Brexiteers Continue to Broadcast Their Banalities – But at What Cost?
PB Research Executive Toby Bevan writes…
Since the great British masses voted to leave the European Union, the British political landscape has irrevocably changed. The surprising result of that blustery June night has cast a long shadow over Westminster. Political boundaries have been redefined and alignments refigured as senior figures on both sides of the political spectrum suffer and struggle to keep their MPs onside. Lines have been crossed, perhaps sometimes irreversibly, as politicians tend to play politics under a completely new set of rules. Those who live in the wacky world of Westminster have had to contest with new angles of debate that have caused the party machines to wither and wane. Yet while it is external breaches that threatens to derail Corbyn and the Momentum steam train, it is Tory in-fighting between May loyalists, Remainers and Brexiteers that could potentially open up a permanent fissure within the party.
And it is the Brexiteers, once the toast of 17.4 million voters, who have caused the most problems. Two years ago, the popular demagogues of the Leave campaign had taken hold of the referendum’s central narrative and captured the hearts and minds of Middle England. They had emerged victorious and in the days that followed they would revel with their voters in a moment of shared victory. Two years down the track and the perception of Brexiteers is very different. This group of proud but problematic politicians threaten the potency of their party – and Brexit itself. First, David Davis threw the party into public pandemonium when he resigned from Brexit Secretary in July. Soon after, Boris left his position as Foreign Secretary. His resignation would come coupled with numerous long-winded articles in The Telegraph and a poorly judged metaphor about suicide vests. Both these men, once pillars of the Leave movement, did nothing to promote the campaign they claimed to front – their noisy departures hindering, rather than helping, their crusade.
Now it seems it is the turn of Jacob Rees-Mogg. After the Withdrawal Agreement was announced by the Prime Minister in the Commons, the Chairman of the European Research Group triumphantly strode out of Parliament and into the glare of the national media. He dramatically held aloft his letter, the first of many that were supposedly to be handed in to Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee. He called for the end of the May administration saying her deal threatened to turn Britain into a vassal state of the European Union. The media bought into the theatrics hook, line and sinker. Was Rees-Mogg going to succeed where Boris had failed? Was a Brexiteer coup finally in the offering?
It would appear not.
What followed Rees-Moggs ostentatious endeavours outside Parliament was an anti-climax of overwhelming proportions. The no-confidence letters have reportedly trickled into Mr Brady at a pace more associated with a cricket match than a coup d’etat. Now, it seems May is slowly regaining her footing in the uneasy contest for party control – her doggedness unmatched by the spiritless Brexiteers who attempt to defy her. Brash confidence has been replaced by half-cooked attempts by the old Etonian to drum up sufficient support in order to try and get the revolutionary ball rolling again.
Yet, while Rees-Mogg falls back to the backbenches, he and his like-minded allies are destined to play an integral role on Brexit over the coming months. For while May’s Withdrawal Agreement has been able to navigate the murky waters of bureaucracy in Brussels, it faces an almost impossible struggle getting through Parliament. Labour and the SNP seem determined to halt the government whichever direction they intend on travelling. The DUP are now thought to also oppose the deal. With enemies on all sides, blue Brexiteer support is more important to Mrs May than ever. If the Brexiteers had any sense, they would get behind their isolated PM. There is no doubt the deal will leave the UK incredibly vulnerable in the event of a backstop and that it fails to answer burning questions about the Irish border. However, Britain is not going to get a better one. Whether or not this is Mrs May’s fault is by-the-by, Brexiteers must recognise the position that they find themselves in: either take Theresa’s deal or entertain the volatile prospect of grid-locked uncertainty.
Within that uncertainty lies a growing support of a second referendum. The case for a ‘People’s Vote’ is growing and a grid-locked Parliament is likely to act as a catalyst to this ‘third way’. Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, has actively supported the notion of a return to a more direct form of democracy while even the loyal Amber Rudd has hinted at its plausibility. A recent YouGov poll suggested that if there were another vote, it would likely run 60-40 in favour of Remain. Now, while recent political events from around the world dictate we should not pay too much attention to polls, it is clear that with every passing day, it looks likely that the current, ‘partial deal’ offered by this government is the best hard-line Leavers are going to get – either that or their dream of an ‘independent Britain’ could be lost before it is even begun.
Yet, it appears Brexiteers are completely oblivious about the possibility of a second vote. Members of the European Research Group seem oblivious that in arguing for a small slice of constitutional sovereignty, they could miss out on the whole pie. Their seeming inability see reason has left their Brexit baby exposed once again to the will of the people. They risk everything on this rebellion. Their unwillingness to compromise – the very nature of politics itself – threatens the prospect of Brexit ever happening. If the Conservatives continue to tear at each other’s throats, the previously unattainable dream of a People’s Vote becomes a likely reality for those who have previously been silenced by the argument of democratic process.
Unless the position of these hard-line Tories change, we will once again see the blue corner rip themselves apart over Europe. And it might not just stop at Brexit. The Conservative Party, unable to broker a deal between themselves, could find themselves bickering their way out of the corridors of power. While they remain in power, their vulnerability is conspicuous, and should the opposition organise themselves, The Conservatives will find themselves on the fringes of Parliament once more, battered and broken by their own short-sightedness. In these extraordinary political times it is an all too familiar tale.