This week, Theresa May got her Brexit inner Cabinet to agree that, in the event of no trade deal being in place by December 2020, the UK would continue to apply the EU’s common external tariff. In The Sun this morning, I try and explain why Brexiteers aren’t kicking off about this and the other concessions May is making, or preparing to make.
One influential figure puts it to me like this, ‘it is all very unsatisfactory, but it is what it is’. In other words, given the mistakes that have been made—with the lack of proper no deal planning and the backstop–there isn’t really an alternative.
The other reason is that the view among several of the most important Brexiteers is that they can’t get what they want at the moment, so they should play it long. The thinking goes that it is better to accept more temporary measures than to agree to bad, permanent arrangements.
But what is being whispered in Westminster is that if the Brexiteers are to get what they want, they need control of the government machine—and that means one of their own in Number Ten.
Moving against Theresa May now is simply too risky—bringing her down, could trigger a series of events that leads to Brexit being abandoned or massively diluted. That is not a risk that many Brexiteers are willing to take. But in the last week, the talk of a challenge to her shortly after Britain has legally, if not practically, left the EU has risen in volume.
May’s team are adamant that she wants to fight the next election. Those close to her argue that the Tory party could render itself asunder if it holds a leadership contest before the whole Brexit process is done. But I think that this week, the chances of a challenge to her shortly after the 30th March next year, ‘Brexit day’, have substantially increased.