State in denial

It’s a little ironic that, while over in the US Donald Trump is attempting to evade constitutional checks and balances by declaring a patently bogus state of emergency, this country, which really is facing a national catastrophe, has a political class which seems to have collectively lost any sense of urgency.

Despite multiple signs of impending doom, parliament has agreed to give the government until the end of the month to come up with an escape plan, even though there is no indication that Theresa May is going to use the extra two weeks any more fruitfully than she has done the last two years.

May’s strategy has been to play both sides against the centre – threatening Europhiles by hinting that she is prepared to countenance a no-deal exit if they don’t back her, while simultaneously telling Brexiters that she might just abandon the whole thing if she doesn’t get their support. This sort of duplicitous diplomacy might have had a slim chance of success in medieval Europe, when the population was largely illiterate, and information took months to spread around the country, but hoping that it could work in the modern world of hyper-connected 24-hour news-feeds seems optimistic to say the least.

The latest reports suggest that the government is going to abandon even the pretence of negotiating a new plan, which is not surprising, since any leverage they might have hoped to have with Brussels disappeared when the fragile Tory truce fell apart last week, exposing the fact that no concession from the EU will be enough to appease the likes of the ERG. Come February 28th May will just present the Commons with the same deal they roundly rejected last month, in effect daring them to crash the economy by turning it down again. However it seems likely that this gambit will fail, since Tory hard-Brexiters don’t believe (or don’t care) that no-deal will be so bad, and the opposition parties are reluctant to let May off the hook by taking even partial political ownership of the whole debacle.

The only way I can see a majority being assembled in support of May’s deal is if it is made conditional on ratification by a new referendum. This idea has some traction in the liberal press, though nowhere else as yet, but the prospect of passing responsibility for Brexit back to the electorate might start to appeal to MPs once they finally realise that the alternative is taking the blame themselves.

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