Only Mrs May’s heard the real voice of Bri­tain:

‘ Get on with it and get us out’

The Mail on Sunday - - NEWS -

THE clock has fi­nally run out. ‘If we don’t get a deal signed off in prin­ci­ple next week, then we have to move ahead with No Deal,’ the Cab­i­net Min­is­ter ex­plained. ‘Novem­ber 15 is the fi­nal date we can place the or­der for ships to bring in the nec­es­sary sup­plies. The stock­pil­ing of the medicines has to be­gin around then as well. We also need to start con­struc­tion of a new bor­der post at Dover.’

Theresa May has faced many dark mo­ments dur­ing her pre­mier­ship. But this Re­mem­brance Sun­day she is star­ing down into her own po­lit­i­cal Val­ley of Death.

She can drive ahead, in the face of grow­ing op­po­si­tion among her Cab­i­net, MPs and party ac­tivists, and con­clude a Brexit deal that will push her Gov­ern­ment and par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity to the brink. Or she can turn away, aban­don Che­quers and de­liver the na­tion to the ten­der mer­cies of a no- har­ness, cliff-edge leap out of the EU.

From Down­ing Street the of­fi­cial line is one of mea­sured de­fi­ance. ‘We want to get a deal done this month i f we can,’ an of­fi­cial ex­plains, ‘but it needs to be a good deal and, it has to be one that is po­lit­i­cally sus­tain­able.’

But be­hind the scenes there are clear signs the Prime Min­is­ter is pre­par­ing a lonely, gal­lant gal­lop to­wards the sound of the guns. Over the past few weeks she has been pre­sented with an ever-grow­ing se­ries of red lines from her op­po­nents. And Mrs May is pre­par­ing to ride roughshod over all of them.

The de­tails are mind-numb­ingly opaque. But they es­sen­tially in­volve re­jec­tion of calls for a rigid and uni­lat­eral process for ex­it­ing the so-called ‘back-stop’ in the event the fi­nal de­tails of a new cus­toms ar­range­ment take time to be ham­mered out. ‘The prob­lems with any deal other than Che­quers re­main,’ a May ally says un­com­pro­mis­ingly.

SHE is right not to com­pro­mise. The time for ob­sess­ing over the ar­cane minu­tiae of Brexit is over. Un­less a deal is con­cluded, in a week’s time, Bri­tain will move on to a war foot­ing. Con­tin­gency plans will be ac­ti­vated to en­sure trans­porta­tion and ware­hous­ing of emer­gency food, medicine and other sup­plies to the UK.

No fewer than eight sep­a­rate Co­bra na­tional re­silience pro­to­cols are set to be ac­ti­vated, in­clud­ing plans to deal with blackouts, petrol short­ages and even the col­lapse of the UK’s satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems. Real-life is about to shoul­der aside the im­pen­e­tra­ble de­bates over the back-stops – and the back­stops to the back-stops.

Mrs May, for all her faults, grasps this re­al­ity. Yes, dur­ing the course of the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, she has made mis­takes. She has been ex­ces- sively aloof. ‘It’s a run­ning joke that there’s no point try­ing to get a oneon-one meet­ing with her,’ a Min­is­ter told me. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion with ‘the Sher­pas’, her of­fi­cials co-or­di­nat­ing the talks in Brus­sels, has been poor, lead­ing to her hu­mil­i­at­ing am­bush in Salzburg. Mo­ments of clar­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion have been in­ter­spersed with in­stances of in­de­ci­sion and paral­y­sis. But she has, in her awk­ward, dogged way, demon­strated lead­er­ship. De­spite the vol­leys of shot and shell, from Left and Right, she has broadly stuck to her course. To the ex­tent that her well-doc­u­mented po­lit­i­cal iso­la­tion now stands as – an al­beit un­wel­come – tes­ta­ment to her sin­gu­lar­ity of pur­pose.

It’s time for that iso­la­tion to end. Those Min­is­ters and MPs who are this week­end mulling over ‘do­ing a John­son’ and walk­ing away need to ask them­selves a sim­ple ques­tion. What else? What do they hon­estly see are the al­ter­na­tives to the deal the Prime Min­is­ter is try­ing to in­el­e­gantly wran­gle past her frac­tious Cab­i­net, in­creas­ingly du­plic­i­tous EU ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners and di­vided House of Com­mons?

No one can se­ri­ously en­ter­tain the idea of re­mov­ing Mrs May at this stage of ne­go­ti­a­tions and re­plac­ing her with a new Prime Min­is­ter. The EU would think – cor­rectly – they were deal­ing with a ba­nana repub­lic, not a ma­ture Western democ­racy, and re­spond ac­cord­ingly. Which leaves three al­ter­na­tives to May’s Brexit. One is a No Deal Brexit. Peo­ple can scream ‘Project Fear’ all they like but I have spo­ken to Min­is­ters who served in the trenches on be­half of the Leave cam­paign dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum. Not ef­fete Re­moan­ers, but stout­hearted Brex­i­teers. And they are ter­ri­fied. Ter­ri­fied of the prob­a­ble eco­nomic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal cost of a No Deal sce­nario.

Then there is a sec­ond al­ter­na­tive. Which is No Brexit. A new ref­er­en­dum is no longer merely a wicked glint in Pe­ter Man­dle­son’s eye. As Jo John­son’s res­ig­na­tion demon­strated, the idea is gain­ing trac­tion across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. In fact, in the event of a re­jec­tion of May’s deal, and the plunge into par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dural pur­ga­tory that could eas­ily fol­low, it would be­come the only way of break­ing the dead­lock.

Save for one. Which is a Cor­bynite Red Brexit. If a deal is re­jected, and a ref­er­en­dum is too po­lit­i­cally un­palat­able, then the only al­ter­na­tive is a Gen­eral Elec­tion. An Elec­tion char­ac­terised by a Con­ser­va­tive Party tear­ing it­self to pieces, Tory ac­tivists de­cry­ing the great Brexit sell- out and Min­is­ters for­lornly im­plor­ing vot­ers: ‘Bet­ter us than the chaos of Labour. Surely?’ Cor­byn wouldn’t need to leave his al­lot­ment to se­cure a land­slide.

A Down­ing Street source told me yes­ter­day, with a mas­tery of un­der­state­ment: ‘The deal isn’t go­ing to be per­fect.’ But the re­al­ity is the vot­ers are not ex­pect­ing per­fec­tion. What they crave now is res­o­lu­tion. Both Leavers and Re­main­ers claim to have the ear of the peo­ple. ‘No be­trayal!’ bel­lows out across the wa­ter­ing holes fre­quented by the Brex­i­teers. ‘Think again!’ echoes around the gilded par­lours of the Re­moan­ers. Yet strangely, none seem to hear the real voice of Bri­tain. A voice that is calmly but firmly declar­ing: ‘OK, just get out now. Get it done. And start fo­cus­ing on the is­sues that mat­ter to us.’

LAST week Down­ing Street con­ducted some polling on re­ac­tions to the Bud­get. Re­sponses were broadly pos­i­tive, but they also re­vealed that 40 per cent of women were not even aware a Bud­get had taken place. The rea­son? They were no longer en­gag­ing with pol­i­tics be­cause they were sick of hear­ing about Brexit. The mo­ment of de­ci­sion has now been reached. Mrs May must be­gin her fate­ful ride into the Val­ley of Death. Her Min­is­ters and MPs and sup­port­ers must fol­low her. The time has come to do or die.

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