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The obvious failings of a ‘government of national unity’

7 August 2019

11:45 AM

7 August 2019

11:45 AM

So that’s that, then. Just as the backers of a ‘government of national unity’ appeared to have their tails up, along comes shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey to scotch it, saying that Labour will back no such thing. It should come as no surprise. Corbyn wants to govern on his own terms – and be Prime Minister. He doesn’t want to be a junior minister in some outfit led by Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, or any of the other backbenchers who have spent the past three years trying to unseat him as Labour leader. He wants national disunity, followed by a general election.

The idea that a government of national unity could somehow save us from the mess of Brexit has somehow been allowed to take hold in recent weeks in spite of the rather obvious failings of the idea. It might be possible to work up an anti-Boris or anti-no deal majority in the House of Commons, but how would it agree on anything else? Can anyone really imagine John McDonnell sitting in cabinet with Ken Clarke? Nicola Sturgeon would want another Scottish independence referendum as her price of joining – an anathema to Scottish Labour members, even if John McDonnell seems to find the idea acceptable.

And who would lead it? A government of national unity wouldn’t get past the first hurdle of deciding this issue. No Conservative MP would surely stomach serving under a Labour Prime Minister – it would be tantamount to crossing the floor to join the opposition party. And yes, that still applies if the PM were to be someone perceived as being beyond personal ambition, such as Margaret Beckett. She hasn’t changed her political spots. She is still towards the leftwards end of the Labour spectrum, and would agree with Tory Remainers on very few economic matters. As for Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve – who have also been suggested as possible leaders of such a government – how could a Conservative lead a government which was backed, at most, by half a dozen Tories?

A government of national unity was first suggested in a petition on the website Change.org two years ago. It garnered the support or, er, six signatories. That it has been rekindled now is a sign of how desperate and divorced from reality diehard Remainers have become. Yes, we may have had a national government during wartime – and indeed during the Great Depression. But they were genuine crises with external causes. Brexit is only a crisis if you think the British electorate has made a terrible error in voting for Brexit. But this is a minority view. When Remainers talk about a ‘government of national unity’ what they really want is to try to force a Remain alliance on the country. What they are proposing – a government made up of vociferous Remainers – would have less claim to be a government of national unity than one led by Nigel Farage.

As I have written here before, compromise is a sensible ambition on many political issues, but not Brexit. We either have to leave or stay in the EU – all the intermediary options which leave us dangling half-in, half-out, living under EU rules but without any say in the making of those rules, are the worst options. The only way to resolve Brexit is for one side to win and for one side to lose. For the next few months at least we need a government of national disunity. And that is, at present, exactly what we have.


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