An elec­tion is the only way to get a ‘no deal’ Brexit

Leave MPS will need a new prime minister and a ma­jor­ity to con­vince Par­lia­ment on this is­sue

The Daily Telegraph - - Saturday Comment - JULIET SA­MUEL

The two sides are squar­ing up. Armed with their lawyerly briefs, sharp hair­cuts and dusty con­sti­tu­tional in­stru­ments, one fac­tion is ready. The other side, a rag­tag bunch in waist­coats and round glasses, are bran­dish­ing a sovereign Act of Par­lia­ment, crown pre­rog­a­tive pow­ers and the pas­sions of the peo­ple. Next week, they will go to war.

The first group are the hard-line Re­main­ers. This week, led by Do­minic Grieve, they passed a mo­tion giv­ing Par­lia­ment the right to tell the Gov­ern­ment what it should do. Their first in­struc­tion, as soon as Theresa May’s deal goes down, is likely to be that she re­quest an ex­ten­sion to Ar­ti­cle 50 to give MPS more time to thrash out a cross-party com­pro­mise.

Be our guest, say the Brex­i­teers on the other side. Par­lia­ment can pass mo­tions un­til it is blue in the face, they ar­gue, and it still doesn’t gain the le­gal right to ne­go­ti­ate treaties. That right be­longs solely to Her Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment and, thanks to leg­is­la­tion al­ready passed, Brexit will hap­pen on March 29 un­less or un­til the ex­ec­u­tive changes its mind. If that means leav­ing with­out a deal, so be it.

This is a proper con­sti­tu­tional war. Un­for­tu­nately for the Brex­i­teers, how­ever, the signs for them are not good.

For one thing, their hold on the Prime Minister is weak. For two years she has been pay­ing lip ser­vice to their vi­sion of Brexit while ne­go­ti­at­ing it away. This was ob­vi­ous in De­cem­ber, but the Brex­i­teers ig­nored the red flags. It’s no use them fight­ing for HMG’S right to leave with no deal if the gov­ern­ment it­self isn’t on­side.

Their first or­der of busi­ness, there­fore, must be to change leader. If Mrs May doesn’t re­sign when her deal fails, ex­pect the 48-let­ter thresh­old to be passed quickly. The Brex­i­teers must then ei­ther win a vote of no con­fi­dence among Tory MPS or win enough sup­port that Mrs May feels she has to go. This is high-risk. If they fail, she is safe from chal­lenge for a whole year. To win over dither­ers, she could prom­ise to go be­fore the year is out, but af­ter see­ing through this stage of Brexit.

As­sum­ing the Brex­i­teers man­age to oust Mrs May, the bat­tle then heats up. In the­ory, a lead­er­ship con­test takes two months, but some MPS think it can be con­densed into three weeks. Lead­er­ship con­tenders will walk a tricky tightrope be­tween win­ning enough sup­port in the first stage, in which pre­dom­i­nantly Re­mainer MPS vote, and win­ning the sec­ond stage, when the pas­sion­ately pro-brexit party mem­ber­ship have their say. The ar­gu­ment will be over whether to pur­sue a no-deal/wto Brexit if the EU won’t co­op­er­ate, or whether to aim closer to Nor­way or Mrs May’s deal.

Let’s as­sume that the tough, pro­brexit can­di­date wins. This new leader will still face enor­mous ob­sta­cles.

Even as a Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship bat­tle takes place, the Re­main ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment will be busy. Three weeks af­ter los­ing a vote on the deal, the prime minister must lay out a plan of ac­tion and let Par­lia­ment vote on it. If Mrs May is still in of­fice, wait­ing for her re­place­ment to be cho­sen, this will fall to her.

The pro-brexit leader would then ar­rive at No 10 declar­ing a dra­matic shift in strat­egy, de­mand­ing Brus­sels drop the hated back­stop and, if it doesn’t, mov­ing as­sertively to­wards a no deal exit, with a short tran­si­tion if it can be agreed.

There is just one prob­lem: Par­lia­ment. In the­ory, the Brex­i­teers are right. A com­mit­ted, pro-brexit prime minister can push ahead, and Par­lia­ment can­not re­verse the ex­ist­ing laws. But this coun­try has un­der­gone 300 years of con­sti­tu­tional evo­lu­tion aimed at en­sur­ing that a gov­ern­ment can­not sim­ply ig­nore Par­lia­ment.

MPS will dig deep into the con­sti­tu­tion to un­earth new in­stru­ments. There will be more hum­ble ad­dresses, con­tempt mo­tions and threats to lock min­is­ters in the Tower. They will refuse to pass any of the ur­gent leg­is­la­tion needed to man­age a no deal. They could try to an­nul any of the 60 statu­tory in­stru­ments that the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­ity says are es­sen­tial to man­age the fi­nan­cial as­pects. They can refuse to pass bills on im­mi­gra­tion or trade, leav­ing us with no laws on ei­ther.

The pro-brexit prime minister would have to play chicken not just with the EU, but with our own Par­lia­ment, to ter­rify MPS into re­lent­ing. There is barely enough time to plan for a no deal as it is, with­out this chaos.

At this point, if not be­fore, the Con­ser­va­tive Party would split. It might not be any­where close to a half-half split, but it doesn’t need to be. A rump of strongly pro-re­main MPS are al­ready dis­cussing break­ing away to pre­vent a no deal if nec­es­sary. They could then join with Op­po­si­tion par­ties to col­lapse the Gov­ern­ment in a par­lia­men­tary vote of no con­fi­dence and re­place it with their own cross­party coali­tion, ei­ther in favour of an ul­tra-soft, Nor­way-type deal or a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. The DUP could well de­cide to sup­port a Nor­way-style Brexit, since it keeps the UK closer to­gether. If this fails, it’s gen­eral elec­tion time.

All of this goes to show that the only vi­able strat­egy open to hard-line Brex­i­teers is to pre-empt this bat­tle, in­stall a new prime minister (if they can) and charge en­thu­si­as­ti­cally into a fresh gen­eral elec­tion to seek a man­date for much tougher EU ne­go­ti­a­tions and a no-deal Brexit. To Brexit cam­paign­ers, this might sound hor­ri­bly un­fair. They won the ref­er­en­dum, af­ter all. But if ever that en­tailed a man­date for no deal, Mrs May lost the power to ex­e­cute it when she lost her ma­jor­ity last year.

The hard fact is that a no-deal Brexit is a rad­i­cal pol­icy pro­gramme and it can­not be done with­out ex­plicit con­sent. Ja­cob Rees-mogg him­self has said that, mis­man­aged, it would squan­der the Tories’ rep­u­ta­tion for eco­nomic com­pe­tence on the same scale as Black Wed­nes­day in 1992. The Cab­i­net is al­ready dis­cussing how to guar­an­tee med­i­cal sup­plies and avoid food short­ages. Such problems would only be tem­po­rary, but it re­quires hon­esty and a sense of na­tional pur­pose to get through them with­out wide­spread pub­lic fury. The idea that the Tory party can em­bark upon such an en­deav­our with­out even the sup­port of our own Par­lia­ment is ridicu­lous.

The Con­ser­va­tives are ahead in the polls, the econ­omy is grow­ing, wages are ris­ing and jobs are abun­dant. The ques­tion that en­trenched Re­main­ers and Brex­i­teers need to ask them­selves is whether it is worth putting all this at risk, po­ten­tially end­ing up with a Jeremy Cor­byn-led gov­ern­ment, to avoid com­pro­mise. If it is, by all means, go right ahead and charge to­wards a gen­eral elec­tion. Just don’t tell Brenda from Bris­tol.

The fact is that a no-deal Brexit is a rad­i­cal pol­icy pro­gramme and it can’t be done with­out ex­plicit con­sent FOL­LOW Juliet Sa­muel on Twit­ter @Ci­tysamuel; READ MORE at tele­graph. co.uk/opin­ion

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