Why this deal could spark an erup­tion that blows the Tories apart

Daily Mail - - News -

FOr the past two years, Brexit has ad­vanced at a snail’s pace. There have been fre­quent re­ports that ne­go­ti­a­tions had bro­ken down, and that Theresa May was fin­ished.

I never gave them any cre­dence. The truth, as I have re­ported reg­u­larly in this col­umn, is that talks have ad­vanced much more smoothly than was widely un­der­stood.

Hun­dreds of civil ser­vants — the un­sung heroes of the Brexit process — on both sides of the Chan­nel have qui­etly been work­ing to ne­go­ti­ate an out­come which they hope will suc­ceed, both for Bri­tain and Eu­rope.

Next week, maybe on Tues­day, Theresa May will al­most cer­tainly come to the House of Com­mons to an­nounce that the deal has been agreed.

In all es­sen­tials the deal al­ready ex­ists. That’s why the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, Ge­of­frey Cox, has been asked to give his le­gal opin­ion.

And this week­end Cab­i­net min­is­ters are be­ing rung up by Down­ing Street and bribed or strong-armed into agree­ment. Some may walk. We should brace our­selves for the pos­si­bil­ity of more Cab­i­net res­ig­na­tions.

Next week may, there­fore, mark a key mo­ment in Bri­tain’s post-war his­tory. Bar­ring some last-minute hiccup, the first de­tails of Bri­tain’s post- Brexit ar­range­ment with Eu­rope will be pub­lished.

Though I ex­pect the Gov­ern­ment to pro­duce a long doc­u­ment, I un­der­stand that the es­sen­tial out­lines are sim­ple enough to sum­marise.

Bri­tain will leave the Euro­pean Union on March 29 next year. We will no longer be rep­re­sented in the Brus­sels Com­mis­sion or in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

HOW­EVEr,

for the im­me­di­ate fu­ture at least, we stay on as a mem­ber of the Euro­pean cus­toms union. Bri­tain has also agreed to the con­tro­ver­sial North­ern Ir­ish ‘back­stop’. This means that we will re­main as part of the cus­toms ar­range­ment — and there­fore sub­ject to Euro­pean courts — un­til such time as a trad­ing ar­range­ment with Eu­rope is agreed.

Per­haps, and this is the fear of the Brex­i­teers, it is where we will re­main for ever.

Such is the deal that Theresa May has fought for. It’s the deal which big busi­ness has ar­gued for. She be­lieves it will pro­tect Bri­tish jobs and pros­per­ity. It should be seen as a per­sonal tri­umph for the Prime Min­is­ter.

But it’s also a deal which rep­re­sents many thing those who sought a clean break from Eu­rope fought against.

So ex­pect cries of be­trayal. Not just from Nigel Farage, ei­ther. We should also ex­pect an erup­tion in the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Not a mi­nor erup­tion. It’ll be a first-class row that will po­ten­tially blow the Tories to bits. A mod­ern Ve­su­vius. This means that the $64,000 ques­tion in Bri­tish pol­i­tics is no longer whether the deal can be agreed. It now be­comes whether the deal can be forced through Par­lia­ment.

Any­body who claims they know the an­swer is a liar.

It is cer­tain that a num­ber of Brex­i­teers will be op­posed. Boris John­son, the for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary, has al­ready made it plain that he re­gards Mrs May’s deal as a dis­as­ter for Bri­tain.

But then so does his brother Jo, who is on the other side of the Brexit di­vide: he re­signed yes­ter­day as a trans­port min­is­ter, say­ing we are ‘ bar­relling to­wards an in­co­her­ent Brexit’ and call­ing for an­other ref­er­en­dum. He is a moder­ate, thought­ful loy­al­ist, and there’s no doubt his de­par­ture is a ma­jor blow to Down­ing Street.

David Davis, mean­while, the for­mer Brexit ne­go­tia­tor who thinks the PM’s gone soft on Eu­rope, says he will vote against the deal.

The Brex­i­teers will ar­gue — and there is no doubt they have a rea­son­able point — that Mrs May’s deal rep­re­sents a be­trayal of her own Lan­caster House speech two years ago.

Back then, she set out an image of Brexit Bri­tain tak­ing back con­trol of our own borders, our own laws, im­mi­gra­tion and trade.

That’s in­com­pat­i­ble with the con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of the cus­toms union that Mrs May will an­nounce next week.

And that per­ceived be­trayal may cost the Prime Min­is­ter her job in Down­ing Street. Be­cause for many Tories, Brexit is an is­sue of far greater im­por­tance than or­di­nary party pol­i­tics. There is now a gen­uine pos­si­bil­ity that some of them will team up with Jeremy Cor­byn’s Labour Party and vote down Mrs May’s Brexit deal.

Those who think it im­plau­si­ble that diehard Tories such as Owen Pater­son and Iain Dun­can Smith could join up with Jeremy Cor­byn and John Mc­Don­nell to de­stroy Theresa May should think again.

Such al­liances of op­po­sites have oc­curred be­fore.

Po­ten­tially, the Cor­bynites and Brex­i­teers will be joined by the Demo­cratic Union­ist Party, who say they are in de­spair at Mrs May’s so- called back­stop ar­range­ment.

Though the fu­ture is im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict, one thing is cer­tain. The nearly two years of phoney war af­ter the 2016 Brexit ref­er­en­dum are over. We have now left the long pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal sta­sis, and in­stead events will move with be­wil­der­ing speed.

I have ad­vice for those with­out strong stom­achs and nerves of iron: get off the train now.

As I see it, the timetable goes as fol­lows. Next week, the Prime Min­is­ter will an­nounce her Brexit deal to the House of Com­mons.

She will then ar­range a spe­cial Brexit sum­mit, in or­der for­mally to sign off her deal with Euro­pean trade ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier at the end of this month. No­vem­ber 25 is the date I am hear­ing. Par­lia­ment will then vote on the deal in early De­cem­ber.

If Mrs May wins her vote, all well and good. HMS Great Bri­tain will sail rel­a­tively serenely to­wards the exit.

If Mrs May loses the vote, how­ever, there will be a rush for the lifeboats. We will be plunged into a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis on a scale we have not seen for decades.

Will the Prime Min­is­ter have to re­sign if she can’t com­mand a Com­mons ma­jor­ity? Some say no. But I be­lieve she will have no choice.

As to what hap­pens if that comes to pass, opin­ions dif­fer. Some Tory power­bro­kers are plot­ting to sur­vive in gov­ern­ment by hold­ing a lead­er­ship elec­tion. This sounds plain daft to me.

MANy

vot­ers would won­der how the Con­ser­va­tives dared to change leader at such a piv­otal mo­ment for the na­tion. In such cir­cum­stances, I be­lieve an event which hap­pens only very rarely in mod­ern pol­i­tics will take place. The monarch will be forced, how­ever re­luc­tantly, to in­ter­vene. Ful­fill­ing her con­sti­tu­tional role means the Queen — who is far more re­spected than any liv­ing Bri­tish politi­cian — will in­vite Jeremy Cor­byn to try his hand at form­ing a gov­ern­ment.

I doubt he will be able to do so, at which point a num­ber of dif­fer­ent op­tions will be con­sid­ered.

One will be an­other gen­eral elec­tion. It’s also likely that calls for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on Brexit would then gain strength.

It’s less than eight weeks un­til Christ­mas Day, and I’m not go­ing too far to say that the destiny of Bri­tain for the next half-cen­tury could be de­ter­mined amid the carol ser­vices and sparkling trees of the fes­tive sea­son.

If I was a bet­ting man, I would guess Mrs May will get her way and, for all the tra­vails she has faced in re­cent months, she will yet lead Bri­tain out of the Euro­pean Union on March 29.

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