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Three things that Theresa May can do to try and avert a political disaster

14 July 2018

10:52 AM

14 July 2018

10:52 AM

If Theresa May gets a Brexit deal and it can’t get through parliament, then we are heading towards the most dangerous political crisis in living memory, I say in The Sun this morning. For I very much doubt that the 80 percent of MPs who are opposed to no deal, would let Britain leave without an agreement. But disregarding the result of the referendum—either by abandoning Brexit or leaving only to make Britain, effectively, a non-voting member of the EU—would cause a democratic shock. 17.4 million voters would be, understandably, furious about having their vote ignored.

So, what can Mrs May do to avert this disaster? Well, I think there are three things she should do.

First, she should start treating voters and her own MPs like adults. May likes to say that she has stuck to her Brexit red lines, and in a legalistic way she is correct. But she should acknowledge more clearly that her negotiating position has changed: and explain why. She should be upfront about the trade-offs involved in what she’s doing. She should admit that continuing to follow, what is effectively, the EU rulebook on goods and agri-goods will make doing a trade deal with the US much more difficult but explain why she thinks this is still the right course.

Next, she needs to turn her weakness into a strength. When she tours European capitals to try and sell her vision, she should be clear that if it doesn’t fly then Jeremy Corbyn will become PM. Why should European leaders care about that? Because it would mean the two most significant military powers in Nato would be led by people who are deeply sceptical of the alliance.

The third thing she must do is work out what she’ll do if the EU comes back, as it almost certainly will, asking for more concessions in September. As one member of the Brexit inner Cabinet warns, ‘We have got to avoid death by a thousand cuts’.

The danger is that the EU trap Theresa May in a negotiation where they keep saying we need a bit more and a bit more until Brexit has been diluted beyond all recognition. If this happens, the revolt in May’s party would become even worse—more ministers would likely resign—and the deal would still not pass the Commons: Labour is unlikely to step in and rescue a Tory Prime Minister.

May should resolve now that if the EU comes back asking for more and more, she’ll simply go for a free trade agreement modelled on the one that the EU and Canada agreed. She should then, on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, be prepared to argue for a technological solution to the Irish border that uses cameras.

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