The Mail on Sunday - - Brexit: The 'Soft Coup' -

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

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