It filled me with fury that the PM’s doing deals with this extremist
... but it’s the Brexit zealots I blame for giving her no choice
WHEN I heard Theresa May had agreed to meet Jeremy Corbyn with a view to reaching a compromise over Brexit, my immediate response was that she had finally blown it.
If the Labour leader were a moderate and sensible person, no one could reasonably object to her sitting down with him at a moment of national crisis, and trying to hammer out a deal that might command the support of Parliament.
But Corbyn is neither moderate nor sensible. He is an extremist who has given succour to terrorists in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. He is almost certainly a Marxist, and has supported the madcap socialist regime in Venezuela, which has mired that once wealthy country in poverty.
Moreover, throughout the Brexit process he has thrown a spoke in Mrs May’s deal at every opportunity, opposing her not out of conviction — deep down, he is viscerally anti-EU — but because his overriding aim has been to finagle a general election.
So the thought of letting such a man shape the policy for leaving the European Union, and potentially gaining kudos in the process, filled me (and I’ve no doubt many millions of others) with fury and apprehension. That’s why my first thought was that the Prime Minister had lost the plot.
But then, when the dust had settled, I asked myself this question: what else, in the almost unbelievably dire circumstances in which she finds herself, can she do?
The epic seven-hour Cabinet meeting on Tuesday was faced with a choice between No Deal and trying to water down Mrs May’s deal so as to make it acceptable to Labour.
Although a majority in the Cabinet reportedly favoured No Deal, Mrs May resisted it, I believe rightly. Admittedly, it is tempting. Bullying and supercilious Eurocrats who address us as though we are a banana republic are driving many of us mad. How glorious it would be to escape their clutches.
But I’m afraid the short-term economic repercussions of No Deal might well be painful for millions of hard- pressed people. No responsible Prime Minister could take a risk with their livelihoods.
We must ask ourselves why the range of possibilities has been reduced to an unappetising choice between No Deal and a version of Mrs May’s deal, which is reportedly being doctored by Jeremy Corbyn to include membership of the Customs Union.
I would argue it is chiefly because of the intransigence of the more blinkered members of the Tory European Research Group (ERG) and their even more pig- headed Northern Irish allies in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Oh, I know the Prime Minister can rightly be blamed for her rotten negotiating skills and her terrible tactics as the EU’s feline Michel Barnier and his aides have danced rings around our leaden- footed and doubtless Remainorientated emissaries.
Nonetheless, a deal of a sort, which did at least promise this country eventual independence from Brussels, was finally presented by Mrs May — and three times rejected by the ERG ( albeit in gradually declining numbers), the DUP and a knot of equally obdurate Tory Remainers. And Labour, too, of course.
Flawed, yes. Disturbing, too, insofar as the so- called Irish backstop potentially locked this country into the Customs Union ad infinitum. But Mrs May’s deal was immeasurably more attractive to Tory Brexiteers than the compromise she discussed yesterday with Jeremy Corbyn in talks he said went ‘very well’.
Why in God’s name didn’t they accept a better deal when they could? It’s not as though they weren’t warned a thousand times that, to quote the Prime Minister, they might ‘lose Brexit altogether’.
It’s true that when her deal came back for the third time of asking, some Brexiteers — Jacob Rees- Mogg, Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith — caved in, and reluctantly supported it. But they took so long to do so that there was no time to bring their more boneheaded colleagues on board.
When the history of Brexit is eventually written by fair and dispassionate hands, I hope the failures of the extreme Brexiteers will not be glossed over. They told us the process would be quick and easy. It has proved the opposite.
Boris Johnson idiotically informed us that we could ‘have our cake and eat it’. As things have transpired, it looks as though we may end up with a smallish slice of something rather crumbly.
As is invariably the way with zealots, it never occurs to these people that they may bear even the tiniest degree of responsibility for what has gone wrong, or that they may have got their political calculations in a twist.
Jacob Rees-Mogg was at it again on Radio 4’ s Today programme yesterday, blaming Mrs May for her ham-fisted negotiating skills, but disavowing all blame for having rejected a deal that would have largely honoured the outcome of the 2016 Referendum.
Both Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith have laid into the Prime Minister for agreeing to talk with Corbyn, and hard-line Brexiteers are lining up to excoriate her for the compromise they suspect she is hatching. It doesn’t enter their minds that she wouldn’t have had to meet the Labour leader if they had backed her deal when it mattered.
As for the DUP, they’re a cussed, selfish and narrow lot. All they care about is maintaining Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom — but not about the wider interests of that kingdom.
They aren’t greatly exercised by the prospect of the UK remaining in the Customs Union, since all that matters to them is enjoying exactly the same terms as the rest of the country.
Should the rest of us care about staying in the Customs Union? I am distinctly queasy. Leaving it was one of Theresa May’s ‘ red lines’ for good reason. It would breach the 2017 Tory manifesto, though as she is in the process of falling on her sword she could probably live with that betrayal.
Unfortunately, if we remain in the Customs Union we will find ourselves subject to a stream of new trade rules over which we will have absolutely no control. As a major member of the EU, the United Kingdom was able to influence the bloc’s trade policy.
Continued involvement in the Customs Union would also mean this country would be unable to strike bilateral trade deals with other countries that would take account of our huge strengths in services.
Some will reasonably wonder whether, if we sign up to the Customs Union, it is worth leaving the EU at all. It is certainly a thought that has been running through my mind.
On the other hand, Mrs May is reportedly determined to resist any idea Labour might have that we should stay part of the Single Market, and thereby lose control of our borders. But she may be forced to accept concessions on workers’ right that would prove expensive.
If a re-worked deal is agreed between the two leaders, there will be enormous Tory indignation and some Labour backbench unhappiness. Corbyn’s reputation will be enhanced. He will be a step closer to the door of No. 10.
The hard-line Brexiteers can blame Theresa May as much as they like for an increasingly botched outcome. But I’m afraid they are the worst culprits for having thrown out the best version of Brexit we were ever going to get.