Tag: Sovereignty

Parliament’s Day of Reckoning

As the one of most important days for UK politics and House of Commons history in years, possibly in decades, dawns, with Boris Johnson attempting to secure MPs’ approval for his Brexit deal, how does the parliamentary landscape look?

It’s worth bearing in mind, at the outset, just why we are in this mess. It’s because, essentially, we are saddled with a Remainer Parliament resolved to frustrate the expressed will of the electorate that delivered the largest ever popular democratic mandate for one specific policy in this country’s political history.

EU Ref by votes, regions, parties, constituencies, & MPs

Even on the basic party arithmetic, with no other factors taken into account, Johnson’s prospects for success in the Commons look very tight. The Government currently has an operational “majority” of minus 44, so in order to win, it broadly needs, not only to keep all of those in the Aye lobby, but also attract some others to it. The votes “in play” fall roughly into four key groups.

The DUP have officially rejected Boris’ deal “as it stands”, on the grounds that its revised Protocol covering customs, the NI-RoI border, and Transition arrangements does not fully assuage their objections to Theresa May’s original (non)-“Withdrawal” Agreement. However, it’s emerged in the past 24 hours that this may not be unanimous, and that some of the DUP’s 10 MPs may be prepared to concede pragmatically that this is as good as it’s likely to get, and thus support the Government. The support of former Northern Ireland First Minister Lord Trimble looks to be a major boost.

Then there are the 21 Tory-Remainer rebels from whom the Whip was withdrawn. Rumours abound that an increasing number of these may relent and vote for the Johnson deal, on the basis that it is at least a deal, whereas their objection was to leaving with no deal. But this group also contains a cabal of pro-Remain MPs, some of whose professed determination merely to prevent no-deal is a transparently thin veneer to cover their determination to prevent any Brexit at all, democracy notwithstanding. Some of them are either standing down as MPs or are likely to be de-selected, and so have nothing to lose.

Next come the roughly 80-90 MPs of the European Research Group and its so-called “Spartans” sub-set. Many of this group voted for Johnson in the Tory leadership election, after voting against May’s deal twice but voting for it on its third attempt. As Johnson’s deal, for all its flaws, is at least demonstrably better than May’s, their support, bar possibly one or two hold-outs, looks more or less assured, although, intriguingly, two ministers from this group were reportedly on “resignation watch” yesterday.

Finally come the prospective rebels from the Labour benches, a growing number of whom are already on record as saying they would support Brexit as long as there was a deal, and who may well decide the issue, one way or another. 19 of them wrote to the EU asking it to agree a deal so that they could vote for it. At the time of writing, Labour was threatening to impose a three-line whip, but many of them are likely to be standing down or de-selected in a Momentum/Corbynite purge anyway, and will quite possibly disregard it.

As a general observation, for many Remainer MPs, this is crunch time. Irrespective of the merits or demerits of Johnson’s deal, those Continuity-Remainer MPs from across all parties who have hitherto been insisting that they “respect democracy” and oppose only a no-deal Brexit are finally going to have to stand up and be counted on what their position really is. Not before time,  and for some, it could well be blood on the carpet.

One tweet by the Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson perhaps sums this up. 

The arithmetic is complicated enough. Factor in the possibility of a wrecking amendment, and how it might play out, and we are into the realms of crystal ball gazing.

As this tweet from The Institute for Government’s Maddy Thimont Jack shows, MPs had already started proposing amendments to the relevant motion yesterday morning, the key one being (and little doubt exists that it would be selected by the pro-Remain partisan Bercow as Speaker) that proposed by serial anti-Brexit meddler and arch-Remainer Tory MP Oliver Letwin and signed by all the usual suspects:

The effect appears to be to force withholding of Parliamentary approval for the deal until the legislation to implement it has been passed. The immediate question which occurs is this: how can Parliament pass legislation implementing a deal which Parliament itself has not approved? Has Letwin, not for the first time, been too-clever-by-half?

Its ostensible purpose is to prevent Johnson’s deal being passed but the legislation to implement it being derailed, resulting in a no-deal Brexit on 31st October by default. However, there seems little room for doubt, given their past Parliamentary shenanigans, that the real aim of the cross-party anti-Brexit plotters clustered around Dominic Grieve is to trigger the Benn Surrender Act, and force Johnson to seek an extension to Article 50 until 31st January, thus giving the Remainer Alliance in Parliament time to force through legislation for a second referendum. The Letwin amendment is, in effect, a spoiler.

There are other possible options for die-hard Continuity-Remainer MPs to take, with outcomes ranging from another bid for a risibly mis-named Government of National Unity to an Article 50 extension even without triggering the Benn Surrender Act.

Contrast this reluctance and foot-dragging on the part of irreconcilably Continuity-Remain MPs with the attitude of the UK electorate, which now appears, and by a substantial majority, to want Brexit implemented on the basis of Johnson’s deal. The remoteness of this Rotten Parliament from the people it is supposed to represent grows more marked by the day. 

It must be said that, even if Johnson’s deal is approved today, and the implementing legislation follows in short order thereafter, the timing is still tight. The deal, as approved, still requires the approval of the EU Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament. Given their glacial pace, that has to be doubtful. The future of Brexit remains uncertain.

One thing however is certain. Today will show, once again, the sheer extent of the demos-phobia embedded deep in the psyche of the majority of MPs that the Brexit vote and its aftermath has exposed. Hopefully it will be the last gasp of the creatures before the swamp is drained.

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Is Boris’ Irish Border Backstop Plan Bluff or Breakthough?

Bluff – but bluff by whom, and targeted at whom? There are several possible candidates for both.   

Note: Extract from article first published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 15 October 2019  

Those, maybe, are the real questions, because this drama has multiple actors, all of whom have interests and agendas that may be colouring their reactions.

Though Boris has, since last Thursday remained fairly tight-lipped about the details, some kind of, in effect, double customs union, involving keeping Northern Ireland in a de facto, if not de jure, customs union with the Republic, appears to be the basis for this tentative rapprochement.

RoI-NI

But when 85% of Northern Ireland’s exports are to the UK, with only 5% and 3% to the Republic and the EU respectively, it’s hard to see why Northern Ireland would burden itself with onerous EU costs and regulations for such a small proportion of its trade, and risk disruption to the flow of the major part of it.

Which might explain why, as early as last Friday, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds had already rejected the double customs union as ‘unrealistic’, asserting that the Province staying in a full customs union with the UK was non-negotiable, and that for the ongoing ‘tunnel’ talks in Brussels to disregard this pre-condition would be counter-productive.

Presumably, Dodds had already perceived what other commentators have since come round to concluding – that, far from negotiating in good faith, the EU is actually trying to squeeze Northern Ireland into a NI-only backstop, a view which Barnier’s rejection of Johnson’s proposals and demand for more UK concessions does little to dispel.

The technical assessments of Johnson’s proposals are not especially favourable. Anand Menon of The UK in a Changing Europe reckons the long-term economic impacts are negative, and potentially more damaging than the deal negotiated by Theresa May, but the chart below appears to acknowledge that they do give the UK more independence and flexibility. ALR readers are recommended to visit the UKinCE website for themselves and make their own judgement of its pro or anti Brexit stance.

N Ireland May Deal vs Johnson proposals

Theresa May’s former Europe Adviser, Raoul Ruparel of Open Europe, however, is more sanguine. There are some concerns, he says, but they can be managed. ALR readers should visit OE’s website https://openeurope.org.uk and make their own judgement about its pro or anti Brexit stance, too.

As former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson points out, a double customs union would also potentially be a breach of the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement, and a violation of the Principle of Consent which was enshrined within it.

We also know, because former Secretary-General to the EU Commission Martin Selmayr was indiscreetly frank about it, that it has long been the EU’s position that relinquishing economic sovereignty of Northern Ireland is the price the UK must be made to pay for leaving the EU. It would be unwise to assume that the reactions of both Brussels and Irish Taoiseach Varadkar, who has shown himself regrettably ready to pander to nationalist Republican revanchism, scrupulously disregard this.

Bluffing about seeing a way forward would certainly be in Boris’ interest, and the Conservative Party’s. The almost exclusive focus of politicians, media and public on the Northern Ireland backstop serves to obscure the suspicion that, ultimately, he will try to get what otherwise is essentially Theresa May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ Agreement through the Commons. Its numerous flaws remain as serious as ever they were.

But Boris knows that, if he fails to achieve Brexit by 31st October, the chances of both his own survival and that of his government, are damaged. As political scientist and Professor of Politics at the University of Kent, Matthew Goodwin, points out, the votes which, because of May’s defenestration and Boris ascendancy to Number Ten on a Brexit do-or-die ticket, have come back to the Tories from the Brexit Party after its resounding victory in the European elections, could once again vanish.

Brexit Election Tracker Goodwin mid-Oct 2019

So he has every incentive to play up the chances of a deal after all, and exaggerate its significance, if it can be presented as something which warrants getting a soft-Brexit over the line. The recriminations can come afterwards.

Brussels and Dublin equally have an incentive, to understate  the significance. The EU will be calculating that, by playing hardball, it increases the chances of a Remainer Parliament, which has already passed the Benn Surrender Act, forcing Boris, failing a 31st October Brexit, to seek an Article 50 extension on humiliating terms, probably involving conceding a second referendum.

In short, almost none of the actors in this drama has an incentive to be 100% genuine. Safer, perhaps, to assume that none of them are?

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Why, Brexit or No Brexit, Leave-ers Must Rally In Parliament Square Today

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Friday 29th March 2019

Disregard all the confected agonising about a few decimal-points percentage less GDP growth over ten years. Ignore the un-evidenced predictions about job loss Armageddon. Ever since the mid-February 2016 announcement of the EU Referendum date, the Remain campaign has been throwing economic sand in your eyes: because it knows that, on the key Brexit question, that of sovereignty, independence and democracy, it has no case.

Some things in life really are simple, but just not easy: the words aren’t necessarily synonymous. Especially in politics, however, some simple things are deliberately over-complicated by those who need to obfuscate them in pursuit of an agenda.

Brexit is actually a very simple, almost atavistic, existential question, arguably the oldest one of all. It goes back to Plato vs Aristotle. How are we to be governed, by whom, and from where? Do you want to be governed by people whom you can elect and can throw out? Or ruled over by people whom you can neither elect nor throw out?

why people voted leave 2Huge numbers of the 17.4 million who voted Leave, despite being disparaged as uneducated, stupid and bigoted, actually understood this, instinctively and viscerally, even if they couldn’t all necessarily articulate it lucidly. They knew what was, and still is, at stake. That’s why sovereignty and democracy – the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK topped by some margin the most extensive and methodologically-sound post-Referendum polling undertaken of the specific reasons why people voted for Brexit.

As one said to me: I’m voting for Brexit so that my children, and in turn their children, can live in a society where the laws they have to obey, and the taxes they have to pay, are decided by, and only by, people whom they can elect and can throw out, and by no-one else. As a justification, I’ve yet to hear that bettered.

Remember, Brexit was the biggest vote for one single, specific policy in British political history. An estimated three million people voted who don’t normally bother or who hadn’t voted before. Why? Because they recognised this had a significance far, far beyond that of mere elections, which are actually decided in no more than no more than about 100 swing constituencies, the rest being either tribal heartlands or even the modern-day equivalent 18th Century rotten boroughs. 

Because it was a nation-wide, whole-electorate poll, where they knew that this was one of the few times, possibly the only time, in their entire lives when their individual votes actually counted, and could make a difference.

But the overwhelmingly Remainer-dominated political class, enthusiastically assisted by its amen-corner courtiers in the media, culture and Academe, has, cynically and calculatedly, betrayed them all, and with tacit support from swathes of people on the losing side. The really shocking aspect of the last thirty-three months has been the exposure of just what a precariously thin thread British democracy hangs by, not just among the Establishment-Elite, but also apparently among a sizeable proportion of the electorate, when it delivers an outcome uncongenial to them. 

The readiness of so many simultaneously to withdraw the franchise from those who disagree with them, and cavalierly dismiss them as unfit to participate in deciding their own destiny, suggests that the Brexit Vote aftermath is a mere symptom of a much deeper underlying problem in UK society, not the cause of it.

After the past week’s events, there can no longer be even a scintilla of doubt that Parliament has now consciously voted to set itself against the people. It has, quite simply, declared war on the electorate, on Brexit, on the Constitution, even on democracy itself. It has, in effect, shredded the social contract. It is trying to steal from us the very decision that it asked us to make, because it does not like it. It is behaving like a thief in the night, breaking in to a poor man’s home to steal the one thing of value he has: his vote. 

May the burglar makes off with British democracy

Look at the first part of the video clip below. Ordinary people in an ordinary Northern town, discussing, albeit in maybe not particularly erudite or sophisticated terms, the iniquities, the democratic deficit, inherent in having a remote, unelected, unaccountable layer of government officials, above and superior to those they’re actually allowed to elect, but who themselves make most of the rules yet are both insulated from the need for democratic consent and immune from democratic sanction.

The leaders of a mature democracy ought to be proud that those ordinary people in an ordinary Northern town are capable enough and engaged enough to have discussions like this. Yet what was the reaction of the Remainer-dominated political class and its media, culture and Academe echo-chambers to their vote? “They didn’t know what they were voting for”. 

Now look at the second part, from 03:30 onwards. That ordinary Burnley lady, learning the EU Referendum result that she helped to achieve.  “We did it! Everybody woke up in time! Everybody listened! We’ve done it!” Possibly, like so many, the first time in her life that her vote actually mattered, the only time, perhaps, that it made a difference. Nearly three years on, it still retains its raw, emotive power.

Back in July 2018, just after the revelations of May’s Chequers deception, I wrote that this had just got a lot bigger than Brexit: that it was now about nothing less than whether we are a functioning citizens’ democracy at all, or just unwilling, powerless subjects of an unaccountable apparatchik-elite pursuing its own agenda.

We cannot let the cadres of disdainful, contemptuous, anti-democracy charlatans in Parliament get away with betraying those people of Burnley, and millions of others like them. We have to prevail. We cannot afford to fail. The alternative is too baleful to contemplate. That’s why Leave-ers need to rally in Parliament Square today. Not just to reclaim Brexit from the MPs who have stolen it, but to reclaim our democracy too.

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No Brexit Wall of Shame is Complete Without the Name of David Cameron

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 26th March 2019

It’s perhaps a natural tendency, when compiling a Wall of Shame relevant to current events rapidly nearing their dramatic dénouement, to concentrate exclusively on the contemporary actors in the drama. The Conservative Woman‘s excellent Brexit Wall of Shame series certainly contains plenty who thoroughly deserve their notoriety, based on their current or recent conduct. But such an approach can risk leaving some of those originally responsible for it undeservedly overlooked.

David Cameron is one such who surely deserves his dishonourable place. Not only did he initiate the events leading up to the 2016 EU Referendum and its unnecessarily chaotic aftermath, but he must also bear a large part of the blame for the ‘Conservative’ Party having degenerated to a state of such manifest ill-preparedness to deal with it.

First, for all that the man himself insouciantly chillaxes in retirement, the Tory Party now struggling and failing miserably to implement the largest ever mandate for one specific policy in British political history is still recognisably Cameron’s Party, and unmistakeably bears his imprint.

Just consider the current crop of senior Party figures, whether those still among ministerial ranks, ineffectively directing its policies and egregiously mis-directing Brexit, or those formerly so but now exerting malign anti-Brexit influence on the back benches. Theresa May, Michael Gove, Amber Rudd, David Lidington, Nicky Morgan, Greg Clark, Matthew Hancock, Oliver Letwin, Nicholas Boles, Justine Greening, to name but a few.

All are identifiably of the Cameroon “moderniser” ascendancy set in train by Cameron and Osborne during their time as interns then advisers at Party HQ, based around their disparagingly, but accurately labelled Notting Hill Set.

As Robin Harris shows in his superb “The Conservatives – A History”, once in control of the Party, its local associations and, crucially, its candidate selection process  – remember the notorious A-List and Cameron’s Cuties? – they consciously set out to re-make it in the mould of a red-Tory, closet-LibDem, very metropolitan-‘liberal’ amalgam.

Dave Hug A Husky 1Economically, fiscal rigour and low taxes were out, “spending the proceeds of growth” was in. Socially, the Left’s  ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ social justice warrior agenda was enthusiastically embraced, not just in its good parts, but in many of its worst aspects as well. Green-ery was accorded the status of incontestable truth, challenging which was tantamount to heresy.

Predictably, virtue-signalling appeasement of militant feminism, Islamism and cultural-marxism, and either acquiescing in the Left’s war on free speech, or pusillanimity in the face of it, is where his Party ended up.

A key part of this agenda was always an unquestioning pan-Europeanism and acceptance of, if not tacit support for, Britain’s EU membership. Even if occasional lip-service was paid to the membership’s majority Eurosceptic view, such heresy was never allowed to permeate the leadership’s thinking, the preference being to try and bury the subject as an issue.

Sometimes, however, the mask slipped. I still vividly recall a session of Prime Minister’s Questions when, to a question from one of his own back-benches along the lines of “Will My Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister grant the public a referendum on our European Union membership?”, Call-Me-Dave responded with this: “No because it would not be in our interests to leave”. Just reflect for a moment on the anti-democracy implied in that wording.

No wonder this is a party which manifestly can’t cope with heeding and implementing arguably the greatest popular mass revolt against the Elite-Establishment since since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 permanently established the supremacy of Parliament over the Monarch, signifying the shift from absolute to constitutional monarchy.

Forward now to Cameron’s now infamous Bloomberg Speech of January 2013, in which he pledged an In/Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership, to be held after seeking substantial constitutional and institutional reform of it to address Britain’s legitimate grievances. (It included, incidentally, these words: “You, the British people, will decide.” – whatever happened to that, I wonder?)

Govt leaflet EU Ref once in a generation decision

It would be nice to think that Cameron’s motivation in conceding, at last, an In/Out EU referendum was the principled democratic one of giving the electorate the chance to have its first vote in 38 years on Britain’s continuing membership of a supranational political project which even then had moved so far beyond what was voted on in 1975 as to be almost unrecognisable.

Alas not. As Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant admitted only last November, Cameron’s prime purpose was the narrow, partisan, party-management one of ensuring that “the European question was neutralised”, so as to secure Tory Party electoral advantage. Party before country, and even democracy, in other words. Plus ça change. . .

It’s instructive to compare in hindsight Cameron’s lofty intentions to achieve serious EU reform, set out in his Bloomberg Speech, with the thin gruel indeed with which he returned, tail between legs, from the crunch negotiation in mid-February 2016, at which the EU refused to budge on any of its key policies and extended merely a few cosmetic concessions, after which his “deal” unravelled within hours. The parallels with Chamberlain’s similarly gullible and humiliated return from Munich in 1938 were both irresistible and inevitable, and justifiably satirised mercilessly.  

Cameron Chamberlain 2

It’s interesting to speculate whether, had Cameron pushed harder, had he told the EU that unless he got something like the degree of meaningful reform he’d outlined in his Bloomberg Speech, and threatened to walk away and campaign wholeheartedly for Leave if not, he might have achieved more and the Referendum might have gone a different way. But such an approach was never, I think, in his DNA, and probably politically-impossible even if it had been, given his previous record and his Remainer-majority Cabinet.

Without going in to the detail – examined fully in the copious literature that exists on it – of Cameron’s leadership – for, although de facto rather de jure, that is what it was – of the Remain campaign, one or two critically unedifying aspects cannot escape mention.

His decisions both to sanction spending £9m of taxpayers’ money, on essentially a pro-EU propaganda leaflet, and endorse Osborne’s egregious and cynical Project Fear, were appalling enough. But, above all, his instruction to Whitehall, born of his arrogant assumption that a Remain outcome was certain, not to undertake any preparation for a Leave victory, undoubtedly was a major contributor to both the febrile political climate and the negotiating débacle which have crystallised over the past 33 months.

Finally, we come to his indecently-hasty exit – eagerly imitating his role-model Blair in quitting the Commons rather than returning gracefully to the back benches for a time, in an acknowledgement of the transient nature of political power, as did Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, and even his immediate predecessor Brown – and that departure’s own, in turn, deleterious effects, from which we are still suffering.

Cameron resigns 24-Jun-2016

It’s arguable that, had Cameron remained studiedly neutral and above the fray during the Referendum campaign, he could have stayed on as in Number 10 as the statesman pledged to undertake his sacred duty to implement the people’s historic decision. But having been so partisan during the campaign, and lost, and having always been more effete dilettante and party-hack than principled statesman, this option was denied to him.

The consequences of his hurried departure, though, were the abandonment, by the senior legacy-Cameroons who had campaigned for Leave, of any semblance of public duty in favour of personal ambition, and the botched, confused, anti-democratic coronation of Theresa May, probably the most professionally-deficient and temperamentally-inept politician elevated to high office at a critical time for the nation’s fortunes since Lord North.

Now Cameron may not be directly responsible for May’s catastrophic calling of the 2017 election, her personality deficiencies, her deviousness and duplicity, and much else besides. But he cannot evade blame entirely. He did make her his surprise pick for Home Secretary in 2010, so cannot claim to have lacked knowledge of her manifest failings. He must have known there was a chance she would end up as his successor on his hurried relinquishment of his Seals of Office.

Cameron garden shed 2So, David Cameron, abandon, even if only briefly, your your lucrative but reclusive existence in your £25,000 designer “Shepherd’ Hut”, aka garden shed, churning out your doubtless tediously self-exculpating memoirs destined inevitably for the “Special Offer – Reduced – Only £4.99” section of dingy airport bookshops. Step forward and accept your thoroughly-merited prominent, permanent, and rightful place on The Conservative Woman‘s Brexit Wall of Shame

 

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Parliament – Cradle of Anti-Democracy

Last week’s three days of (anti)-Brexit votes showed how the House of Commons has finally reversed its mythical status, to become instead the Cradle of Anti-Democracy.

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 19th March 2019

Almost exactly a year after self-congratulatingly celebrating the centenary of women winning the right to vote, Parliament last week in effect told the 49 per cent of female participants in the 2016 EU Referendum who voted to Leave that their votes didn’t count.

However, mindful as always of the vital importance of gender-equality, it simultaneously did the same to Leave-voting men. Britain’s fabled “Cradle of Democracy” effectively withdrew the franchise from 17.4 million people, for having had the temerity to vote in a way not to its liking.

For an institution whose lineage can be traced back 804 years to Magna Carta, Parliament’s descent from consulting the people to dismissing their response has merely taken less than four years. It’s worth recalling some of the major stages in that decline.

In June 2015, Parliament voted by a majority of 544 votes to 53 to hold the EU Referendum, rightly recognising that such an important constitutional question could only be decided by the electorate. On best estimates in late June 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union by 406 parliamentary constituencies to 242. It voted to leave the European Union by 263 voting areas to 119, and by 9 regions to 3.Conservative-held constituencies in 2016 voted to leave by 247 to 80. Labour-held constituencies in 2016 voted to leave by 148 to 84.

EU Ref by votes, constituency, region, party & MP

In contrast however, among the cohort of 2016 MPs, Remain was the preferred option by 486 to 160.

In February 2017, MPs voted by 498 votes to 114 to trigger Article 50. At the 2017 General Election, approximately 85 per cent of votes were cast for parties pledging in their manifestos to implement the Referendum result.

Yet Parliament also moved quickly to signal its intent to dilute, frustrate or preferably overturn the Referendum result. Just take the example of Select Committee Chairs. In October 2016, it elected the fiercely pro-Remain Hilary Benn as Chair of the Brexit Department Select Committee in preference to Leave-er Kate Hoey. At the same time, it elected the pro-Remain and open-borders/free-movement enthusiast Yvette Cooper as head of the Home Affairs Select Committee. After the 2017 General Election, it appointed arch-Remainer and Osborne coat-tailer Nicky Morgan to the chairmanship of the Treasury Select Committee. 

Those three appointments in particular could almost have been designed to ensure that the sidelining and use as camouflage by Number Ten for May’s secret Chequers Deal from Day One did not emerge until early July 2018: that Home Office preparations under arch-Remainer Amber Rudd to devise and prepare more robust immigration controls post-Brexit perhaps received either more opposition, or less rigorous scrutiny, than might have been appropriate: and that the arch-Remainer Chancellor Philip Hammond would not be too closely challenged, either on any refusal to allocate funds and resources to contingency preparations for No-Deal, or on excessively gloomy economic forecasts for almost any Brexit other than May’s Remain-by-Stealth, Brexit-in-Name-Only “Withdrawal” Agreement.

That was just the start. Week by week, month by month, over the past two-and-three-quarters years, both Houses of Parliament have come to insert themselves more and more into diluting or frustrating the Brexit process, and wresting not only the means, but the Brexit decision itself, back from the electorate whose decision it sought, but did not approve of.

Coming to a head last week, on Tuesday 12 March MPs voted by 391 votes to 242 to reject May’s (non)-“revised” “Withdrawal” Agreement & minimally-“clarified” Political Declaration. From many of the speeches made during the debate, especially from the Labour benches and the recently-defected ex-‘Conservative’ TIG-gers, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that even this softest-of-soft-Brexits was too much for some.

On Wednesday 13th March. following that defeat, May led for the Government on a Commons motion to rule out No-Deal, thus not only directly contradicting everything she has consistently asserted for the last two-and-a-half years, but effectively pulling the rug from under her own feet in any remaining negotiations. She initially granted her MPs a free vote on that No-Deal motion, not out of any respect for individual conscience or democracy, but solely to allow herself to get away with voting against her own Government’s policy – but then subsequently three-line-whipped it. 

In the run-up to the main vote, the amendment for the Malthouse Compromise Plan B, requiring the Government to seek an extension of Article 50 to no later than 22nd May 2019, and a transition period not extending beyond December 2021, was defeated by 374 votes to 164. With the anti-delay ERG complement probably amounting to 90-100 at most, it was clear that the 210 majority against the amendment indicated a considerable number of ‘Conservative’ unreconstructed Remainers hoping for a long, Brexit-destroying deferment.

The substantive motion, to prevent the UK ever leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement in any circumstances, was approved by 321 votes to 278.

It’s an accepted part of our unwritten Constitution that, irrespective of three-line-whip or free vote, the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility still applies. Yet arch-Remainer Cabinet members and Ministers Amber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark and David Mundell abstained with no consequences. 

Rudd Clark Mundell

On Thursday 14th March, although there were defeats for two Labour amendments, the main motion for a delay to Brexit, for a short period via finally approving May’s exit deal on the third attempt by Wednesday 20th March, or for a longer period should that not be possible, was approved by 412 votes to 202

In the space of three days, therefore, the Remainer-dominated House of Commons has voted against leaving the EU even on May’s ultra-soft Brexit deal: against leaving the EU on No-Deal: and in favour of extending – or in many individual cases, preferably revoking – Article 50, to place the entire Brexit process in uncertain suspended animation. It has been made quite clear that there is in reality no Leave option which can command a majority in a Remainer-dominated House of Commons which is determined not to allow one.

Contrast that with recent opinion polls which indicate that a majority of the public expressing a preference do not support May or her deal, would prefer to leave with No-Deal, and are opposed to an Article 50 extension. Only 12 per cent said they believed that May’s Deal delivered the Brexit that the British public voted for. 58 per cent said that it does not. Once again, the yawning chasm that now exists between the voting public in the country and its MPs ensconced in their self-referential Westminster Bubble is exposed in unrelieved starkness.

Now, there is a persuasive argument that Parliament can posture all it wants, and vote in favour of anything it likes, but it cannot force its will on a Prime Minister unless the PM agrees with it. Unfortunately, though, the current Prime Minister is Theresa May, who contrived to lose her majority in Parliament, and whose private views on Brexit undoubtedly chime more with the Remainer majority in Parliament than they do with either the electorate whose verdict she purports to respect or the membership of the party she purports unconvincingly to lead.

Commentators have rightly neither hesitated, nor pulled any punches, in excoriating the antics of MPs in a Parliament increasingly antagonistic to the democracy which puts them there.

Hoc Brexit debates 2

Its smug, self-satisfied, self-entitled politicians have launched a coup against Brexit, with 800 years of democracy unravelling before our very eyes, thundered David Starkey in The Daily Mail.

This disgraceful Parliament has lost all legitimacy, rebuked Gerald Warner at Reaction. Yes, our Prime Minister is dire, but this shameless Remainer Parliament will go down to an ignominious place in history too, predicted The Daily Telegraph’s Dia Chakravarty. Britain’s Remainer elites have declared war on democracy, accused her colleague Allister Heath.

Parliament’s plot to thwart Brexit is as good as complete, observed Brendan O’Neill in The Spectator. The future of democracy itself is on the line, warned Tom Slater at Spiked.

They are all correct. Last week will go down in history as the week our democracy was in effect terminated with extreme prejudice, by anti-democratic Remainer MPs who think we are unfit to decide our own political future, despite having asked us to be precisely that.

The House of Commons, just like its Lords counterpart, has now become the Cradle of Anti-Democracy.

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The Six Podcasts of Christmas

Taken in aggregate, six podcasts transmitted between 16th November and 20th December 2018 reveal the sheer extent and baleful consequences of the Brexit Betrayal being pursued by Theresa May via her Brexit-In-Name-Only “Withdrawal” Agreement 

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 27th December 2018

Both leading up to, and during, the dog-days between Christmas and New Year, it’s more usual to find reading recommendations rather than listening recommendations on your preferred political websites. I’m hoping to add my own “What I’m reading over this Christmas” in the next few days: but as an interim measure, and maybe also to break the mould, here are six podcasts well worth, in my view catching up on.

Among the most compelling Brexit-related podcasts around in the past year have been those by Briefings For Brexitthe group of pro-Brexit academics set up specifically to make the robust analytical, intellectual and constitutional case that perhaps sometimes goes by the board in the frenzy of 24/7, immediate-response politics.

The last six, however, have been particularly good –

In 16th November’s, Professor Gwythian Prins gives arguably one the most comprehensive, but also one of the most clear and lucid, expositions I’ve yet heard of the enormity and scale of the deliberately-engineered surrender to Brussels involved in Theresa May’s “Withdrawal” Deal.

Additionally, the details of how the associated below-the-radar subordination of our Armed Forces to the incipient EU “Defence Union” both purposely undermines NATO and jeopardises the UK’s crucial Five Eyes security and intelligence partnership with our Anglosphere allies are quite horrifying.

In 29th November’s, long-time Eurosceptic Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin not only backs up Professor Prins on May’s proposed “Withdrawal” Agreement, especially on the Northern Ireland backstop, but also demolishes the scaremongering forecasts put out by both the Treasury and the Bank of England, before warning of the political and economic dangers of being locked in to the EU’s Customs Union virtually in perpetuity.

In 7th December’s, Professor Robert Tombs outlines the already political, but potentially also constitutional, crisis in the way Britain is governed resulting from the Government’s handling of Brexit, and the dangers inherent in the growing demands for a second EU Referendum, aka “People’s Vote”, from an overwhelmingly-Remainer political, media, academic, cultural and business elite who refuse to accept the 2016 EU Referendum’s outcome.

In 11th December’s, another long-time Eurosceptic Tory backbencher, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, emphasises the further surrender of sovereignty implicit in May’s “Withdrawal” Agreement, and explains why May’s decision to cancel at short notice the Commons vote on it, because she was almost certain to be defeated, passed up the opportunity to send a strong signal to the EU that the Agreement is unacceptable.

On 14th December, a further long-time Eurosceptic Tory backbencher, David Jones, argues that May’s relatively narrow margin of victory – once the payroll vote is taken into consideration – in surviving the vote of no confidence in her leadership means that she must ditch her failed “Withdrawal” Agreement and begin negotiations with the EU for a CETA agreement similar to the one it recently signed with Canada.

Finally, in 20th December’s, Baroness Ruth Deech, lawyer and a Eurosceptic for at least 25 years, warns about the lack of a UK opt-out from the Northern Ireland backstop in May’s Agreement, and the continuing jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (contrary to May’s claims) over the Agreement and our future payments to the EU.

The six podcasts are easily stitched together into a single continuous playlist, especially if you use a podcast management app like Overcast or Podbean, both of which in my view are superior to Apple’s proprietary one. They add up to 2 hours 43 minutes duration. Not as long, in fact, as even two of those serially-regurgitated old films which lazy TV schedulers have decided to bombard you with over the festive period.

So, a suggestion: plug in the headphones and listen, either as an alternative to sitting in post-prandial torpor through the umpteenth replaying of Love Actually or Pirates of the Caribbean, or as a catch-up opportunity while driving home after gratefully bidding goodbye to Mother-in-Law for another year.

The cumulative effect of listening to the podcast interviews in succession, rather than spread, as they might normally be, over five weeks or so, is significant. It brings home starkly the enormity of the confidence trick which May and her acolytes are trying to play on us. When politics resumes on 2nd January 2019, we still have a massive fight on our hands to prevent the most egregious betrayal.

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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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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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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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