Category: UK-Politics

Tory Brexiteer MPs: United in Disunity, Adamant for Uncertainty

Unless the various pro proper-Brexit Tory MP factions get their act together, both to defeat May’s BRINO-Deal and force a pivot to a WTO-terms No-Deal, a proper Brexit risks being lost altogether

Note: longer and updated version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 3rd December 2018

Barring some currently unanticipated anti-climax, the next week, culminating in the House of Commons vote scheduled for Tuesday 11th December, on Theresa May’s duplicitously conceived and deceitfully mis-represented Brexit-In-Name-Only Withdrawal Agreement, promises to be the most momentous week in our political history for the last 25 years, since the passage of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

It will potentially decide whether Britain’s destiny for the next few decades is to be that of a once-again independent, outward-looking, sovereign democracy, or a weakened, impotent, deferentially-grovelling satrapy on the fringes of the neo-colonial Brussels Empire.

The stakes could not be higher. Yet the principal players in the grouping of MPs in whose hands most lies the power, not only to halt but reverse the monstrous betrayal of country, and arguably of democracy itself, which, given the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum, the latter fate would be – the putative “Tory Brexiteers” – are a self-indulgent, fissiparous gaggle of biddable loyalties, concealed ambitions and flexible reliability.

We can first dismiss the so-called “Cabinet Brexiteers”. They deserve little but our eternal contempt. Once Boris Johnson, David Davis and Steve Baker had all resigned in the wake of the Chequers Summit, their “We will stay in the Cabinet and continue to press the Prime Minister to change her approach from inside” position looked increasingly unconvincing and self-serving: but, once Dominic Raab and Esther McVey had also resigned, rather than support May’s Orwellian-labelled “Withdrawal” Agreement, their position became almost comically untenable.

Panny Mordaunt, Andrew Leadsom, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling and Michael Gove appear to have maintained their implausible positions only up to the point when, forced to choose between upholding democracy and their manifesto pledges, or retaining the trappings & rewards of Ministerial/Cabinet office, they seem to chosen the latter, suddenly becoming converts to May’s BRINO-Deal with attempted justifications, not excluding warnings that rejection may mean Brexit not happening at all, which are wholly unpersuasive.

Leadson, Gove, Fox, 3 of the Fatuous Five

It was Mordaunt, remember, who sought the right to both stay in Cabinet, thus keeping her rewards of office, and  oppose May’s BRINO-Deal on the floor of the House of Commons, thus keeping her “Brexiteer” credentials. When May refused, she decided to stay in Cabinet and back May, rather than resign.

Gove lost the last vestiges of his fast-diminishing credibility, but enhanced his fast-growing reputation for cynical, unprincipled opportunism, by demanding the freedom to change Government Brexit policy as a condition of accepting May’s offer of the Brexit Secretary role in place of Raab, only to back down when rebuffed, not resign, and agree to stay in Cabinet as DEFRA Secretary to support May in selling the very deal he demanded the freedom to change because it was so bad.

The supposed submitters of the necessary 48 Letters of No Confidence in May’s leadership to the 1922 Committee have not been much better. There was a seeming naiveté on the part of their de facto leader Jacob Rees-Mogg in taking at face value all who had assured him that their own letters had been submitted, when in fact they had not.

The “revolt” collapsed in a welter of recriminations, doing nothing to suggest this was, or is likely to be, an effective route to stopping Parliamentary approval of May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Some some senior staunch Brexiteers, notably Iain Duncan Smith, Bernard Jenkin and Owen Paterson, appeared not to have joined the letter-writers’ ranks at all.

Rumours circulated of knighthoods and peerages dangled as inducements to support for May. Talking of which, it was interesting to speculate, such is the febrile atmosphere, whether something an ostensibly innocuous at this might be preparing the ground for a climbdown from opposing May’s shamefully-capitulating Withdrawal Deal by using some trifling, cosmetic-only amendment to the Northern Ireland backstop as an excuse.

2018.11.24 Jenkin on May BRINO-Deal

The younger, more recent, more committed to Brexit intake of Tory MPs, however, give more grounds for hope. Just to take three at random, the personal statements of opposition to May’s BRINO-Deal and pledges to vote against it from MPs Julia Lopez, Suella Braverman, and Lucy Allan, are impressive.

Conservative Home has been maintaining a running total of how many Tory MPs now oppose May’s (non)-Brexit deal. At the time of writing, and including all of the ‘definitely’, ‘probably’, and ‘maybe’ categories, stands at approximately 100.

Together with the DUP and Labour Eurosceptics, this ought to be enough to ensure the deal’s defeat – unless Labour and the other Europhile parties for whom it is not Remain-ery enough do an about-turn and support the Government. Quite what May’s position would be in the event of her widely criticised and opposed Brexit withdrawal deal passing via reliance on Labour votes is a moot point.

Moreover, not for nothing is the ‘Conservative’ Party in Parliament known as one of the most capricious and untruthful electorates in the world. The stories of pledges in public to support A, promises in private to back B, only to vote for C in reality, are legendary, which makes all the responses and surmising used in calculating numbers consumable only with a large pinch of salt.

It looks increasingly likely at the time of writing that May will seek to convert some of the waverers by framing the Commons debate in tribal political party terms, a Conservatives vs Labour contest, rather than the Leave vs Remain, or at least Clean-Brexit vs Closet-Remain   tussle which it both is and ought to be presented as. This is already obvious from May’s insistence that what promised to be farcial all-Remain TV ‘debate’ is structured on this basis, demanding to go head to head only with Jeremy Corbyn, but not with either Johnson or Rees-Mogg, both of whom she knows would, figuratively-speaking, eviscerate her.

Furthermore, although there apppears to be a Tory consensus against May’s BRINO-Deal, that consensus fractures as soon as it comes to discussion what should happen next, after its expected defeat. Incredibly, some MPs favour going back to the EU and asking for better terms, despite Brussels’ insistence none will be offered.

Others (some, it should be noted, until quite recently Remainers) are trying to revive the idea of a EEA/Norway-style option, despite its inability to cover the one point may seems able to fixate on, namely Freedom of Movement, and notwithstanding its other flaws.

Yet others, one suspects, would like nothing more than to drop the whole idea of leaving the EU, and forget about Brexit altogether – no doubt hoping that by the time the next scheduled General Election comes round, the electorate will have subsided from anger into a sullen, grudging acceptance. Some hope.

All of these must be avoided, despite the predictable efforts of Theresa May and her No 10 team to divide and rule. The defeat of May’s deceitful and damaging BRINO-Deal must trigger a coalescing of approval around an exit from the EU on No-Deal, WTO terms. Not only is it the most advantageous both financially and economically: it is the only option that delivers the elements of the settlement for which a majority of voters, in a 72 per cent turnout, voted.

Given the anger at May’s perceived betrayal reported from around the country outside the Westminster Bubble, even within the Conservative Party itself as local constituency associations flatly refuse to deliver leaflets backing May’s deal, it is likely also to be the only option that would assist the avoidance of a catastrophic breakdown of public trust in democracy and its institutions, and which might – just – ensure the ‘Conservative’ Party’s unmerited survival as a viable political force.

But unless the ‘Conservative’ Party’s so-called Brexiteers put aside their differences, resist both inducements and threats from their Party Leader, and combine both to defeat May’s BRINO-Deal and force a pivot to a No-Deal EU withdrawal to WTO terms, there is now a real risk that Brexit will be finished, and lost, with hugely damaging consequences. That their Party will be finished also, and deservedly so, is scant consolation.

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Fisking Mickey Fab

Deconstructing Conservative MP Michael Fabricant’s pledge to vote against Theresa May’s BRINO-Deal illustrates the modern ‘Conservative’ Party’s ‘party before country’ reputation 

I must admit to having a bit of a sneaking regard for Michael Fabricant, the Tory MP for Lichfield.

He has the refreshing qualities, all too rare in an MP, firstly of not taking himself too seriously, and secondly of not being afraid to ruffle the right-on feathers of the serially-offended with a deliciously off-message, politically-incorrect put-down.

Like his tweeting a sardonic “Well, about time”, when the sphincter-clenchingly P-C, Cameroon-‘liberal’, SJW-‘feminist’, and unrepentant expenses-fiddler Maria Miller, Tory MP for Basingstoke – she of the smirking, 32-seconds, insouciant, non-apologetic ‘apology’ to the House of Commons – finally deigned to accept the inevitable and reluctantly relinquished her Ministerial chair.

Or his observation (possibly sympathised with, if not exactly shared, by much of country, in truth) that he’d find it difficult to share a discussion panel with the illiberal, irascibly-leftist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown without resorting to violence

2014.06.20 Mickey Fab Alibhai-Brown

So it’s quite instructive to examine in detail his latest piece a couple of days ago for The Daily Telegraph on how and why he plans to vote on Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement, aka BRINO-Deal, aka Instrument of Capitulation, when it comes before Parliament on Tuesday 11th December. Perhaps a little fisking – not much seen these days – might be in order. 

TGraph headline Mickey Fab

Keep that headline in  mind. It’s highly relevant to what’s to come.

Fabricant starts well. He summarises the thrust of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech of January 2017, especially her declaration of intent to leave the Customs Union, Single Market, and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and her warning that remaining in the first two would in effect be not leaving the EU at all. Then he goes on to criticise how this has been diluted: 

“Historians will come to write the story of how Lancaster House morphed into present Government policy. It will be a story of the inflexibility of EU leaders, the botched 2017 general election, and the tin ear of British political leadership. By leaving most of the negotiations to civil servants, any semblance of political sensitivity was lost.”

Isn’t he missing something? The deliberate deception by no less than the Prime Minister herself of her Cabinet, her MPs, her party, her voters, and the country, side-lining and ignoring the preparatory work being done by the Department for Exiting the EU while cynically using it as camouflage, in a No. 10 backstairs operation to devise her Chequers Plan in secret and pre-clear it with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, before imposing it on Cabinet at ultra-short notice and declaring it to be un-amendable, threatening to sack any Cabinet Minister who objected to either its process or its content?

“After the Eastleigh by-election when Ukip won 28 per cent of the vote and came a close second to the Liberal Democrats, I told David Cameron that unless the European question was neutralised, we would never be able to form a government. Ukip, or a similar party, would always shave 6-10 per cent off Conservative votes in our marginal seats.”

Fabricant here in effect admits that his prime reason for recommending Cameron in 2013 to concede an In/Out EU Referendum was not the principled democratic one of giving the electorate the chance to have its first vote in 38 years on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU: but the narrow, partisan, party-management one of ensuring “the European question was neutralised” so as to secure Tory Party electoral advantage. Party before country, in other words.

“I realise the huge risks in voting against the Government on this issue. The Government might collapse, we might crash out of Europe in March over a precipice, or it might even jeopardise Brexit itself.”

It’s a shame to see Fabricant, apparently a committed Brexiteer, channelling the standard Continuity-Remainer / BBC description of a reversion, if there is no deal, to trading with the EU bloc on the same WTO terms as do over 100 other non-EU countries as a “crash out of Europe over a precipice”.

But his first worry seems to be that the Government might collapse. Well, I suspect that the nation could possibly suffer much worse imminently than the collapse of a justifiably unpopular Government, which even Fabricant himself rightly criticises. In comparison , the risk of Brexit not happening at all, with its enormous adverse implications for public trust in democracy itself, seems to rank only third.   

“But the risks of accepting this deal are even greater. If we leave the EU with this agreement, the sense of betrayal will be overwhelming and the Conservative Party will be out of office for a decade or more. Arlene Foster has already said the DUP will revisit the confidence and supply arrangement if the Withdrawal Agreement passes.”

Fabricant is undoubtedly right that the sense of betrayal will be overwhelming: but once again, it’s the implications of that sense of betrayal on the future electoral prospects of, and the future likelihood of occupying office for, the ‘Conservative’ Party which seem to be paramount here, not on a disastrous collapse in public trust in the entire democratic process.

“However, there is an alternative. After a Commons defeat, No 10 could regain the initiative. We could still enter into a free trade agreement with the EU – an agreement encouraged by Merkel and Macron. And contingency no-deal planning could still mean an orderly, and more complete, Brexit.”

Given May’s intransigence and stubbornness, and her subservience to her coterie of anti-Brexit advisers and officials, the idea that she could somehow pivot, from a Commons defeat of the deal into which she has invested so much personal and political capital to seeking a Free Trade Agreement alternative, seems to be in the realms of fantasy – even if it had not already been dashed, as Fabricant himself acknowledges a few paragraphs earlier, by Macron’s avowed determination. . .

“to keep us in the backstop as blackmail until the UK agrees to France’s demands on fishing rights in British waters”.

The crucial message comes in the way the concluding paragraph links back to the headline:

“I rarely vote against my Government, but conscience and the long-term future of my nation, and yes, my party too, take precedence”

It’s hard not to wonder whether Fabricant’s perception of the national interest being fortuitously in alignment with Party interest isn’t once again the major reason for his decision. After all, the ‘Conservative’ Party is saddled, by no means unfairly, with the “party before country” label: with the assumption, not just among the Left, that when it comes to the crunch, it will always prioritise its own survival above the interests of the country: that it’s what Tories always, with very few exceptions, do.

Fabricant’s citing that reason so explicitly will do little to dispel the Tories’ “party before country” reputation. He should be voting against Theresa May’s execrable BRINO-Deal to save his country, and for no other reason. In comparison, the fate of his party, and even less, its current leader, is immaterial.

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The Tories’ “Brexit Rebels” Are Merely Paper Tigers

The ‘Conservative’ Party’s Brexiteers have so far flattered only to deceive. Instead of weakening or thwarting May’s betrayal of the Brexit vote, they have instead weakened mainly their own position, and effectiveness.  

Note: this is the longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 19th November 2018

So, at long last, something did actually happen – even if it now looks likely to un-happen.

After months of periodic elegantly-phrased, impeccably-modulated, but ultimately unfulfilled threats to initiate the defenestration of Theresa May, routinely larded with excessively-deferential banalities along the lines of “Mrs May is an honourable Prime Minister, who can be persuaded to change her mind” – when it would have been obvious even from the far side of Mars that neither statement was true – Jacob Rees-Mogg, de facto leader of the ‘Conservative’ Party’s so-called Brexit Rebels in the backbench European Research Group, on Thursday last finally submitted his much-trailed Letter Of No Confidence in Theresa May to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

Goodness knows, it was long enough in the gestation. From the beginning of July, when the scale of both the extent and duplicity of May’s Brexit betrayal – of which her infamous Chequers Summit turned out to be merely the start – began to become apparent, the Rebels have repeatedly threatened, only to resile. It seemed that Rees-Mogg et al would forever huff and puff but never quite get round to actually trying to blow the May House down until it was too late, if at all.

Brexiteers give May a two-month stay of execution”, reported The Times on 6th September. “Theresa May must change her Brexit strategy now, or risk her own Black Wednesday”, fulminated Rees-Mogg in The Daily Telegraph on 20th October. And even more recently, the Group’s organiser, Steve Baker, withdrew an amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill in the House of Commons, the effect of which would have been to make any backstop in the EU Withdrawal Agreement illegal.

It hasn’t been, and it won’t be, enough. The old adage “he who hesitates is lost” may well remain true: only in this case, it’s the so-called Tory Brexit Rebels who have hesitated, but it’s we who will have lost.

JRM presser St Stephen HoC Fri 15-Nov-18First, simple tactics. Whether the Rebels actually wanted Rees-Mogg’s letter to be the decisive one which hit the magic number of 48 needed to trigger the Vote Of No Confidence in May is uncertain, but in the event, it seems that it wasn’t, because rumour had it, and it has now been confirmed, that the necessary 48 letters have so far still not been received. If they aren’t, then that crowded Rees-Mogg press conference outside St Stephen’s Entrance to Parliament on Friday is going to look premature at best, and futile at worst.

How much better would it have been, tactically, to have waited a few days, certainly until after May’s predictably unimpressive, even mendacious, performance on Sky NewsRidge On Sunday yesterday, and then try to ensure as far as possible that Rees-Mogg’s was the letter whose submission was the 48th, and thus triggered the vote. That would have had far more impact.

Next, the Parliamentary arithmetic for a vote of no confidence in May remains essentially unchanged from when I described it earlier in the year. It might even have tightened slightly in May’s favour, from a combination of the careerist payroll-vote which a sitting PM can usually rely on for support, and the fear among even some Leave-voting MPs that removing May could precipitate a General Election which could well bring about not only the loss of their own seats but probably the decimation and possibly even the near-destruction of their party.

Remember, prioritising the survival of their party over the interests of the country, and even of sovereignty and democracy itself, is embedded deep within Tory MPs’ DNA.

Finally, it’s arguable, and becoming more so by the day as the 48 letters fail to materialise, that, instead of going for a Vote Of No Confidence, which means that May would be untouchable for another year if she survives it – and God only knows what further damage she will do if that happens – concentrating on defeating her egregious Soft-Remain, BRINO-Deal on the floor of the House of Commons stands a better chance of bringing about her demise as Tory Leader and PM.

It was Iain Martin, of The Times and Reaction, who first raised this rather more intriguing and subtle possibility last Friday. . . 

2018.11.16 Iain Martin re ERG & LoNC in May

. . . but it has been swiftly followed by others. 

The Tories need to bide their time before toppling Mrs May“, wrote Iain Dale, arguing persuasively that the failure of the requisite 48 letters to be submitted has reduced the likelihood of a challenge to May, and therefore to her damaging and rightly unpopular (Non)-Brexit Deal, being successful by that route, and would have been higher had they waited until her deal was defeated in the Commons.

Paradoxically, by disclosing their (weaker than both claimed and thought) hand in advance, they may have swung a few potentially-crucial votes behind her deal from Tory MPs who want to see her deal ditched, but not necessarily her – although how she could survive the rejection by the House of a deal in which she’s invested so much personal and political capital is hard to see. But the Rebels have certainly muddied the waters.

Significantly, some senior staunch Brexiteers, notably Iain Duncan Smith, Bernard Jenkin and Owen Paterson, appear not to have joined the ranks of letter-submitters, perhaps keeping their powder dry for the coming House of Commons battle. That, plus the number of letters falling short, has predictably initiated a flurry of recriminations, so that the backbench move to oust May appears, temporarily at least, to have stalled. 

Now consider the so-called “Cabinet Brexiteers”. Their “We will stay in Cabinet and continue to press the PM to change her approach from inside” position has looked increasingly unconvincing and self-serving since Boris Johnson, David Davis and Steve Baker all resigned from the Government in the wake of the Chequers Summit. But it’s surely now been rendered all but untenable with the publication of May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement and the substantial backlash against it.

Yet at the time of writing, only Dominic Raab and Esther McVey have resigned in protest at it, declaring that they cannot in all conscience support it, along with a slew of more junior ministers and PPS’s.

Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Penny Mordaunt and Liam Fox, having previously hinted they would back whatever deal May concluded “as it won’t get through the Commons anyway”, will now, we are told, form a “Brexit Caucus” inside Cabinet “to lobby May to renegotiate the draft text”.

To which one might reasonably ask in response: just what the hell have you been doing there until now, then, if not precisely that? These aptly-labelled “Fatuous Five” are now irretrievably complicit in May’ deceptions, and have lost all credibility.

Leadson, Gove, Fox, 3 of the Fatuous Five

Gove, in my view, lost his some time ago. That impression has only been heightened by his demanding the freedom to change Government Brexit policy as a condition of accepting May’s offer of the Brexit Secretary role in place of Raab, only to back down when rebuffed, not resign, and agree to stay in Cabinet as DEFRA Secretary to support May in selling the very deal he demanded the freedom to change. He is beyond the Pale.

Fox, having at one time been the most ardent of ardent Brexiteers, has gone one better. Not only will he not resign. Not only will he stay in Cabinet to support May as International Trade Secretary, despite being prevented by the terms of her (Non)-Brexit deal from actually concluding any international trade deals. He managed to confirm his status as a unprincipled, hypocritical turncoat by penning a sycophantic defence of May, of the generality of her deal, and of course of his own continuing presence in Cabinet to assist her in persuading the EU to ameliorate its more punitive provisions. 

Despite a worrying tendency to pander to the left-‘liberal’ PC-SJW agenda, I had expected more of Mordaunt: at least until she started bargaining with May to be able remain in Cabinet but vote against May’s deal in the Commons, which looked like a classic case of wanting her cake and eating it. She has not resigned either. 

As for Grayling and Leadsom, they now appear to be limited to bleating implausibly that they can still thwart or at least modify May’s (non)-Brexit deal from the inside, principally, presumably so as to hang on to their red boxes & ministerial limousines, without which they are nothing.

It need not have been like this. Right from the Chequers Summit, there were avenues open to the so-called Brexit Rebels to not only register but manifest their opposition. There are several courses of action they could have taken. They could have voted down, not just abstained on, Government Bills. They could have voted down the Budget, which would almost certainly have been politically-fatal for May.

There are several course of action they could still take. They could repudiate the Tory Whip and caucus instead as Independent Brexit Conservatives. They could resign and trigger by-elections. They could threaten to support Labour in a full No-Confidence motion. They could even split off into a new pro-Brexit Real Conservative Party (which, frankly, would be justified anyway, even if Brexit did not exist, because of May’s continuing conduct of her ministry as if it was a third-rate Tony Blair-Ed Miliband tribute-act).

Any or all of those could certainly force her out. Sitting on their hands and hoping for something to turn up won’t. The so-called Brexit Rebels, inside and outside Cabinet, have bungled it, and handed the initiative to May – almost to the extent of making one wonder whether they have in fact functioned as a controlled opposition, all along. After all, acquiring or clinging to office, and ensuring the survival of their party, is what motivates the allegedly ‘Conservative’ Party above all else, so it would be unwise to dismiss the possibility.     

Though I have no doubt that if, by 2032, Britain is still locked into in the EU, only more so than now, and additionally has been forced sign up to Schengen and adopt the euro, Jacob Rees-Mogg will be very cross indeed and may even go so far as to write another strongly-worded letter. He may even send it at the right time, and not prematurely.

But I may be being too harsh. There’s perhaps a tragic naiveté about a politician like Jacob Rees-Mogg – believing that his Parliamentary Party has any principles beyond individual members’ personal ambition and collective survival at whatever cost in political credibility. Theresa May, in contrast, as someone who is entirely cynical, devious and unprincipled, understands that it does not and never will have – and exploits it to the full.

It used to be axiomatic in business to under-promise but over-deliver. Politicians, by definition, do the exact opposite. But the so-called Tory Brexit Rebels have made it into an art form. They are turning out to be men and women of straw. Paper Tigers indeed.

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Just What – Or Rather Who – Is Driving Theresa May on Brexit?

Two in theory separate but in practice closely-aligned groups of anti-democratic vested interests are influencing, with her concurrence, Theresa May’s obdurate pursuit of a Soft-Remain Brexit-In-Name Only       

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 24th October 2018

On the “what” of Theresa May’s catastrophically-inept, stubborn, secretive, submissive and duplicitous conduct of the United Kingdom’s Brexit negotiations, there is little room for doubt.

The original story, of her deceitful complicity in the covert No 10 operation that gestated her infamous Chequers Plan – which she obstinately persists in clinging to, despite its manifest flaws and rejection by both colleagues and Brussels alike – has received extensive media coverage.

Since then, the details of her successive capitulations to, and appeasement of, the EU’s intransigence, such that the position she is now reduced to claiming is a meaningful EU exit that delivers the Referendum result is scarcely distinguishable from continuing membership at all, have received equally widespread publicity.

In summary, having let herself be totally outmanoeuvred on the Northern Ireland backstop – with the connivance, on this and much else, of  a Civil Service opposed to Brexit in principle and resolved either to dilute it to insignificance, or thwart it altogether – she now proposes a £57 billion-costing, non-voting vassal-state transition until 2022, before a permanent Customs Union, adherence to EU Internal Market rules, inability to strike external trade deals, continuing subservience to the European Court of Justice, and possibly also even surrendering domestic control over tax policy.

And that’s disregarding her also signing away UK Defence and military autonomy to the incipient European Defence Union on the sly.

What UK Gov has agreed re EU Defence

So there’s no lack of knowledge or detail about what May is doing.

In contrast however, the “why?” of May’s incompetent, disingenuous and potentially-disastrous, yet doggedly determined prosecution of a soft-Remain (non)-Brexit has received little attention in comparison. This may be an understandable omission in the urgency of reporting and analysing day-to-day developments: but it’s surely as equally important. It’s time we started considering the possibilities seriously.

First, is it just an admittedly truly staggering level of ignorance and incompetence, but nothing more? May’s failings of both competence, intelligence and leadership are hardly either unknown or doubted: indeed, I’ve argued myself earlier this year that she should be ousted and replaced on those grounds alone.

But it does seem unlikely that anyone could be merely incompetent to May’s degree. Nor would it account for the combination of calculated deviousness and intolerant-of-dissent petty authoritarianism by which she had her Chequers Plan formulated behind the backs of Cabinet, MPs, Party and country, then pre-cleared with Merkel, before imposing on her Cabinet without prior warning, on pain of dismissal. Other factors must surely be in play.

A conspiracy theory occasionally advanced is that the myrmidons of the Deep-State – or the New-Class Establishment Elite if you prefer – which always was and remains viscerally opposed to Brexit, have something on May and/or her husband which would be acutely embarrassing, even resignation-inducing, if revealed, and can therefore control her approach to Brexit. Adherents hint darkly for example, about how the Home Office Inquiry into allegations of Westminster organised child sexual abuse was effectively neutralised during her reign.

But is this not also unlikely for a self-described “goody two-shoes” whose idea of taking daring risks is skipping though a field of wheat? Besides, if so, wouldn’t she have anyway used her 6-year tenure as Home Secretary to ensure that any such material was safely buried, as Jack Straw is widely rumoured to have done with MI5 files on the New Labour hierarchy’s past Communist allegiances?

In her Sunday Telegraph article of 21st October, Janet Daley suggested that a submissive May is surrendering to the EU’s playing hardball with her in the Brexit negotiations because both it and she are impressed by the constant stream of out-of office Referendum-repudiating Remainer politicians dancing attendance on it in Brussels, assuring it that Brexit can be stopped if it continues to display the intransigence it has to date.

I don’t buy this. If the EU is knowledgeable enough about current UK politics to know that May is in deep trouble, and is a pushover, then it’s surely also knowledgeable enough about current UK politics to know that the opinions of the Unreconciled Continuity-Remainer political claque epitomised by Blair, Clegg, and Major actually carry very little weight in UK. The theory that May is capitulating to its intransigence because it thinks that they represent UK public opinion and that she is in fear of it, seems to me to just not stand up.  

For what it’s worth, my theory is this: that May is knowingly, in effect willingly. being held hostage by, and dancing to the tune of, two nominally separate but very closely aligned groups.

Theresa's Puppet-Master Olly RobbinsFirstly, the Number 10, Cabinet Office, and Foreign Office officials, in whose hands – having little discernible knowledge, judgement or confidence of her own – she has been ever since taking office, who are reportedly uniformly opposed to Brexit, and of whose private and unreported contacts behind the scenes with EU officials we are unaware.

Secondly, the pro-Remain side of Big-Business that’s essentially crony-corporatist rather than competitive free-market capitalist, and which channels its collective view to Government through the CBI, which represents predominantly that particular type of business organisation.   

There a reason why May, instinctively a big-government statist, might be particularly receptive, both to the blandishments of this particular lobby, and to the idea that “business” equals the CBI.  

To the extent that she is ideologically wedded to anything at all, May seems much more inclined to the EU’s preferred model of state-interventionist, crony-corporatist “Rhenish capitalism” than she does to the quintessentially Anglosphere small-state, low-tax competitive free-market model of capitalism. She did after all join the Conservative Party in 1973 when it was led by Heath, who thought very much along those lines.

Remember, too, the CBI was fiercely pro-Remain, despite its undistinguished record of having being wrong about almost every major issue for the last 100 years. including nationalisation, Prices and Incomes Policy, the Exchange Rate Mechanism, and, most of all, the UK joining the Euro.

EU Lobby LandCBI-type pro-Remain Big-Business finds EU membership most congenial. First, the EU’s regulation-heavy regime is highly susceptible to corporate lobbying – in 2016 there were an estimated 37,000 lobbyists in Brussels alone – for regulation and restrictive practices that favour the interests of large producers over those of consumers, and which tend to entrench oligopoly rather than generate competition. In addition, the EU’s secretiveness and lack of transparency at the very least facilitate outright corruption.

Second, the large CBI-type corporates that do the lobbying have the economies of scale to cope with the mountains of EU-originating red tape, forced compliance with which cripples their smaller, nimbler potential rivals, especially innovative start-ups. And the deal which May currently wants to accept would in effect keep all UK business, not just the mere 15-20 per cent of it involved in exporting to the EU, subject to the EU regulation which Big-Business specifically lobbies for in pursuit of its own anti-competitive interestContinuing membership for all intents and purposes thus acts acts as a barrier to entry for its competitors.

There has already been persuasive circumstantial evidence of Big-Business complicity in, if not influence on, the Government’s conduct of Brexit. Readers will remember how, in the earlier iteration of Project Fear about a No-Deal Brexit, in the run-up to May’s infamous Chequers Summit, Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark emerged as not merely been the willing mouthpiece of pro-Brussels, crony-corporatist Big-Business, but perhaps its persuasive script-writer too.

And it’s still going on. But keep that name in mind. Because for some time, there have been unsubstantiated rumours that the same Greg Clark – possibly the ideal choice for the role of the Government’s Big-Business’ fixer, being so utterly uncharismatic and unremarkable as to be virtually anonymous – had long assured Japanese motor manufacturers in the North-East that Britain would be remaining in the Customs Union come what may, despite all the guarantees for public consumption that Brexit would involve exit from both it and the Single Market.

Corroboration, however, is now starting to emerge. In an article for Conservative Home on Tuesday 16th October, Stewart Jackson – former Peterborough MP and more recently Chief of Staff to David Davis when the latter was May’s Brexit Secretary – openly called Greg Clark’s dealings with Nissan “dubious”and condemned Clark’s refusal to publish his correspondence with the company, despite Clark having pledged to do so to the House of Commons.

Jackson went to say that pro-Remain Chancellor Philip Hammond, plus Clark and his officials, were briefing, from January of this year, that the UK would be staying in the Customs Union, and that the Irish backstop was the cleverest possible wheeze to ensure that this happened. Significantly, perhaps, those allegations have not been refuted.

Jackson is not alone. Recently, Daniel Moylan, former both deputy chairman of Transport for London and chairman of Crossrail, has openly disparaged online the anti-Brexit “fightback of vested interests and their Cabinet advocates”, and also speculated  whether, as now seems highly likely at least, such a secret promise was indeed given by Clark, with May’s blessing, to the motor industry.

If so, then it would at the time have been totally inconsistent with the vision of Brexit that May was publicly advancing so clearly in her Lancaster House and later Mansion House speeches. And even now, the UK negotiating team appears to be closing down every significant element of Brexit: one by one: laws, trade deals, money.

The theory, therefore, about why May is prosecuting Brexit in the way that she is – deceitfully and secretively negotiating the softest of Soft-Brexits, not in the wider interests of the British people and economy and honouring the Referendum result and her own 2017 Manifesto pledges, but in the narrow sectional interests of anti-Brexit Whitehall and pro-Remain Big-Business – at least appears plausible.

And it leads on to another, equally intriguing, one.

For two years, the Cameron and then May Governments have been excoriated for having failed to plan in advance for the possibility of a Leave vote in the EU referendum, for instructing officials not to prepare for one, and for not doing very much to plan its implementation for several months afterwards.

But what if we were all looking in the wrong direction, and Plan B was there all the time, hiding in plain sight? What if a contingency plan for a Leave vote was prepared, in secret, and the title of that contingency plan was: ‘Theresa May’? And prepared because it had been determined, at the deepest, innermost levels of the State, that whatever the Referendum result, even an 80:20 win for Leave, Britain’s exit from the EU could not be allowed to proceed?

May coronation July 2016 1On this theory, there was an intention that a Leave vote would never be honoured if it occurred, but muted, if not thwarted. So did Cameron assist by resigning to be conveniently replaced, in a rigged MPs-only coronation, by a Theresa May who, although a Remainer, had basically spent the entire campaign hiding behind the sofa, so that she was available and not too tainted by it when Cameron resigned?

A May who then proceeded, under the sway of, and with the full co-operation and support of, the equally pro-Remain, anti-Brexit Civil Service, backed up by a similarly inclined Big-Business and reliably on-message media, purposely to delay, dilute and diminish Brexit, including calling the unnecessary 2017 General Election? 

By writing, in concert with her closest confidantes only, a Manifesto whose contents even Cabinet Ministers were unaware of, and hardly saw before its launch? And then by deliberately throwing the election via a lacklustre campaign and crucial manifesto gaffe on long-term social care halfway through it, in order to weaken her own Commons majority and thus make it harder to get any pro-Brexit legislation through an anti-Brexit Parliament?

Fanciful? Maybe. But we live in strange political times. Who would have thought, three and a half years ago, that in the Autumn of 2018 we would have a Prime Minister whom large parts of her party believe to be complete disaster, but is kept in place out of genuine fear of her being replaced by a 1970s Trotskyist throwback as Leader of the Opposition?

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A Political Pantomime, Mere Theatre for the Impressionable? Or Something More?

Instead of risking a Tory MPs ‘No Confidence’ vote which she might well survive, could Theresa May now be pressured into resigning? 

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 16th October 2018

The Cabinet, so the Telegraph reported this morning, has been told to force Theresa May to drop her Chequers plan or she will face a no-confidence vote ‘within days’.

Tory Brexiteers, it goes on, are, threatening to force a no-confidence vote in May’s leadership, within days, if Ministers do not persuade her to do so. Rumours abound that the Chairman of the 1922 committee is about  to receive the final letters needed to make up the requisite 48.

Steve Baker Newsnight re Chequers-MinusOn Monday night Steve Baker, the former Brexit Minister, told the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “I’m afraid there’s something of a grisly job to be done here. Either the Cabinet need to change the Prime Minister’s mind on where she’s going — or it’s clear that if a Chequers-based deal comes back it will be voted down.”

But will it? Or is it more of Parliament’s game of Brexit Bluff as set out by Guido Fawkes here? Another damp squib? Never under-estimate the extent to which Tory MPs’ individual and collective survival instincts, especially facing the prospect of losing seats and sinecures to a surging Corbyn Red Tide if voting down May’s now Chequers-Minus plan led to a General Election, will make them put Party before Country in an instant.

And, as far as the threat about triggering a Vote of No Confidence among Tory MPs in May’s leadership  is concerned, is this mere theatre for the impressionable?

It was as recently as July, a mere three months ago, that the ‘vote of no confidence’ drama was last in the air.  But, as I hinted then, with a Tory Parliamentary party so stuffed with Remainers, payroll-careerists & time-servers, May would probably win a confidence vote, entrenching her for another year, so that the surer option was (and still is) to force her to resign. It’s perhaps worth re-visiting why.

Graham Brady Chair 1922 Committee v2The internal submission of 48 Conservative MPs’ letters to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee triggers a party leadership election, but the way this is governed by the Party’s election rules makes it fraught with real and potential obstacles if the objective really is a successful defenestration of May.

First, she has already indicated that she would contest a fresh leadership election. Whether this is attributable to merely the bloody-minded, tin-eared stubbornness and lack of sensitivity for which she is rightly infamous, or something altogether darker, a Machiavellian anti-democratic determination not to allow Britain not leave the EU in any meaningful sense, is debatable.

May coronation July 2016 1Second, given the precedent of their 2016 arranged coronation of May, it’s highly likely that the Remainer-majority Parliamentary party would do anything to prevent the contest going out to the membership to elect a pro-proper-Brexit leader, because it seems inconceivable that a Remainer could win a whole-membership ballot in the current fractious anti-May mood.

Third, with an estimated 185 Remain-voting Tory MPs against an estimated 138 Leave-voters, and with the pro-proper-Brexit vote possibly split between two or more candidates, May might actually win quite comfortably, even with MPs for marginal constituencies fearing for their seats if she stays. If she won so decisively, we’d arguably be even worse off than we are now.

Slightly better, but not much, would be if (assuming some honourable Remain-voting MPs nevertheless think the Referendum result must be respected in full, and that May clearly has no intention of doing so) she won narrowly, leaving her a lame-duck leader. Any other  leader who survived so narrowly would realise that the game was up and that their position was untenable. But not May, I suggest.

So in either case we’d probably be stuck with her: and in view of the revelations of the past three months, Heaven only knows what further subterfuge and double-dealing she would inflict on both Brexit and thereby on democracy alike. And it begins to look as though even the damage being done to the Tories’ future electoral prospects from her duplicity and compulsive EU-deference doesn’t trouble her unduly.

Summary 4 polls since Tory Conf Oct 2018, & May can't even beat the Trots

As for the alternative possibility, of a Vote of No Confidence on the floor of the Commons, presumably proposed by a Labour Party encouraged by May’s visible weakness, although unlikely, it would probably be unwise to rule out.

But, as Michael Mossbacher pointed out in the July/August issue of Standpoint, even Unreconciled Continuity-Remainers Clarke and Soubry have previously made it clear they would traipse through the Government lobby to defeat a No-Confidence vote tabled by Labour. Bearing in mind the extent to which May’s Chequers-Minus dilutes Brexit even further, I suspect that’s now even more likely.  And to initiate such a vote but then lose it would do Corbyn no good, either.

The key factors that’s changing all the calculations, though, is the position of the DUP. May’s willingness to concede the EU’s demands effectively for the economic break-up of the United Kingdom, via either a single or dual Northern Ireland backstop, has, not unreasonably, infuriated them. As one commentator has put it, to Ulster’s Unionists, the backstop looks like the surrender of a Britishness paid for in blood, and they’ve priced May’s fall from power into their strategy.

They’ve already indicated they could happily continue their Confidence and Supply Agreement with a Conservative Party led by a different, unequivocally pro-Brexit leader, who guaranteed the integrity of the United Kingdom as a single political and economic entity. They’ve threatened to vote down the Budget, dealing May an almost certainly fatal blow.DOP MPs Auturmn 2018If May secretly believes she really is a “bloody difficult woman” (not, I imagine, a widespread view in Brussels, unless the phrase translates as “pushover”), then she’s about to be schooled by a real one. An Arlene Foster whose school bus was bombed and saw her father nearly murdered by the IRA isn’t going to kowtow to a Theresa May who thinks her riskiest ever exploit was skipping though a field of wheat.

Should the DUP either suspend its Confidence and Supply Agreement if May survived a vote of confidence by Tory MPs, or abstain by enough votes to collapse the Budget, that probably means a General Election. If May has to rely on the votes of a Labour Party led by IRA sympathisers Corbyn and McDonnell to pass a Chequers-Minus type deal that threatens Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom, then her Confidence and Supply Agreement with the DUP is dead.

Intriguingly, the interests of the Cabinet’s anti-Chequers refuseniks, the backbench real Brexiteers of the European Research Group, and the DUP, are becoming more and more aligned. If they’re not talking, they should be. Could the three groups caucusing to exert pressure on May from three different directions to stand down be the most potent way of removing her, without running the risks of losing either Parliamentary Tory Party or full House of Commons votes of confidence?

So perhaps those rumours about the final letters going in to the 1922 Committee Chairman to make up the required 48 aren’t just theatre for the impressionable after all. Fingers crossed.

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Treacherous Theresa’s Cunning Plan

A week was a long time in political treachery that looked long planned, but had to wait for a potentially tricky Party Conference to be over before it could proceed

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 11th October 2018

After my post of 20th July, on the stench of treachery surrounding the conduct of Brexit pervading the upper echelons of the ‘Conservative’ Party and reaching its apotheosis in the person of its Leader, I did wonder if I’d exaggerated. Needlessly, as it turned out: because developments in the week after the Party Conference ended on Wednesday 3rd October suggest that, if anything, I under-estimated it.

May doing Tory Conf speech Oct 18But, to place it in context, Theresa May’s Conference Speech first justifies careful re-reading. Re-examining it in the light of her subsequent actions reveals some intriguing clues which, albeit with hindsight, ought to have alerted us to what was coming during the ensuing week. 

Astonishingly, the word ‘Chequers’ did not appear even once in the speech’s text: curious, considering how often previously she had not been shy about naming it, and how obstinate she had been at promoting it. But given that she was unprecedentedly booed when she attempted to defend it at a Conference event two days previously, it’s more than likely that some frantic late-stage re-drafting to excise it was ordered.

Eyebrows were raised by May’s proclamation of the imminent ‘end of austerity’, hinting at pay-rises for the (predominantly Labour-voting) public sector: especially as the annual Budget Deficit is only now finally being brought under control, not eliminated, despite the ‘Conservative’ Party having been in office since 2010, and notwithstanding the National Debt, even on a conservative calculation, remaining at a near-record high of approximately 86 per cent of GDP.

UK national debt vs GDP to 2017-18Then there were the coded barbs, one of them quite disingenuously out of context, aimed at Boris and, by extension, his European Research Group confrères pressing May for a Canada-Plus or a Plan Alpha-Plus Brexit which are closer, not only to what Britons say they voted for on 23rd June 2016, but also to May’s own vision set out in her Lancaster House and Mansion House speeches.

Between the somewhat laboured platitudes about how compromise becomes a dirty word’, and theEven if we do not all agree on every part of this [Chequers] proposal, we need to come together’, there was this:

Those of us who do respect the result – whichever side of the question we stood on two years ago – need to come together now. If we don’t – if we all go off in different directions in pursuit of our own visions of the perfect Brexit – we risk ending up with no Brexit at all.’

Given the rapturous reception given to Boris’ own speech the previous day, it’s hard to construe this as anything other than an attack on those who challenge May’s dogged adherence to her Chequers Plan.

Because, significantly, there was no corresponding criticism, even in coded form, of the Wollaston-Soubry claque of Continuity-Remainers who are increasingly open about their intention either to stop Brexit altogether, or at least adulterate it to the point of meaninglessness.

On this interpretation, again in the light of subsequent events, May’s warm-up act, Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox’s soaring rhetoric culminating in a peroration quoting Milton’s Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep’ to project a vision of post-Brexit Britainwas all part of the theatre: designed, I suspect, to pre-lull us into acceptance of the nebulous and signally non-specific bromides about honouring the Referendum result in May’s own speech, and disarm us for the deceptions which were to come.

They weren’t long in coming. The following morning, Thursday 4th October, at Brexit Central, former Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley exposed the statistical trick that was used to sell the Chequers plan to Cabinet, centred on the proportion of imports which would become embroiled in the plan’s proposed Facilitated Customs Arrangement. At least 16% of other countries’ exports to post-Brexit Britain would face this mechanism, rather than the mere 4% claimed by those seeking to promote Chequers.

On the same day, in The Times, Danny Finkelstein explained in considerable detail how May might use the current Parliamentary arithmetic – notably the extent of opposition to Chequers among committed Brexiteers on her own backbenches, and the offsetting inclination of many Blairite-rump Labour MPs to support May’s own pro-Chequers, anti-Brexit Continuity-Remain Tory MPs – to ‘concede’ a second EU Referendum, in which ‘Remain’ might be one of the options on the ballot-paper.

How fast things can move when the movers want. As quickly as Friday, 5th October, it emerged via The Guardian that May had plans for a secret charm offensive to solicit like-minded Labour MPs to support her – that’s support her in defeating her own MPs trying to hold her to her Manifesto promises, remember – in backing her Brexit deal, even at the cost of disadvantaging their own Party Leader.

The ostensible reason being given was to avoid, ‘in the national interest’, a No-Deal outcome. This was, and still is, baloney: the purpose looked then, and it still does now, to a far greater extent being to negate any possibility of May’s Soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only Chequers Plan being supplanted by either the much more clean-Brexit Canada-Plus deal the EU has already indicted its willingness to offer, or the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Plan Alpha-Plus.

Corroboration arrived late on the evening of Saturday 6th October, via an article for Sunday 7th October’s The Observer, confirming that May was overtly pitching for so-called ‘moderate’ Labour votes, not only on Brexit, but on a range of policies – explaining, perhaps, those promises in her Conference speech to turn on the public-spending taps.

Then, in its Monday 8th October edition, The Daily Telegraph revealed that May’s government, including Ministers and Whips had for several months actually been in covert contact with at least 25 Labour MPs, to push her Chequers Deal through Parliament by relying on their votes, against a very substantial minority of her own MPs.

We were thus confronted, yet again, with evidence of May deceitfully plotting to dilute or even negate Brexit, in secret, against her own Parliamentarians, Party and voters, with the shameful collusion of her Cabinet. A Cabinet, moreover, that appeared to have raised not a whimper of objection to the Brexit negotiations not even being on the agenda for that week’s Cabinet meeting.

Although perhaps one should no longer be surprised at its collective lack of backbone. One of most nauseating sights of the whole ‘Conservative’ Party conference was that of May’s Cabinet during her Leader’s Speech. She produced her Chequers Plan in secret behind their backs, then imposed it on them on pain of dismissal, after pre-clearing it with Angela Merkel: yet, just three months later, they sat and sycophantically applauded her like obedient performing seals.

CPC18 May's Cabinet's performing seals comp

The Times divulged on Wednesday 10th October that, unsurprisingly in view of all that had gone before, May was now preparing to railroad her supine Cabinet  into even further concessions to, and compromises with, Brussels before EU leaders met this week, including a commitment to keep the whole of the United Kingdom in what is effectively a Customs Union with the EU, with no guarantees of eventual exit. This is non-Brexit Remain in all but name.

As if that was not enough, May had evidently also authorised the renewed ramping up of Project Fear Mk II against leaving the EU without any deal, no matter how abject a state of vassalage the country was reduced to as a result. Also in The Times of Wednesday 10th October was a story about Whitehall is making contingency plans for the wholesale slaughter of sheep in the event of No-Deal – wryly, but accurately, summed up by one commenter as ‘Back my Chequers Plan or the Baby Lambs get it’.

Considering all this, and bearing in mind just how far May’s Soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only Chequers Plan diverges, not only from widely-held Brexit criteria, but even her own claims in her own Party Conference Leader’s Speech it’s now surely impossible to dispute the verdict of Leave Means Leave’s John Longworth in The Daily Telegraph of Monday 8th October: “We are heading for a monumental sell-out, a great betrayal of the British people, and a fraud on democracy.

I believe that that so much having happened in a mere seven days from May surviving her Party Conference intact was no coincidence: that this denouement was pre-planned well in advance but kept under wraps until Conference was safely in the past: and that May’s ‘negotiations’ increasingly have the look of an elaborate charade, being played to a pre-arranged script, to cover a stitch-up that was agreed long ago behind closed doors.

That all-pervading stench of treachery has become even fouler.

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The Speech Boris Ought To Deliver Today

(but which he almost certainly won’t)

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Tuesday 2nd October 2018

Forget about Theresa May’s set-piece Prime Minister’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference tomorrow. No-one, not even normally loyal supporters, expects anything much of it, or of her. Given the utter disaster that her Conference speech was last year, and so low is the bar she consequently has to clear, that just getting to the end of it without major mishap will be success of a kind.

No: today’s the day. The day when Boris supposedly comes clean, sets out his stall, and unashamedly makes his pitch to be both Party Leader and Prime Minister. The day when, in a Conservative Home event scheduled to last from 1.00 pm until 2.00 pm, he makes a speech clearly calculated to be the big event and talking-point of the conference, and upstage May’s predictably pedestrian by comparison effort tomorrow into the bargain.

But the runes aren’t necessarily overwhelmingly favourable. Out in front of the pack with Party members and activists he may be: but in the event that May is deposed, whenever and for whatever reason, he has to surmount the obstacle of a Parliamentary vote by Tory MPs to decide which two leadership candidates are placed before the membership.

And a majority of those 315 Tory MPs are determined that he won’t be one of them. Many purely because they are either closet or overt Remainers, who form a majority of Tory MPs anyway and would oppose any Brexiteer becoming Prime Minister, and others who, irrespective of their Brexit stance, harbour personal antipathy towards Boris for a variety of reasons, some arguably justified, but others less so.

So rather than tilting at an immovable windmill, a shrewd Boris should box clever, and confound both expectations – and his enemies – by doing the completely unexpected.

He should start by repeating the essence of his resignation speech, namely its forensic, entirely policy-focused, criticisms of May’s Chequers Plan approach to Brexit and which were careful not to attack May personally, and its plea that it was not too late for a different, more robust approach more in tune with the desire expressed by British voters via the Referendum result for clear economic, judicial and political separation from the EU’s institutions.

Boris resignation speech 18 July 2018

He ought then to go on to note regretfully how this hasn’t happened, with not only the eminently foreseeable result of the EU’s peremptory rejection of Chequers despite even more concessions, but its accompaniment by the intransigent Eurocrats’ contemptuous and malevolent humiliation of May personally.

And then continue by expressing his sorrow at how, despite other and better Brexit plans being available, the Prime Minister has inexplicably persisted in sticking to her Chequers  Plan, despite its manifest flaws and unpopularity.

He should then turn to the Conservative’s non-Brexit difficulties. It’s deeply disturbing, he should say, that extreme-Left Corbyn socialism appears to have been allowed to somehow gain such a foothold among the electorate, despite the abundance of evidence from everywhere it’s been tried that it doesn’t work: that the Tories are out-polling Labour by barely the statistical margin of error in polling: that the business presence at a hard-Left Labour Party conference was notable for its extent: and that anticipation of a Corbyn government is as high as it is.

UK voting intentions 30Sep2018

He ought then to follow this up by noting ruefully the present leadership’s seeming inability to come up with any significant counter to Corbyn’s apparent appeal by forcefully making the arguments for a smaller, less-activist state and freer markets, and by devising innovative supply-side solutions to the housing and elderly-care crises, but resorting too readily either to negative scaremongering or watered-down versions of Corbyn’s own policies.

And then conclude, with infinite regret, that he’d come to the inescapable conclusion that the current leadership was unlikely to reverse this trend, so that however reluctantly, he could see no other option than a change of helmsman.

This is the point at which Boris should drop the bombshell that no-one’s expecting.

He should say that he’s aware of his own shortcomings: that he accepts that his colourful and occasionally chaotic, even louche, private life is a turn-off for many people: that he acknowledges he’s almost certainly temperamentally unsuited to the mundane attention to detail that the highest office demands, even of those once thought capable of handling it: that he recognises his limited appeal among his MP colleagues: and that, consequently, while convinced with regret that a change of leadership is inevitable both for Brexit and domestic political reasons, he personally would not be a candidate.

But follow this immediately by a declaration that he pledges himself to exploit such popularity as he does enjoys with the Party’s grassroots and activists, and the wider public, to campaign up and down the country for a committed Brexiteer putative, and hopefully actual Prime Minister.

Tory Leader poll Mon 01Oct 2018

And subsequently support him or her, in the capacity of Party Chairman, to lead the campaigns both for a proper, not ersatz, Brexit and the defeat of Corbyn. Because if May falls, the hapless Brandon Lewis will fall with her, and there will be a vacancy.

With this strategy, Boris would at a stroke destroy the main objection to a change of Party Leader and Prime Minister: that he seeks that change only as a vehicle for his own vaulting ambition. He would eliminate the obstacle of Tory MPs who, though they might be open to May’s replacement with a Brexiteer PM, wouldn’t support it if it meant Boris in Number Ten.

He would negate the disadvantage of his own mercurial temperament by deploying it in a role for which it’s far more suited. He would in effect have loaded the rifle, aimed and cocked it, but invited a more popular and accurate marksman to pull the trigger and fire it.  

This strategy and that speech would throw May and her soft-Brexit acolytes, anticipating a straight-out leadership challenge from Boris, right off balance. And it would provide a Conference talking-point like no other. It might even make Boris go down in history, as the statesman who secured Brexit by sacrificing his own ambition for the sake of the cause.

If only.

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The Fight for the Soul of the Tory Party

By deposing the Leader and Prime Minister largely responsible for its current ideological paralysis, the Conservative Party must resolve its intellectual vacuum about what modern conservatism stands for

Note: this is the longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 1st October 2018

“There are some of us, Mr Chairman, who will fight, and fight, and fight again, to save the party we love”.

In 2018, 58 years after they were addressed by its then Leader Hugh Gaitskell to the 1960 Labour Party Conference, opposing its move towards the hard-Left and its embrace of unilateral nuclear disarmament, those words need once again be addressed to a party conference. Only this time, to the Conservative Party Conference, and moreover not by its Leader, but at her.

As if Theresa May’s duplicitous preparation and imposition on her Cabinet of her now justly infamous Chequers Plan were not bad enough, she has carried on championing it even after its crushing, personally humiliating dismissal by the EU.

May humiliated Salzburg Summit 3She continues to cling obstinately, not only to Chequers as the sole Brexit option she is prepared to consider, but also, incredibly, to Olly Robbins, her thoroughly discredited No 10 Brexit adviser, whose brainchild it was, and on whose ‘expert’ advice that the EU would accept it she persists in relying, to the exclusion of all others.

Yet not merely other, but superior, alternatives exist, being urged on her constantly by allies and opponents alike, which both better reflect the desire manifested in the Brexit vote for clear political, judicial and economic separation from Brussels, and give better opportunities for a newly-independent post-Brexit Britain to forge new trading links around the world.

The Institute of Economic Affairs’ Plan A Plus maximises the scope for eliminating damaging tariffs and regaining control over our fisheries, as well as facilitating new Free Trade Agreements with the world’s dynamically-growing economies outside the stagnating and scelerotic EU: Chequers keeps us tied into it as closely as possible.

IEA Plan A Plus Launch Sep 2018The Canada Plus arrangement gives us total freedom of control over immigration policy, and independence from the EU’s ‘Common Rule Book’: Chequers gives us neither.

Yet they fall on deaf ears. May has her Chequers Plan, she insists that nothing else is acceptable, and that, for her, is that. To the evidence, both that it is less popular than No-Deal, and that its unpopularity exacerbates that of herself and her party, she is impervious.Unpopularity of Chequers dealBut there is worse to come. May’s obdurate adherence to Chequers is being compounded by her acceptance at the very least, or even endorsement if not something more, of a grotesquely cynical ramping up of Project Fear.

The scaremongering operation born out of the Treasury’s pre-Referendum antipathy to Brexit is now being pushed once again by May in full Stockholm-Syndrome mode – on new ‘expert’ advice from her preferred source? – but this time against a No-Deal Brexit as an alternative to Chequers, as part of a deliberate “Chequers or Chaos” strategy.

We saw a foretaste of it in the run-up to the early-July Chequers Summit, with Airbus warning of an exodus from the UK in the event of No-Deal, very soon, curiously, after discussions with Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark. But since then, there have been plenty other examples. To quote just two or three:

After having previously instructed them to spend their summer holidays touring Europe to drum up support for her Chequers Plan, May was in early September ordering Ministers to stress to the public that there was no alternative to it

Or try the Association of British Insurers’ warning that it would become illegal in the event of a No-Deal Brexit for insurance-based pensions to be paid to UK-nationality recipients resident in the EU. Fortunately, fairly easy to demolish.

Then, as recently as last week, May’s government theatrically appointed a Food Supplies Minister, “to oversee the protection of food supplies in the event of a No-Deal Brexit”. Such an appointment has previously confined to wartime and was not even deemed necessary in the rolling strikes and disruptions to distribution experienced in the 1974 industrial crisis and the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent.

In summary, not only do we have a Remainer Prime Minister sticking resolutely to a Brexit plan already rejected out-of-hand by an EU no doubt confident that further concessions can be wrung from a desperate Theresa May in deep political trouble, but shunning all other, and better alternatives. We also have a Remainer Prime Minister colluding in, if not directing, a co-ordinated attempt to frighten the British public into accepting it.Project Fear 2018

It’s perhaps hardly surprising that 56 per cent of those polled by Sky Data think Brexit will be worse than expected. The Remainer dominated media and political elite, including even the Governor of the Bank of England, have done little for the last 28 months except attempt to talk the nation into a state of catatonic panic. Mrs May must be so pleased.

Were Brexit the sole source of the Conservatives’ predicament, the crisis might – just – be containable. But overlying May’s Brexit shambles is the Party’s severe ideological vacuum, epitomised by the instinctively statist, authoritarian, May, devoid of any discernible guiding philosophy, personality, or leadership ability, and of which her self-inflicted Brexit shambles is arguably merely a part – its apparently total inability to come up with any ideas, vision or policies to counter the 1970s-throwback, reheated hard-Left socialism of Corbyn’s Labour.

Not before time, commentators have been lining up this past week to highlight the depth, and cause, of this malaise, and rightly condemn it.

In The Daily Telegraph, Allister Heath correctly laid the vast majority of the blame for Corbynomics being so ostensibly popular with Middle England on the faux-‘Conservative’ Party which has largely stopped countering it and in effect capitulated to it.

McDonnell’s Mad Marxism is very likely to be an electoral winner, warned Maggie Pagano at Reaction, not because of any intrinsic merits, but thanks to Theresa May’s Tories’ timidity & incompetence.

The Conservatives, observed Ryan Bourne accurately, also in The Daily Telegraph, have now spent so long agreeing with Labour’s negative portrayal of our economic system, and even imitating its policies, that they have now deprived themselves of any effective criticisms of them.

Ministers like Philip Hammond, noted The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, are incapable of fighting back other than with left-wing prescriptions like surreptitious tax rises or expensive new spending projects, so that Corbyn is actually leading the nation’s intellectual conversation.

The Conservative Party must re-embrace freeing individuals & businesses from creeping Nanny-State paternalism & authoritarianism, in favour of aspiration, opportunity & meritocracy, pleaded former International Development Minister Priti Patel MP, writing in the Parliamentary magazine The House.

Red-Labour has been made electable by the pseudo-Tories, fumed Gerald Warner at Reaction, condemning the so-called ‘modernised’ Conservative Party for squandering the once-in-a-lifetime chance given to it by Brexit to cease being an empty, principle-free shell.

The Conservatives, fulminated The Spectator editorial in its pre-Conference edition, are functioning as Corbyn’s Useful Idiots: years of failing to make the case for basic liberty and the free enterprise system, of stealing Labour policies in pursuit of electoral advantage, have left them unable to explain why Corbyn is wrong.

And when usually loyal Conservatives like Charles Moore and Tim Montgomerie legitimately ascribe culpability for the Party’s ideological paralysis to May and call for her to go, in effect saying, rightly, that she is all but guaranteeing the advent of a hard-Left Labour government led by Corbyn and McDonnell, her days are surely numbered.

So in Birmingham, over the next two days, there are parallel Brexit and non-Brexit battles taking place. The unofficial, but never far from the surface, impending leadership contest is almost immaterial, because the ideological struggle over the shape, not only of Brexit but of Conservatism, will determine its outcome.

Will the Party continue on its present ever-Leftward drift, preoccupied with fashionably politically-correct social-justice and identity-politics, and convinced, bizarrely, that the only way to stop full-strength Corbyn economically is to offer diet-Corbyn instead? Or will it somehow re-discover the moral and intellectual firepower to oppose Corbynism absolutely and offer a distinctive and optimistic vision of a freer, less-taxed and better-off society?

For anyone wanting the latter, an irredeemably intransigent, incompetent, inflexible Theresa May, a disaster for her party, the country and arguably democracy itself, and who ideally should not even be giving the Leader’s Speech on Wednesday at all, must be forced to declare that it will be her last. If ever there was a need for a repeat-in-reverse on Tuesday of Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives, it’s now.

Drastic though it is, the present circumstances do justify a palace coup – whereby she is told by a co-ordinated procession of individual colleagues visiting her one by one as with Thatcher in 1990, and in no uncertain terms, that the game is up: that she cannot lead the party through Brexit, much less into the next General Election which could follow a failure to get her Brexit deal through Parliament before March 2019: and that her only alternative is to resign, with effect from the conclusion of her speech, in favour of a pro-Brexit caretaker Prime Minister.

Labour Party Conferences may well be mainly characterised by a succession of extreme-Left demagogues delivering two-minute rants from the platform on arcane and largely indecipherable motions. But at least policy is discussed and even voted on, albeit after a fashion.

But in almost comically stark contrast, the obsessively stage-managed, anodyne, debate-free rallies of the slavishly-loyal, listening dutifully to ministers’ set-piece speeches, which now comprise the formal proceedings of Conservative Party conferences, have become notorious – rightly mocked even by The Daily Telegraph as merely “paying through the nose for the privilege of clapping”.

Conference audience dutifully applauding

If the Party, despite its current dire ideological and political predicament, yet again prefers to close ranks, eyes and ears, and contrives to hold a synthetically-orchestrated, reality-ignoring Conference: and if the pro-Brexit, anti-May dissenters yet again recoil from openly mounting a challenge, both to her conduct of Brexit specifically and her party leadership generally: then a Corbyn government is a near-certainty, and they will have no-one but themselves to blame.

That modern-day equivalent of Gaitskell’s “fight for the soul of the Party” needs to be taking place. In Birmingham. Here and now.

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The Salzburg Summit Winners and Losers

Who were the principal winners and losers from Theresa May’s Salzburg EU summit débacle?

Note: this is the longer version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 24th September 2018

In the city famous for its associations with The Sound of Music, the notes played at Thursday 20th September’s European Union Summit were discordant: not only because the would-be soloist Theresa May was unbelievably poor, but also because the Brussels Orchestra wanted her either to play a different composition altogether, or preferably not play at all.May Salzburg Summit 2

Over its four-and-a-half decades of European Union membership, Britain has often suffered frustrations and rebuffs at its tedious summits: the then PM Cameron’s total failure to return from the crucial one in February 2016 without even a minor concession he could implausibly present to UK voters as ‘significant reform’ was merely the most recent.

But in the entire history of its involvement, the malevolent ambush and abject humiliation calculatedly inflicted on Theresa May by the EU Summit in Salzburgin rejecting out of hand her Chequers Plan for Britain’s EU exit, was surely unprecedented, however much we rightly condemn both the origins and details of the Plan itself for their duplicity and excessive appeasement of, and concessions to, Brussels. 

But such situations always produce winners as well as losers. Who were the principal winners and losers from Theresa May’s Salzburg débacle?

The first big loser is Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. Formerly a staunch Brexiteer, he agreed to take on the job at the Department for Exiting the European Union just after the resignations of David Davis and Steve Baker in the aftermath of May’s infamous Chequers Summit.

But he did so knowing the department had been cynically used by May’s No 10 Downing Street as camouflage for their covert backstairs operation to put together the Chequers Plan, presented to the Cabinet as a take-it-or-leave-it fait-accompli.

He also accepted the post in full knowledge that he would be required to progress and promote Chequers, which was already being comprehensively eviscerated for its lack of ambition and abandonment of the red lines which May herself had laid down in her Lancaster House and Mansion House speeches.

Three months later, May’s Chequers Plan, already (and justifiably so) politically toxic in Britain, and now comprehensively rejected by the EU, lies in ruins, to all intents and purposes dead. Whether Raab was motivated mainly by the prospect of promotion is almost immaterial. As bad judgement calls go, his was a humdinger, and it deserves to blight the rest of his political career.

Theresa's Puppet-Master Olly RobbinsA bigger loser than Raab is May’s No 10 Brexit negotiations adviser, former FCO mandarin Oliver Robbins.

As supposedly her ‘expert’ on the EU and thereby uniquely equipped to advise May on what the EU would or would not find acceptable, Robbins has long been suspected, not entirely without reason, of being opposed to Brexit notwithstanding the Referendum result, and therefore determined to influence an all-too-gullible and vulnerable to such influence Theresa May towards as soft-Remain, substantially-in-name-only a Brexit as possible.

It was Robbins who allegedly helped to devise, in secret, behind the backs of the public, MPs and even the Cabinet, and deceitfully using the Brexit Department as camouflage while disregarding its recommendations, May’s ignominious Chequers Plan: which was bounced on to the Cabinet, remember, with the peremptory instruction that it could not be changed, because it had already been agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

With the EU’s emphatic dismissal of Chequers, Robbins’ credibility is zero, his reputation for EU expertise deservedly joining in the gutter his reputation for a total abrogation of Civil Service impartiality and neutrality. The EU whose anti-democracy and technocratic authoritarianism he so obviously reveres has rewarded his misplaced loyalty and self-abasement in its cause by making a monumental fool of him. Clearly, he can play no further part whatsoever in any Brexit negotiations. Whether he can remain in Government service at all is dubious.

The main loser, of course, is May herself. For all the frantic spin of the 36 hours after the Salzburg Summit, attempting, with the connivance of the media, to present her simultaneously as both the grievously-wronged honest-broker and the re-incarnation of Boadicea, a Margaret Thatcher Mk II standing up for Britain against EU chicanery and intransigence . . . .Sun Front Page Sat 22 Sep 2018. . . . the inescapable fact is that she has been completely and utterly humiliated – exposed at best as a naïve, gullible ingenuée, and at worst as a devious, cynical schemer hoist on the petard of her own duplicity.

Let’s not forget just how and why we arrived at this embarrassment. It’s because Theresa May herself – whether out of ideological conviction or political expediency hardly matters – set out deliberately to deceive her Cabinet, MPs, party and country that she was pursuing in good faith the Brexit which 17.4 million voted for and which she largely pledged to achieve for them: while at the same time launching a secret backstairs operation to devise and advance her own much weaker Soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only Chequers Plan which not only reflected her own Remainer inclinations but preferred to appease an EU determined to ensure Britain must not be seen to benefit, either economically or politically, from Brexit.

It was, and is, gross constitutional treachery and political ineptitude, and that it has blown up in her face is poetic justice. Yet bear in mind, amid the spin, that she’s still a Remainer, she hasn’t junked either Chequers or the people who designed it, and she’d still revert to it if the EU accepted it. Her credibility too is at rock-bottom, and her position is even weaker than before. Hence the desperate, choreographed attempts to shore it up, to try and insulate her from irresistible demands for her resignation.

Johnson, Davis resign from Cabinet post ChequersAnd the main winners? Well, foremost, Boris Johnson, David Davis, Steve Baker. Leaving personalities aside, their resignations in protest at Chequers now look prescient, principled and justified. Paradoxically, the EU itself has proved they were right all along. Their positions, and credibility, have been strengthened.

ERG Davis, Paterson, Villiers, Rees-MoggNext come Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European Research Group of backbench Brexiteer Tory MPs. Their technical and constitutional objections to Chequers, and their warnings that the EU would not accept it, have also been proved right. Salzburg has vindicated them, and they too won’t be so easy for the closet-Remainer May-ites to dismiss in future.

After that come Tory members and activists in the country. Consistently opposed to Chequers in Conservative Home surveys, the latest of which shows a mere 10 per cent believing May should stick with Chequers, they have also been proved correct.  And this matters, because with a majority of Tory MPs being overt or closet Remainers, it’s grassroots dissatisfaction which provides the best chance of forcing May out.

History is replete with apparent defeats that subsequently turned out have been the springboard for ultimate victory. For both Brexiteers and Britain, Salzburg could well be another.

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Soft-Remainer Wets vs Canada-Plus Drys

The real issue behind the Tories’ Boris vs Doris imbroglio earlier this month, ostensibly about wives and words, is actually a bitter internecine dispute about the shape of Brexit.

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 10th September 2018

Neither Co-Editor of The Conservative Woman, Kathy Gyngell, I suspect, nor I, imagined it when we co-wrote our article “Boris’ Resignation Speech – Did He Flunk It?” published there on 20th July 2018.

Boris resignation speech 18 July 2018

That, a mere seven weeks later, the subject of it would be embroiled in quite the degree of controversy which enveloped him over the weekend of 8th and 9th September, firstly in the fall-out from his divorce announcement earlier that week, and secondly from some provocative language in his Mail On Sunday article attacking Theresa May’s justifiably much-criticised and thoroughly-debunked Chequers Plan for a Soft-Remain Brexit-In-Name-Only.

And yet this alleged scandal has always had a very artificial, almost manufactured, feel about it. It isn’t really about Boris’ chaotic private life, or his undoubted character flaws, much less about some ill-judged phraseology in a newspaper article.

It’s merely the latest escalation of the Johnson vs May war, Boris vs Doris, and of the ‘Conservative’ Party’s internal struggle between the advocates of a Clean-Break Brexit and the more numerous  – in some cases Brexit-ambivalent but nakedly-careerist – supporters of an ultra-soft departure that’s more spin than substance.

Firstly, Boris’ serial philandering, and he and his wife having for some months lived in effect separate lives, is hardly a State secret. In some ways it’s arguably among the least of the various faults, like a lack of attention to detail, vaulting personal ambition, and a sometimes cavalier regard for accuracy, which make him such a dubious leadership proposition.

Yet the whiff of hypocrisy in some of the pearls-clutching reaction to it borders on the nauseating, coming from a party which has spent much of the past two decades enthusiastically supporting, if not imitating, much of the cultural-Left’s attack on the institution of the family.

May's leopard-print kitten-heels 2002

And all in a desperate, ultimately futile attempt to counter the Tories’ self-inflicted ‘Nasty Party’ image. Remind me once again, precisely who it was who coined that particular damaging phrase which has hung round its neck ever since?

Secondly, much of the confected outrage about Boris’ Mail on Sunday article has to rely for its impact on a blatant misquote. He did not, as was widely, but inaccurately, reported, liken Theresa May to a suicide-bomber. What he did say was, that, in proposing exit from the European Union on the basis of May’s Chequers Plan, “we have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution – and handed the detonator to Michel Barnier.’

Now, given the extent to which, under Chequers, EU rules and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would continue to hold sway over large areas of economic activity, despite the UK no longer being a member of the EU, this is a fair point. But it’s also one which May’s No 10 team would definitely prefer was not widely understood.

Despite the EU’s effective rejection of the Chequers Plan, May’s increasingly bunker-like No 10 are still heavily invested in it. Remember, it was they who put it together in a secret backstairs operation in which May’s own Cabinet was kept in the dark, and the Department for Exiting the European Union was cynically used as camouflage for it. Hence the faux-indignation by May’s outriders in the Brexit-In-Name-Only wing of the ‘Conservative’ Party at Boris’ laying bare its manifest constitutional concessions. 

Next, it was revealed – or at least claimed – in 9th September’s The Sunday Times that a dossier of Johnson’s peccadillos had already been prepared in Downing Street for deployment against him in the event of him launching a leadership bid. May’s No 10, I’d suggest, is in paranoid-panic mode, and especially since the news broke that Boris is to address a 1,000-strong rally on the Fringe at the ‘Conservative’ Party conference on Tuesday 2nd October. It isn’t exactly difficult to guess what his main subject will be.

Boris 'We Never Even Tried' Brexit headline D-Tel Mon 03Sep18

That’s also the day before May’s speech to Conference as Leader. Given the utter disaster that was May’s Conference Speech last year, on top of her normal charisma-free, robotic delivery in contrast to Boris’ oratory – at which, for all his faults, he excels – it will be the talking-point of the Conference and set such a high bar for May’s own speech the next day that she is bound to fail.

So it’s not difficult to see why an unspectacular divorce announcement and a luridly-worded section in an otherwise unremarkable newspaper article would have been seen in the No 10 bunker as an opportunity to push the nascent Stop-Boris-and-Discredit-Brexit operation into higher gear.

Incidentally, as an operation to discredit an opponent and potential leadership challenger, and of which May is the beneficiary, the similarities with how Andrea Leadsom came to be removed as a challenger to May’s unelected and unopposed coronation in mid-2016 are intriguing.

None of this is to absolve Johnson of the faults which make him unsuitable and risky leadership material: I’m on record at The Conservative Woman calling him ‘a dilettante, a gadfly, and prone to indiscretions’, after all. But it does weaken the likelihood of an alternative to May’s disastrous BRINO Chequers Plan gaining traction, even though Boris himself appears uncertain of which one he favours.

In the past week or so, it’s emerged that the three leading Tory Brexiteers, namely David Davis, Steve Baker and Jacob Rees-Mogg, have all favoured exiting the EU on what’s known as the “Canada Plus” option. This isn’t ideal, for all sorts of reasonsnot least its implications for Northern Ireland’s economy and its cross-border trade with the Republic of Ireland: but compared with Chequers, it delivers more on the instruction handed to the Government by the electorate.

May, of course, is dead set against it. The real story of the Boris imbroglio of the past week is that it risks strengthening her hand, against his and those of his less compulsively mercurial colleagues, in the battle over which vision of Brexit is to prevail. Against that, the brouhaha surrounding Boris, his libido, and his leadership ambitions are merely a noisy, but ultimately peripheral, sideshow.

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