J.S. Villiers's Blog - Posts Tagged "brexit"

And The Tories Did Stroll Casually To The End Times

Almost two years ago I shared an interesting article on game theory and the idea that a hung parliament could make it easier for Theresa May to negotiate a good deal (https://theconversation.com/a-weak-uk-government-might-do-a-better-brexit-deal-than-a-strong-one-79511).

Except it hasn't worked out like that. The premise required May to effectively have her hands tied by parliament to prevent her from accepting whatever the EU offered. In reality, of course, May was unable to accept anything the EU offered, as parliament simply couldn't agree on what was acceptable. And May's attempts at subsequent negotiation were doomed never to succeed - EU negotiators understood perfectly well that the UK had nothing else to negotiate with; parliament clearly wasn't willing to agree to an outcome deemed excessively damaging, i.e. No Deal, so this hypothetical threat never really looked all that threatening. The PM was relentlessly beholden to the public, the media and the Commons, with the result that her negotiating team didn't stand a chance of persuading the EU to make further concessions.

So what of the path that lies ahead? The hopefuls to become the next PM have an even more impossible challenge. The negotiations have already been done, and now they must attempt to undo them. The only approach that really stands any chance at all of persuading the EU to improve on the backstop is the Brexit Party position: state it is your intention to go ahead with a No Deal exit. Of course, the Brexit Party isn't at the negotiating table, and with good reason. It's probable it's not merely an attempt at a convincing bluff, but rather a genuine belief that No Deal is the best way forward. All very well for those that can afford to lose their job, but not so great for everyone else. Not even most Tories are quite mad enough to want to go down that road.

But imagine the next PM, upon receiving the keys to number 10, decided to adopt that approach. What next? For starters, they'd have to tell parliament to keep its mouth shut. No point trying to do a deal with the EU while your own cabinet's calling your bluff on a regular basis. You must also then be prepared to genuinely plan every tiny detail, which given the time restrictions is unlikely to be overly convincing, but plan you must if you want to stand a chance of being believed. It's not enough to merely try to persuade the EU that you're prepared to leave with no deal. You have to actually get on with doing it, and nothing else. No suggestions that you'll go ahead if they don't cough up a better deal, no flicking of silly blond hair and trying to blag your way through complex discussions with experienced professional negotiators in the hope they're about as challenging as a Telegraph journalist. Do it right, do it completely, or don't waste more months doing it at all. After all, there's still only the slimmest of chances of improving on the offer on the table, even with the very finest performance. Because of course, the fact remains that parliament is very largely against a no deal Brexit, and is extremely unlikely to let it happen. My god, the next PM has an almost certainly futile task ahead.

So, upon the highly probable failure of the challenge, two realistic options remain. The deal that no-one wants, or the prospect of a second referendum, which could permanently alter the political allegiances of vast swathes of voters to the extent that the Tories could, at least for a time, become the third party of the House of Commons. And then what? A party of extreme ignorance and bigotry having significant sway over day to day matters? A permanent demolition of the Conservatives that they never recover from? Five years of Corbyn? Lifelong conservatives should be bricking it far more than they seem to be.

So how else do the Tories get out of this? They don't. I mean, there's a way, but they won't follow it. It would still be immensely damaging to their own party, but the new PM could stand up and say we need a no deal Brexit, and parliament won't vote for it, so the people must. He whips his own MPs to support an in/out referendum with two simple options: No Deal versus No Brexit. He campaigns for No Deal, gives it all the rhetoric he desires, and if he loses, he says it was the will of the people, and he gave it everything. Of course, he could win, and the Tories would have to be prepared to go ahead then, even the ones who didn't want Brexit in the first place.

But their party would be (just about) saved, the threat of Farage would be staved off, and they'd have a way to break the impasse over Brexit. Admittedly a high-stakes approach, but what else does the PM do when October rolls round and he has to admit he's failed every bit as much as his predecessor? Whatever approach he takes he's going to have some seriously good acting to do over the coming months, to his cabinet, to parliament, to the EU, and to the electorate.

Break a leg.
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Published on June 20, 2019 07:48 Tags: boris, brexit, negotiation, pm

Do We Really Want An Election?

The two main parties have traditionally both been broad churches. They’ve had to be - it was the only way to win. A narrowly defined ideology will only get so many votes, and the rest would go to the other side.

The result, as we know, is left versus right. Attempts to gain significant ground in the centre have struggled to break the old system. In recent years we’ve seen changes - first, both parties took a step towards the centre to win more votes from moderates. Then, while Labour were throwing themselves back to the far left, the Tories were at risk of shedding votes to the far right, and in a painfully misguided attempt to head this off, Cameron took us into a referendum we’ve never managed to get out of. The Tories have trudged steadily rightwards ever since.

Where does it end? If parliament agrees to an election this side of Christmas then we’ll find out soon enough. But the recent changes show a clear trend.

Theresa May came into the 2017 term with 317 seats. Since then, Charlie Elphicke was sacked (twice) over sexual assault allegations. Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston quit to form a new party. Allen and Wollaston ended up with the Lib Dems.

Nick Boles quit in frustration over Brexit and is now independent. Phillip Lee hilariously crossed the floor to join the Lib Dems while Johnson was mid-rhetoric. Amber Rudd also resigned the whip. And, of course, 21 Tories were sacked for voting against No Deal and now sit as independent conservatives.

In summary, that’s a grand total of 28 MPs that were voted in as Conservatives at the last election but are Tory no more.

What happens to their seats? Time will tell. Unless any are accepted back into the fold (assuming they wish to be) the Tory party will put forward new candidates for those seats. Those candidates are likely to be pro-Brexit. A good number of them may be on the far right and rather keen on the idea of No Deal. Even those that aren’t so enthusiastic are probably going to be more accepting of it than the current crop of ex-Tory moderates.

In short, if those seats remain blue, and Johnson holds on to his existing set of MPs, that’s 28 more than he’s got now, and they’ll all be willing to support this dismally poor deal.

But more alarmingly still is that makes it far more likely the deal would go through without amendments. And without amendments, the Withdrawal Agreement is set up to fail. Parliament won’t be able to force an extension to free trade discussions. Johnson can take us out of the EU without a trade agreement in December 2020. And he will have significant support in parliament for this outcome.

There’s no majority for No Deal from the electorate. Almost all economists agree it would be immensely damaging. And yet, a general election retains this outcome as a sizeable possibility.

Nevertheless, those parties opposed to Johnson’s deal are left with a poor range of options in front of them. The alternative is to attempt to push for a final referendum on the current deal. If that push fails, their position is weakened, and they go into a general election with Johnson having momentum. Recently it hasn’t looked like there was enough support for a referendum. That may change if Johnson shelves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

One hopes that MPs will be doing what MPs do best – holding sneaky conversations and striking deals behind closed doors. But if there still aren’t the numbers for a referendum then a general election really is the only way out of this mess, whatever your Brexit desires may be.

And if it comes to that, perhaps the most important action the rest of us can take is encouraging all around us to register to vote, and to turn up at the polling station on the day. Whatever the result, the only hope for future unity is if the outcome actually does represent the will of the people. I just hope the people aren’t willing on a Tory party taking an even bigger leap towards the right.
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Published on October 23, 2019 02:58 Tags: boris, brexit, election, johnson, politics