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

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