Strictly speak­ing, what’s the point of Brit Brexit TV show?

May and Cor­byn waltz out of step as they ar­gue over which TV chan­nels they want to ap­pear on, writes Wil­lie Kealy

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Soapbox -

SO this is what the lat­est episode of Brexit has come down to — who do you least want to of­fend, the view­ers of Strictly Come Danc­ing or I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here?

Theresa May is con­cerned most with Strictly view­ers and so wants to have a de­bate on the BBC with­out an au­di­ence, but with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of a num­ber of in­ter­ested par­ties. Jeremy Cor­byn favours ITV’s for­mula of a sim­ple head-to­head with the prime min­is­ter in front of a stu­dio au­di­ence.

Why they want a de­bate at all is a mys­tery. The view­ers — the great Bri­tish pub­lic — will not have a say on whether the deal Mrs May brought back from Eu­rope is ac­cepted or not. That is down to the House of Com­mons, and it is pretty clear which way its mem­bers are in­clined at present.

The Tories are split, though thanks to Ja­cob Rees-Mogg’s bluff be­ing called, not as badly against the prime min­is­ter as she had feared, though she has lost her DUP life­line. And she does seem to be mak­ing life un­nec­es­sar­ily dif­fi­cult for her­self by re­fus­ing to let the MPs who will be vot­ing on the is­sue see the le­gal ad­vice she has ob­tained on the deal, giv­ing even more of them a rea­son to vote against her.

The Labour Party feels bound to op­pose the deal on prin­ci­ple, though what they ac­tu­ally stand for is less clear. Jeremy Cor­byn says he would like a gen­eral elec­tion (which, of course, he thinks he would win) af­ter the ex­pected de­feat of the May pro­pos­als in the Com­mons.

But there is no guar­an­tee that a Com­mons de­feat would lead to an elec­tion. How­ever, if it did, what choices would the Bri­tish peo­ple face?

Both main par­ties are aware that they are deal­ing with a pretty stupid elec­torate which voted for Brexit, and even now, many of them would like to “just get on with it”. Much of this ob­tuse at­ti­tude is based on xeno­pho­bia and a be­lief that if they can keep for­eign­ers out, there will be jobs for all.

So politi­cians tread war­ily and would be un­likely right now to ad­vo­cate an elec­tion cam­paign based on the sim­ple ques­tion of Brexit or Re­main. If fact, they would prob­a­bly be too scared to even put the no­tion of an­other ref­er­en­dum into their man­i­festos.

Mrs May would seem to be hon­our-bound to cam­paign on the ba­sis of her own deal. In the un­likely event she stood down and was re­placed by a hard­line Brex­i­teer such as Boris John­son or Michael Gove, they might try to per­suade the elec­torate they could ei­ther get a bet­ter deal from Brus­sels; seek to im­ple­ment the Nor­way Plus op­tion which would in­volve ac­cept­ing the May deal while also re­main­ing in the Eu­ro­pean Eco­nomic Area and the cus­toms union; or, in ex­tremis, that they could tol­er­ate a no-deal out­come.

The rest of the prime min­is­ters of the EU have said there will be no bet­ter deal, and given that the con­ces­sions they have al­ready given to Bri­tain ap­pear to have been grudg­ing, one is in­clined to be­lieve them.

So say­ing you could get a bet­ter deal would not ap­pear to be a win­ner. And it is not an ap­proach Labour is likely to take.

Nor would it make much sense for Jeremy Cor­byn to adopt the May pro­posal he now op­poses. That would sim­ply put him in the un­en­vi­able po­si­tion Mrs May now oc­cu­pies. At present, his only po­si­tion is that he would like an elec­tion and he is not keen on a no-deal Brexit.

But if he gets his elec­tion, he will have to take the next step. To ad­vo­cate a no-deal Brexit in your man­i­festo would be mad­ness for ei­ther party.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bank of Eng­land gov­er­nor, Mark Car­ney, eco­nomic growth would fall by 8pc and ster­ling would lose a quar­ter of its value, a slump not seen since World War II. Philip Ham­mond, Mrs May’s chan­cel­lor, says there will be a slump, though not as se­vere, even un­der the deal the prime min­is­ter has ne­go­ti­ated.

So the op­tions nar­row for Labour un­til it is faced with the in­evitable con­clu­sion that it will have to al­low the Bri­tish peo­ple an­other chance to de­cide their fu­ture. This is cer­tainly dis­cernible from the most re­cent ut­ter­ances of Labour’s John McDon­nell, who says an­other ref­er­en­dum is in­evitable if there is no elec­tion.

Such an ap­proach can eas­ily be jus­ti­fied on the grounds of the vast amount of in­for­ma­tion now avail­able that was not known to the elec­torate at the time of the last ref­er­en­dum. And while the mo­ronic el­e­ment will still fol­low the disin­gen­u­ous hard Brex­i­teers, there seems a bet­ter than even chance that Bri­tish pub­lic opin­ion has shifted suf­fi­ciently to re­verse that ver­dict of two-and-a-half years ago — if they are given the op­por­tu­nity.

But there’s many a slip... and right now there is lit­tle any­one out­side the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment can do in the short term, and out­side the Bri­tish elec­torate in the longer term.

What would pos­si­bly help would be if cer­tain Eu­ro­pean lead­ers could curb their en­thu­si­asm for the mo­ment for po­lit­i­cal and fis­cal in­te­gra­tion and even for the idea of a Eu­ro­pean army.

This kind of stuff is caus­ing para­noia among the more skit­tish el­e­ments of the Bri­tish pub­lic, and is un­nec­es­sary.

The low-key ap­proach of the Taoiseach, Leo Varad­kar, in which he re­stricts him­self to re­peat­ing the EU mantra that the only deal is the deal ne­go­ti­ated, and the only al­ter­na­tive is “no-deal and a cliff-edge Brexit”, is one our part­ners in Eu­rope would do well to fol­low.

‘Both par­ties are aware they are deal­ing with a stupid elec­torate’

FIXED: Theresa May wants to stick to her deal with the EU

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