The Scottish Mail on Sunday

The Prime Min­is­ter has learned a very hard les­son. To save our coun­try from catas­tro­phe, she MUST now lis­ten


THE gi­ant af­ter­shocks of the EU ref­er­en­dum con­tinue to run through Bri­tish pol­i­tics, shak­ing pil­lars that once seemed wholly firm, de­mol­ish­ing walls that once seemed safe. This mo­men­tous and dis­turb­ing Elec­tion forces us to pon­der hard about where we should now turn.

While Thurs­day’s vote was not a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, it has greatly al­tered the con­di­tions in which we ap­proach ne­go­ti­a­tions on leav­ing the EU, now only a few days away.

The Mail on Sun­day has not stood back from this is­sue. We sup­ported the ‘Re­main’ side in the ref­er­en­dum. We then ac­cepted the clear ver­dict of the peo­ple, which was our plain duty as con­sis­tent sup­port­ers of democ­racy and the rule of law. We gave our thought­ful back­ing to Theresa May when, to our sur­prise, she chose to call an Elec­tion.

We thought it was rea­son­able for her to ask for a man­date on her Brexit pol­icy, the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion she gave for the early Elec­tion. We urged her to take this op­por­tu­nity to broaden her ap­peal, and to seek to speak for the mil­lions, like us, who had op­posed Brexit, ac­cepted the ref­er­en­dum re­sult but still ex­pected their hopes and fears to be taken into ac­count.

Alas, this was an op­por­tu­nity she rather def­i­nitely did not take in a cam­paign star­tling for its nar­row, dogged na­ture. She has never yet moved from her mantra of ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and her wor­ry­ing fall­back po­si­tion that ‘no deal is bet­ter than a bad deal’ even though their stiff-necked, chilly im­pli­ca­tions went against her own bet­ter na­ture.

It was as if she was try­ing too hard to please the zealots while for­get­ting to com­fort or re­as­sure the great ma­jor­ity of rea­son­able vot­ers who re­main open to work­able com­pro­mise and recog­nise that half a loaf is in fact a great deal bet­ter than no bread at all.

And then, be­fore she could prop­erly get go­ing, she was swiftly bogged down by the self-in­flicted con­fu­sion over the ‘de­men­tia tax’ and over pensions, and then by an in­creas­ingly ner­vous and un­con­vinc­ing per­for­mance.

Al­though she man­aged to gar­ner more votes than Tony Blair at­tracted in his 1997 hey­day, her cam­paign was beyond doubt a dis­mal fail­ure. Per­haps it looked good at the strat­egy meet­ing where her tiny knot of ad­vis­ers de­cided what to do. But, as the Prime Min­is­ter has dis­cov­ered through hard and bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence, you can­not run a coun­try through a ca­bal. And those ad­vis­ers, hav­ing had all the power, have now taken all re­spon­si­bil­ity and are gone.

The bru­tal de­par­ture yes­ter­day of Nick Ti­mothy and Fiona Hill, Mrs May’s long-serv­ing po­lit­i­cal body­guards and per­sonal think­tank, was sym­bolic of a rev­o­lu­tion. To a great ex­tent, they were the heart of the pre-Elec­tion Govern­ment and its pol­icy. That Govern­ment, and that pol­icy, are fin­ished for good. They were also per­son­ally close to and greatly val­ued by Mrs May. They were her im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal fam­ily. Their loss will be a per­sonal grief to her.

They have gone be­cause, on the eve of Brexit talks and with no clear suc­ces­sion in view, Mrs May can­not go, and so oth­ers must suf­fer pub­licly on her be­half. She could not save them, much as she wanted to do so. Noth­ing could demon­strate more clearly how her au­thor­ity has shriv­elled. Mrs May, and her col­leagues at the top of the Tory Party, re­main in of­fice, but all are ut­terly trans­formed. If they are to re­main in power as well, and if they are to avoid the now very real dan­ger of a Cor­byn govern­ment, they are go­ing to have to think very hard and act very clev­erly.

In­ter­est­ingly, the wily and ex­pe­ri­enced Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis has al­ready won­dered aloud if the Govern­ment has lost its man­date – if it ever had one – for the so-called hard Brexit, es­pe­cially leav­ing the Sin­gle Mar­ket and the Cus­toms Union.

As the dis­mal re­sults be­gan to trickle in dur­ing the small hours of Fri­day, Mr Davis asked on Sky News whether the Govern­ment had now lost that man­date, say­ing ‘that’s what we put in front of the

She dis­cov­ered that you can’t rule a coun­try through a ca­bal Keep­ing Cor­byn out of power is one of the most press­ing du­ties of this Govern­ment

The youth vote proved highly ef­fec­tive for Labour…and will do so more and more There can be flex­i­ble but strong Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions

peo­ple, we’ll see by to­mor­row whether they’ve ac­cepted that or not. That will be their de­ci­sion’. It cer­tainly looks as if they have not ac­cepted it. Now what?

There have been sug­ges­tions that Mrs May, in the in­ter­val which re­mains to her while the Tory Party de­cides what to do about the lead­er­ship, should be given a Deputy Prime Min­is­ter to stand at her side – and also to re­con­nect her with Cab­i­net govern­ment. Per­haps Mr Davis, a quick thinker who is no stranger to in­fight­ing and hard bar­gain­ing, would be the best per­son to ful­fil this role.

For the fu­ture has to be se­cured. Fail­ure to get the Govern­ment back on course is not an op­tion. Mr Cor­byn waits in the wings to take ad­van­tage of any such fail­ure. He is still bur­dened with all the ter­ri­ble draw­backs that have al­ways made him un­fit for of­fice. His elec­toral suc­cess has not made his eco­nomic and de­fence poli­cies any less dis­as­trous, or di­min­ished the shame of his past as an apol­o­gist for ter­ror­ist move­ments.

Keep­ing him out of power is one of the most press­ing du­ties of this Govern­ment.

So, while there have been and will be plenty of au­top­sies of the lost cam­paign, here we mainly seek to look for­ward, rather than back­wards. And that means a re-eval­u­a­tion of Euro­pean pol­icy.

Brexit lay be­neath the sur­face of this Elec­tion. Af­ter the open­ing salvoes, it was hardly men­tioned. But in prac­tice its af­ter-ef­fects played a huge part. Labour un­ex­pect­edly re­cap­tured a large slice of the work­ing-class vote which sup­ported Leave, and many of those who had de­fected to Ukip.

While Ukip dis­in­te­grated, to the point where it may be dif­fi­cult to re­assem­ble it yet again, Labour gained quite spec­tac­u­larly in some seats by mo­bil­is­ing the youth and stu­dent vote which the Re­main cam­paign so no­tably failed to mo­ti­vate a year ago. It was al­most as if, hav­ing wished too late that they had turned out in June 2016, they turned out in­stead in June 2017. If there ever were a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, they might swing it for Re­main.

Their votes have proved highly ef­fec­tive. It is likely they will keep us­ing them. This is a per­ma­nent change in Bri­tish pol­i­tics which looks set to ben­e­fit Labour more and more in years to come.

Mean­while, the Demo­cratic Union­ists, sup­pos­edly bristling Right-wingers and Brex­i­teers, are un­der­stand­ably anx­ious about the ef­fect of Brexit on North­ern Ire­land’s wide-open bor­der with the Ir­ish Repub­lic.

It is hard to see how this prob­lem can be solved out­side the Sin­gle Mar­ket, with­out which cross­bor­der traf­fic into the Repub­lic will sud­denly be sub­ject to thou­sands of time-con­sum­ing bu­reau­cratic bar­ri­ers.

As for the enor­mous bur­den of leg­is­la­tion on the planned Great Re­peal Bill, in­cor­po­rat­ing EU laws into English law, the Govern­ment sim­ply will not be able to achieve this with­out pla­cat­ing a Par­lia­ment in which it has no Com­mons ma­jor­ity and no pop­u­lar man­date with which to over­power the non-Tory ma­jor­ity in the Lords.

We have had a lot of po­lar­is­ing talk about ‘soft Brexit’ and ‘hard Brexit’. But both of th­ese are dis­mis­sive ex­pres­sions, de­signed to cre­ate di­vi­sion rather than move to­wards civilised com­pro­mise.

Here and now we have an op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce the idea of ‘open Brexit’, a readi­ness to ne­go­ti­ate flex­i­bly as well as strongly, searching for last­ing and work­able so­lu­tions which are best for Bri­tain and its peo­ple, and for the United King­dom, rather than de­signed to please or pla­cate one fac­tion or another.

As the Tories – and their Demo­cratic Union­ist al­lies – seek to re­make the Govern­ment in the light of last week’s catas­tro­phe, they should note that rigid­ity and in­flex­i­bil­ity do not work well on to­day’s fast-mov­ing po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­field. Now is the time for sup­ple­ness, quick think­ing, and readi­ness to change our minds when the facts change.

We have had no end of a les­son. If we are pre­pared to learn from it, it will do us no end of good.


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