May’s plan or a gen­eral elec­tion

Theresa May must now put her Brexit plan to Par­lia­ment and, if it falls, call a gen­eral elec­tion, writes Brian Wil­son

The Scotsman - - Scottish Perspective -

It’s time for Theresa May to bring the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions to a head, to find out if her plan can win the sup­port of Par­lia­ment and, if not, hold a Gen­eral Elec­tion and al­low her suc­ces­sor to pick up the pieces.

Hav­ing given Mrs May the ben­e­fit of many doubts as she strug­gled to ful­fil the ref­er­en­dum man­date, I can­not see any case for fur­ther pre­var­i­ca­tion. There was al­ways go­ing to come a point where it is nec­es­sary to say: “This is it. Like it or lump it.”

If she loses in Par­lia­ment or even in the Cabi­net, the al­ter­na­tive can­not be to blun­der on into “no deal” with all its dire im­pli­ca­tions. If that op­tion is sniffed at by the Brexit zealots, they will jump at it be­cause they are so con­temp­tu­ous of con­se­quences.

By of­fer­ing the straight choice of ac­cept­ing her pack­age or go­ing to the coun­try, Mrs May would give her­self the best chance of se­cur­ing a ma­jor­ity while of­fer­ing an in­dis­putably demo­cratic al­ter­na­tive. If there is to be a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, then it should be at the be­hest of a freshly elected govern­ment.

Would it come to that? I doubt it. The prospect of a Gen­eral Elec­tion would con­cen­trate minds won­der­fully be­cause of the sheer un­pre­dictabil­ity of the out­come. In par­tic­u­lar, Mrs May’s ghastly co­horts in the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party would have some se­ri­ous think­ing to do, if that is not a con­tra­dic­tion in terms.

Some­times straws do break camels’ backs. Step for­ward Do­minic Raab, the man lead­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions for Bri­tish with­drawal, who has just dis­cov­ered how im­por­tant the Dover-calais ferry link is to the Bri­tish econ­omy in­clud­ing mi­nor mat­ters like se­cu­rity of food sup­ply. This beg­gars be­lief.

Mr Raab in­ti­mated that he “hadn’t quite un­der­stood the full ex­tent” of re­liance on the Dover-calais cross­ing “if you look at

how we trade in goods”. He at­trib­uted the same de­gree of ig­no­rance to “the aver­age con­sumer (who) might not be aware of the full ex­tent to which the choice of goods we have in the stores is de­pen­dent on one or two very spe­cific trade routes”.

Hav­ing been struck by this pro­found rev­e­la­tion, Mr Raab now favoured “a spe­cific and very prox­i­mate re­la­tion­ship with the EU to en­sure fric­tion­less trade at the bor­der”. It did not seem to oc­cur that he and his as­so­ci­ates could have saved us all a lot of trou­ble by not cam­paign­ing to cre­ate borders in the first place.

While Mr Raab was mak­ing a fool of him­self, Mrs May was fac­ing a fresh snarl from Ar­lene Fos­ter, her soul­mate of con­ve­nience in Belfast. Like other prom­i­nent sup­port­ers of Brexit, the DUP has proved in­ca­pable of fac­ing up to the con­se­quences

of its own fun­da­men­tal­ism while at­tack­ing those who must deal with in­con­ve­nient re­al­i­ties.

Hav­ing dis­sected an ar­cane let­ter about back­stops to back­stops, Mrs Fos­ter con­cluded that Theresa May is “wed­ded to the idea of a bor­der down the Ir­ish Sea”. This seems most im­prob­a­ble but in the mind­set of DUP ab­so­lutism any at­tempt at po­lit­i­cal cre­ativ­ity is merely proof pos­i­tive of im­pend­ing be­trayal. The hour has come for Mrs May to con­front that men­tal­ity or else re­main its pris­oner.

The wider les­son is that it is im­pos­si­ble to ap­pease the as­sorted forces who led us into a cul-de-sac un­der the pre­tence that dis­en­tan­gling four decades of in­te­gra­tion with Europe would be straight­for­ward. One who started out with that ar­ro­gant swag­ger was David Davis though, be­fore flee­ing

back to his op­po­si­tion­ist com­fort zone, he learned that Brexit com­plex­i­ties “made the Nasa moon­shot look quite sim­ple”.

In con­trast, this col­umn seeks to main­tain its in­tel­lec­tual con­sis­tency. It is seven months since I sug­gested a Gen­eral Elec­tion to es­tab­lish a fresh man­date, one way or an­other, over Brexit. Ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened since then points in the same di­rec­tion, far more ob­vi­ously than for just a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum with its demo­cratic down­sides.

It may not even re­quire an elec­tion to se­cure an or­derly out­come. The un­am­bigu­ous threat of one could well do the job for Theresa May – but if that failed, why would she want to con­tinue?

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