May needs Christmas miracle or goose is cooked
Theresa May emerged from 10 Downing Street on Thursday night wrapped in a red woollen coat, flicked on the lights on a huge Christmas tree and sung alongside a children’s choir.
The first Christmas carol? Oh Come all Ye’ Faithful.
For the British Prime Minister it was a most symbolic moment in her most torrid week. As the country is paralysed with extraordinary indecision, May continues her desperate, perhaps deluded, bid to persuade about 150 Tory rebels to back her Brexit withdrawal bill next Wednesday morning (AEDT).
This comes after a humiliating three defeats in parliament on Tuesday and an embarrassing contempt of parliament finding.
She continues to insist hers is the only way to deliver Brexit, and a bright, “joyful and triumphant’’ future for Britain.
The negotiations and sweeteners are not about just winning the vote, but rather containing the spiralling turmoil of the Conservative Party to avoid such a dramatic loss that would bring about the end of her leadership, or even the government.
On the streets of London, the only topic of conversation is contempt for politicians and what a mess the country has found itself in. There is both anger at the EU for inflicting unrealistic demands on the country, and horror at the political machinations unfolding at Westminster.
The confused future of Britain — whether there is a deal, no deal, no Brexit, a vote of no-confidence, an election, a new prime minister — is almost too much to handle. May has delivered the worst deal, a mishmash to try to unite the country, yet it satisfies no one.
Remainers and Brexiteers are united in their fierce opposition to the deal, which would give the EU the ability to handcuff Britain to Brussels indefinitely, without any say.
Yet there appears to be no plan B, and so far parliament has no consensus as to the alternatives.
In the queue to attend Michelle Obama’s talk at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Monday night, people were swapping tales of doom amid cliff-edge trading conditions if there was a no Brexit. The pessimism is palpable.
European migration has already declined, yet the vacuum is filled by non-Europeans. House prices across the land have plummeted. In London, the prediction of a 30 per cent drop has already happened.
Anecdotally, businesses are experiencing the worst Christmas trade in years.
People are stocking emergency supplies of medicines and food, such is the very real fear of impending chaos.
On Thursday, May called her closest cabinet colleagues to Downing Street for a surprise pep talk and strategy meeting. One of the party’s most senior figures, Graham Brady, hinted at the possible way forward — by introducing an amendment to her bill to give reassurance about the dreaded Irish backstop so that the party can come in behind her.
But he warned that if there was no such amendment, “there was no point proceeding to a vote’’.
Tory officials were canvassing options to delay the vote to give May more time to win support, but it seems a moot point.
Does she push back the timing to try to win over a few more? The gulf is so great, the return of a few individual rebels won’t make any difference.
Does she plan for one of her colleagues to table one of the six allowable amendments to her bill — which if passed, would mean her bill wouldn’t be subject to such a devastating conclusion? Such an amendment would have to be consistent with approving the withdrawal bill as a whole. As such, it would be unlikely to attract much additional support.
If the amendment is radically different, such as the one planned by Labour MP Hilary Benn, it would give the government 21 days to set out a plan of action.
Benn’s amendment rejects the Prime Minister’s deal; rejects the possibility of a no deal; and guarantees parliament a proper say in what would happen next.
Tory MP Dominic Grieve had a similar amendment accepted on Tuesday, under which parliament, which has sympathies towards Remain, would be able to table amendments if the May deal fails.
Parliament’s flexing of its power has virtually eliminated the no-deal option and increased the odds of a second referendum or even a Norway-style Brexit agreement (access to the single market but also full movement of people) if negotiations with the EU were to be reopened.
With so many possible outcomes, the public, almost in a state of shock, has hibernated until a clear way forward emerges. But it’s a mistake to believe that the bitter Brexit divisions have in any way disappeared — even during the festive period.
British Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street for the switching on of the Christmas lights