How unsophisticated can Theresa May get in her efforts to persuade MPs to back her crumbling Brexit deal? Earlier this week we had her £1.6 billion bribe for “left behind” constituencies of Labour MPs who might just be tempted to back her deal. Yesterday, in Grimsby, she turned to her own backbenchers, telling them:
“Reject [the deal] and no-one knows what will happen. We may not leave the EU for many months. We may leave without the protections a deal provides, we may never leave at all.”
She is of course right: no-one knows what will happen on Tuesday nor in the coming three weeks before 29 March. It does her no credit that she has allowed it to get to such a late stage with businesses still having no idea how to prepare for Brexit, or no Brexit. But one thing is for sure: hard Brexit or no Brexit at all, May’s deal was and remains the worst of all worlds. The arguments which Tory rebels employed to justify their rejection of the deal in January are just as valid now as they were then – Britain faces being stuck in the backstop indefinitely, forced to accept EU rules on trade and product standards without having any say in those rules. We would be unable to cut our own trade deals with the rest of the world or to attract investment to Britain by deregulating – negating two of the fundamental benefits from leaving the EU. As Katy Balls explained yesterday, while Michel Barnier has today suggested that mainland Britain might be allowed a unilateral exit from the backstop, the right would not apply to Northern Ireland. That would put a border down the Irish Sea, break up the United Kingdom, and no UK government could possibly accept it – least of all one propped up by the DUP.
The utter failure of Theresa May or Geoffrey Cox to wring any meaningful concession out of the EU has not stopped some of January’s rebels crumbling. Over the past few days, Nigel Evans, Sir Graham Brady and Martin Vickers have all suggested that they might now be prepared to vote in favour. Evans, in particular, seems fearful that Brexit will not happen if May is defeated a second time, over-egging his case so much it should come with a cholesterol warning: a rejection of the 2016 referendum, he says, “would provide succour to despots around the world”.
I can’t really see the likes of Kim Jong-un raising so much as an eyebrow if the Government loses on Tuesday. The anti-democrats who would really cheer are those in Brussels. They would have tied up Britain exactly as they set out to do – in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s famous state of vassalage. However you voted in 2016, there is really no worse outcome for Britain. If Parliament were to grab hold of Brexit after Tuesday and force the Government to delay Britain’s departure from the EU, perhaps to allow a second referendum to be held – and if, after that second referendum, a UK government were to end up remaining in the EU, tail wagging between its legs (all a very big if) – it would be a national humiliation, but a lesser one than which awaits us if May’s deal does pass on Tuesday and we end up being stuck in the backstop. The Government suffered a record defeat in January for a good reason. The Tory rebels who defeated it must not back down now.