Uncoupled from reality

Tomorrow will see the latest in the ever-lengthening series of “decisive” parliamentary votes on Brexit. Having apparently given up all hope of winning a majority for her plan, Theresa May is now inviting MPs to simply approve withdrawal in principle, with the details of the final political settlement to be worked out at some unspecified time in the future.

May evidently hopes that, presented with a blank screen, people will project their own ideal outcome, in much the same way as they did in the original referendum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, exactly the opposite is happening, as leavers anticipate betrayal of their fantasy departure, while remainers fear the prospect of a deal negotiated by May’s successor as Tory leader, who will undoubtedly be a europhobic head-banger.

It all seems certain to be in vain though, since the DUP are not on board, the ERG are unconvinced, and there is no sign that Labour Party discipline is about to break down.

Predictions that the final act in this tragedy is at hand have been wrong before, but time is desperately short now, and May cannot continue to simultaneously threaten remainers with no-deal and leavers with no-exit; both groups have called her bluff and she will have to choose which trigger to pull.

She could request a long extension of article 50, and persuade the EU to grant it by promising a general election. That would mean agreeing to participate in the European elections too, but that bitter pill could be sweetened by holding both polls on the same day. Whatever government emerged from the process would have an unquestionable mandate to sort out the mess, and we could all move on.

That solution seems reasonable. Which is why it will probably never happen.

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