12 December 2018

May must go


It’s time for May to go. Both Party and country are drifting, possibly to disaster, and she is simply incapable, any more, of leading us anywhere. If she is kept in place this evening, that means she is in place for another year — in place through Brexit if that happens on time; in place through any second referendum, if we opt for that instead; in place through a General Election, if nothing can be resolved and Parliament is forced into a dissolution, as is very much possible (indeed, surely a likelihood) if she survives.

She is not the person to lead us in this situation. She lacks the instinct, the vision, or the empathy. Her attempts to steer what she, in her muddled way, thought of as a pragmatic middle course have led to a catastrophic capitulatory deal with the EU that would have been rejected by perhaps 200 or more votes. The most unacceptable part of that deal — the backstop — cannot now be amended and would be a central part of any other deal: “Norway plus” or any alternative. There is no deal that can pass this Parliament, so no deal it will be unless there is a General Election.

She has had her go. She has failed. If she survives this evening, she will be entirely the passenger of events. If we get to no deal she will not have prepared properly for it, she will not be able to explain or justify why we are there to citizens and businesses dealing with the disruption it will cause (indeed, some if not much of that disruption will be widely said to be her fault because of the lack of preparation), and she will not be able to provide a narrative of how we get through and where we go next. If she seeks a new deal she be again humiliated by the EU who now, with good reason, regard her as someone they cannot deal with and cannot rely upon to deliver any deal agreed with them once she gets home.

If she seeks a temporary extension of Article 50 that will be understood as a betrayal of Brexit, not the pragmatic time-buying a trusted Brexiteer might be able to sell it as. If she is forced to a second referendum she will once again have done what she said unthinkable and unacceptable, and will have no way to sell it as anything other than the betrayal she herself said it would be, to an enraged, volatile (and perhaps even violent) population. She will have no instinct for what the correct question should be or how to persuade both Remainers and Leavers to take part. She will get it wrong and will leave all sides unhappy no matter what the result is.

If more than 100 MPs vote no confidence in her, then she agrees to a second referendum, who can seriously believe she would not trigger the creation of a new True Leavers Party that would siphon off Conservative activists and donors, bringing down the government and ushering in a Corbyn majority government.

I understand Conservative MPs fear no deal and what it might mean socially, economically and politically. And I understand that deposing May means very probably having a no deal Prime Minister, with perhaps two or three Conservative MPs resigning the whip. But it is futile to imagine that can be avoided. A second referendum might well give us the same result, triggering no deal. If not, the government would fall as the True Leavers raged, and a Corbyn government will take us out of the EU in every bit as acrimonious a manner. And if Corbyn did not, the True Leavers might win eventually anyway.

The 2016 referendum result cannot be rejected and it cannot be undone. Conservative members will not accept it. Leave voters will not accept it. This situation does not demand visionless “middle ways” incompetently executed. The answer does not lie in reading and re-reading your brief, or listening carefully to officials. There is no “other deal” that can be done with the EU that can pass the Commons. It is over, unless you are willing to pitch us into the maelstrom of cancelling Brexit altogether.

Nothing can save May for long, now. She goes tonight, or she goes when she loses a General Election to Corbyn, or she goes when she splits the Conservative Party by agreeing to a second referendum or cancelling Brexit altogether.

This is no longer just about May or even about Brexit. This is about whether the Conservative Party and the United Kingdom will endure altogether. If they are to survive these turbulent times, we need someone to led us, not someone to be led by events. May is not that person. So May must go.

Andrew Lilico is an economist and political writer.