In an attempt to distance myself from our Brexit insanities I am deep in Africa. My hope was to stand a little back, take a calmer and less partisan view.
Some hope. With distance, anger only grows. The further you travel the stupider this Brexit thing looks. People here, whose world of cyclones and cassava-harvests barely touches ours, have heard there’s a bad business going on in Britain. In any satellite’s heat-map of hotspots of human lunacy, the United Kingdom blushes crimson from outer space.
Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, shorn of even a hint of what might come after, failed to clear the Commons yesterday. Thank God. On a cusp between tragedy and pantomime, preposterous figures like Boris Johnson and desiccated zealots like Jacob Rees-Mogg would have strutted the national stage as business leaders wept and what is left of my dear old Conservative Party fell apart.
So where now? Suppose that Mrs May stays in Downing Street. It would be tempting at this point to have another kick at her. But Remainers should take care. Even now, parliamentary Brexiteers among whom I predict a civil war, are confecting their in-house history of the Brexit That Never Was.
Paradise Postponed, by B Johnson and friends, is a story of betrayal: a history of the glorious Brexit that was so nearly within our reach, before a dreadful prime minister became a stooge for dastardly Remainer renegades and their Brussels-fawning running dogs.
Reader, don’t feed that narrative of betrayal by blaming the prime minister, useless as she is. The Archangel Gabriel could not have clawed from the European Union a better withdrawal agreement than May’s civil servants negotiated for her, though the Archangel Gabriel (or the unfeathered Michael Gove) might have been able to sell us that pup. Be thankful that Mrs May’s failure of salesmanship has saved Britain from a bad deal.
And now the real battle begins. It’s a battle Remainers can win, and these next few days may be critical. I see the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, has been calling for the spirit of compromise. Compromise? Compromise with these tinpot Brexiteers who would destroy Britain’s links with our biggest trading partner? Compromise with the gang who cheated voters with the lie of a Brexit that would offer all the benefits and none of the obligations of EU membership?
Compromise with the bullies who called judges “enemies of the people” and accused Remainers of (in Mrs May’s words) “subverting democracy”? Compromise with the skulduggery of politicians who, offered the half-loaf of relinquishing our seat at the EU’s top table while remaining subject to its rules, would take the half-loaf, and within days — days — start whipping up public anger at the arrangement?
Compromise be damned. We’re looking at an assemblage of ninnies and rascals here, and they’re well on their way to being rumbled. Yet again I remind you of the words (to me) of Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary, the late Ian Gow. “In the Lady’s view, once you’ve got the crocodile on to the sandbank you don’t help it back into the deep. You stick the knife in.”
In the “indicative” votes cast by MPs in their debate this week, the numbers speak volumes. RIP Norway-plus. This was never going to survive the kiss of daylight. RIP no-deal too — except by accident.
Through to the second round goes the suggestion we stay inside the customs union after Brexit, which found unexpected favour. Remainers should resist this. It helps the crocodile back into the deep: uber-Brexit lives to fight another day, its likely slogan being “one last heave”.
Referendum-ites did rather well, and it’s likely that lots of Tory MPs in favour of putting any deal to a confirmatory referendum are still hiding in the closet. David Cameron remarked this week that for a Commons majority to be found for any way forward, it must win support from more than one gang. Mrs May’s deal plus a referendum might just do that; more likely, customs union plus a referendum should be able to gather a Commons majority.
If Remainers believe in democracy, they should be content with anything plus a referendum, and keep their powder dry for the new referendum itself. Leaving the EU but staying in a customs union would mean our once-proud empire follows the Ottomans and ends up in the same basket as modern Turkey. It beats me why Britain should forswear the only new freedom that Brexit promised: the freedom to make our own trade deals.
So far, we are winning. And if Lord Williams and the Queen will forgive me, this is no time for splitting the difference. Instead, the day of reckoning is coming: time to make lists. Who were the Brexiteers? Names, please. Names and deeds.
Should we who they have accused of treachery, having had our patriotism impugned and been charged by them with contempt for the people MPs serve, now turn the other cheek, murmur that “the Conservative Party is a broad church” and welcome these wreckers back? I’m not of that persuasion.
If the Conservative Party is to survive (and I’m beginning to wonder how likely that is) it has to turn its face away from the gang who, by the end of this year, will be seen to have brought our country close to ruin. My best guess, however, is that there may not be time to cut them off; that all the arbitrary dates in April, May or June by which the EU will require this, that or the other, all the amendments in the name of “Cooper-Letwin”, “Kyle-Wilson”, etc, will be swept away in a general election that could destroy the Conservative Party, even as Labour lurches reluctantly into a manifesto promise to put a soft Brexit deal to the people.
I have not forgotten Mrs May saying that to vote Conservative in 2017 counted as voting for her Brexit, and will not repeat the mistake. I will never again vote for a party with a no-referendum Brexit in its manifesto. And among the six million who have signed the petition to revoke Article 50, the hundreds of thousands who marched in London last Saturday, and the millions of Remainers who voted Tory last time, there will be a multitude like me.