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