimination scheme for Brexiteers,’ one Europhile Minister told me despondently after it was confirmed Penny Mordaunt would be replacing Ms Patel. ‘Talent is no longer up for consideration.’
Which is a little bit harsh on Ms Mordaunt, who was Parliamentarian of the Year in 2014 and who has a reputation for being a competent Minister. But political reality has finally caught up with those struggling to resist the Brexit juggernaut.
Their one hope was that Mrs May could somehow rediscover her pre-Election confidence and take a firm, pragmatic grip on the Government’s Brexit strategy. But last week all hope was finally extinguished. As the PM staggered through scandals ranging from sex abuse, through offshore bank accounts to offshore Ministers, it became crystal clear there would be no rehabilitation or redemption. The May premiership has entered its final stages.
So now the internal gravity of Tory Party politics will begin to assert itself. First, it is the Europhiles who are about to find themselves surrounded and isolated. Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry will be cast in the roles usually occupied by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Peter Bone and John Redwood. As they mount their lonely stand against the EU Withdrawal Bill, it is they who will be framed as the ideologues bringing the Government to its knees and handing the keys of No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn.
Thoughts will also begin to turn to a leadership election that has now been telescoped. The prospect of Mrs May flailing on to March 2019 i s something few Tory MPs can stomach. And that means potential successors must begin to prepare for a contest that is likely to take place before the Brexit negotiations have been concluded. Given the Eurosceptic sentiment among the party’s rank and file, that will produce a further firming of Brexit stances in the Cabinet.
And there is a final important reason the Eurosceptics will now take firm control of Brexit strategy. Someone has to. Mrs May’s approach to the Brexit negotiations isn’t working. As ever, she hasn’t just fallen between two stools – she’s fallen between the stools, crashed through the window of the cottage, staggered into the country lane and been run over by a passing cart.
Her statement that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ is seen as an empty threat. Her £ 20 billion divorce offer is viewed as unrealistically low. Her soaring rhetoric about her responsibilities to ‘the next generation who will inherit the world we leave them’ is almost openly mocked by negotiating partners who doubt she will still be in post in 12 months.
The October Brexit Putsch will chill the blood of those of us who see Britain careering towards the abyss of a no-deal exit. For all her faults, Mrs May’s indecision has been preferable to the cold ideological certainty of the true Eurosceptics.
BUT there is one upside to the fact that the Brexit generalissimos have seized total control. We now know who to blame if and when catastrophe strikes. Over the past few months, a self-serving narrative had been constructed. Britain’s historic bid for freedom was being undermined by the weakness of the Prime Minister and the duplicity of irreconcilable Remainers such as Mr Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
This morning that narrative is redundant. The Brexiteers are the masters now. Mrs May remains PM in name only. A puppet, destined to spend the last months of her premiership dancing to their tune.
But it is their tune. At least there is nowhere for them to hide any more. Boris Johnson. Michael Gove. Liam Fox. Andrea Leadsom. Penny Mordaunt. I personally welcome our new Brexit overlords. Because what happens next is on them.
STRINGS: There is nowhere for Boris and his Brexit overlords to hide now they’ve taken control of the PM