The Scottish Mail on Sunday

My party’s mod­er­ates must stand by Mrs May


IT STILL feels ex­tra­or­di­nary to me that, speak­ing on her re­turn to Down­ing Street from Buck­ing­ham Palace on Fri­day, Theresa May made ab­so­lutely no ac­knowl­edge­ment of the dev­as­tat­ing ver­dict the vot­ers had just de­liv­ered to her.

All she said was the Con­ser­va­tives would work with North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party to de­liver an un­changed Brexit. What about the rest of her poli­cies and the things that worry peo­ple in Bri­tain to­day? What about a hint of apol­ogy for the cuts in po­lice num­bers, in­clud­ing armed re­sponse of­fi­cers?

And in­stead of tak­ing risks with the North­ern Ire­land peace process by al­low­ing the DUP tail to wag the UK dog, what about work­ing with all the other par­ties and the rest of Par­lia­ment to get the best deal for Bri­tain in Europe? The Prime Min­is­ter sim­ply does not un­der­stand what’s hap­pened to her Brexit plan. She lost her ma­jor­ity. The plan lies in tat­ters.

We now have a new House of Com­mons that is not go­ing to have an ex­treme Brexit forced down their throats. And MPs are not go­ing to nod through her gar­gan­tuan Re­peal Bill of EU leg­is­la­tion with­out full de­bate and ar­gu­ment.

The Prime Min­is­ter made a huge mis­take by clos­ing down all her EU ne­go­ti­at­ing op­tions be­fore the talks even be­gan. She was wrong to de­cide that Bri­tain should come out of the EU com­pletely, in­clud­ing its cus­toms union and sin­gle mar­ket – where half our ex­ports go – rather than keep­ing one foot in the trade bloc, an op­tion open to her.

And by fram­ing her ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy within a set of rigid red lines, she has se­verely re­stricted her bar­gain­ing abil­ity to get the best deal avail­able. Th­ese red lines have been im­posed by hard­lin­ers in her party and the press who want Brexit at any cost, what­ever the con­se­quences for jobs and pros­per­ity in Bri­tain.

The EU, in re­sponse, has of­fered a fu­ture trade deal as long as this is on terms ac­cept­able to them. In ef­fect, they are say­ing to Bri­tain: ‘You can have your deal but you will have to re­spect our rules to get it.’

I hope the EU will be rea­son­able and busi­ness-like. The prob­lem is that the Prime Min­is­ter is em­bark­ing on the ne­go­ti­a­tion of her life hav­ing tied her own hands.

Bri­tain will leave the EU in March 2019 but in all prob­a­bil­ity we will need an ad­di­tional two or three-year tran­si­tion pe­riod. This will re­quire com­pro­mise by Bri­tain on a con­tin­u­ing role of the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice and move­ment of peo­ple.

The wild men in her party have al­ready started to ag­i­tate against ac­cept­ing any such terms which they call a bad deal. They claim that no deal would be bet­ter than a bad deal.

Let’s be clear what ‘no deal’ would mean for Bri­tain: WTO tar­iffs im­posed on around 90 per cent of the goods the UK ex­ports to the EU, in­clud­ing 36 per cent on dairy, 15 per cent on food, 11 per cent on tex­tiles, and ten per cent on cars. It will also mean

im­port costs that will put up su­per­mar­ket prices; ser­vice trade se­verely re­stricted be­cause of reg­u­la­tory dif­fer­ences; cus­toms checks and in­spec­tions which would be lengthy and costly.

The most vul­ner­a­ble in our coun­try, the most in­debted, the ones with the least to fall back on, would suf­fer most from the con­se­quences.

In the new par­lia­men­tary arith­metic, th­ese terms would not get ap­proval from the ma­jor­ity of MPs. So where should Mrs May go from here? To with­stand the in­ter­nal party pres­sures on her, the Prime Min­is­ter clearly needs broad po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

For a start, she needs weight placed on the other side of the scales by sen­si­ble

mem­bers of the Cab­i­net such as Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond, Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd and Busi­ness Sec­re­tary Greg Clark. Their si­lence to date has been quite un­for­giv­able.

She has to be hon­est about both the com­pro­mise needed to achieve a deal and the con­se­quences of not get­ting it. Such hon­esty would be a sign of strength, not weak­ness.

As one of Europe’s largest economies, Bri­tain can both leave the EU and re­tain its trad­ing rights in the sin­gle mar­ket – as Nor­way did when its pub­lic voted against join­ing the EU – al­beit with less say in de­cid­ing the rules that gov­ern that trade. We have a much big­ger econ­omy than Nor­way, we are more im­por­tant to the rest of Europe, and we have the in­flu­en­tial sta­tus of a pow­er­ful re­cent mem­ber of the EU.

If, with one foot still in the Euro­pean camp, we were to ask for flex­i­ble terms – for ex­am­ple in how free­dom of move­ment op­er­ates – we would be lis­tened to and, in my view, ac­com­mo­dated.

The Prime Min­is­ter will not be given this chance if she sim­ply con­tin­ues as she has started, by lay­ing down the law and spell­ing out where she won’t budge.

I be­lieve if she shows flex­i­bil­ity, most of the coun­try will back her.

It would be churl­ish for peo­ple like me and other Remainers not to give her po­lit­i­cal back­ing. There are Labour MPs who want to work in the na­tional in­ter­est and will sup­port her if she does the right thing for the coun­try.

Main­stream Labour MPs, who worry about the im­pact of the con­tin­u­ing Cor­byn rev­o­lu­tion on centrist vot­ers, should be pre­pared to stand by the wounded PM, and like­wise she should wel­come their ap­proach in the na­tional in­ter­est.

If she gives in to the Brexit head­bangers, on the other hand, she will only have her­self to blame when the aw­ful re­al­ity of our po­si­tion dawns and she is forced into re­treat by Par­lia­ment.

Does she have the sense and courage to hatch a new Brexit plan? The next few weeks will tell.

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