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Analysis

Agony of splintering Tory party is laid bare

by Nick Kent | 13.03.2019

The Tories are split into numerous factions over Brexit. If they can’t agree a way forward soon, their party will cease to exist.

Looking at the results of last night’s vote in the Commons it seems there are two factions on Europe in the Conservative Party. The first supports the prime minister’s deal with the EU and the second rejects it. Actually, the party is split in multiple ways.

Of the 75 Tory MPs who opposed May’s deal, most were supporters of the European Research Group (ERG) of fanatical Brexiters but 11 are former Remain voters, and seven of those have endorsed a new referendum. If you look at the 39 Tory MPs who switched from opposing the deal to supporting it, they are a disparate bunch. Most are party loyalists whose support May shouldn’t have lost in the first place but others backed the deal because they fear either getting a delayed Brexit or no Brexit at all.

But there are more splits than that. Many of the Conservative MPs who backed the deal are ministers who either don’t wish to resign or are waiting for the right moment tactically to do so. One of the dangers to May of holding a third meaningful vote is that some of this group would then vote against it, regardless of the consequences to themselves.

Tonight’s free vote on whether or not to rule out a no-deal Brexit, the most significant free vote for Conservative MPs since that on joining the EU in 1972, will show that the government is split on this issue, as it is on so many other aspects of Brexit.

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Optimists in the Conservative Party point to the fact that despite the breath-taking shambles since 2016, the party remains well ahead of Labour in the opinion polls. But this is a false reading; as George Osborne has rightly said, Labour would be 20 points ahead if they weren’t being lead by Jeremy Corbyn.

Tory MPs must accept that May’s deal is now dead and that to get an extension to Article 50 from an increasingly exasperated EU27, the UK is going to have to be specific about what it is for. The EU won’t agree to an extension so that MPs can carry on kicking the can down the road.

We need an extension that allows time for Parliament to agree on what kind of relationship the UK should have with the EU. This question was not settled by the 2016 referendum. Whether it is a Norway-style relationship, or a much looser relationship like the EU’s free trade deal with Canada, MPs must not fudge the issue. The public has a right to know what kind of relationship there will be between the UK and our largest trading partner across the Channel.  

And then the government must put whatever emerges back to the people. For Tories this is about survival; the party cannot win a Commons majority without support from younger people and Londoners, and both reject Brexit. A referendum that was a choice between a real Brexit and staying in the EU, perhaps one made binding in law, would settle the question. Yes it would infuriate the ERG but their bullying, disloyal behaviour means they have surrendered the right to be heard, never mind to exercise a veto.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

4 Responses to “Agony of splintering Tory party is laid bare”

  • Unfortunately the only way out of the current Brexit disaster is for the vote to be put back to the people, parliament having made such a catastrophic decision to delegate its responsibilities in the matter to a popular vote.
    This requires that a public debate and consultation period take place, prior to the vote, over a sufficiently long period of time to eliminate as far as possible the ignorance concerning the EU ( if not the prejudice ) and the fake news which characterized the 2016 referendum campaign. Only in such conditions and with reinforced scrutiny by the Electoral Committee would there be any hope of a really fair and unbiased vote by the electorate.
    Even today it is not recognized by many people that this is a referendum which affects not only the UK but actually affects the rights and duties of the citizens of 27 other European countries with whom we have entered into a partnership.

  • There may be a technical solution to this. When my computer goes wrong I am invited to restore it to an earlier point before the fault occurred. Revoking article 50 would have a similar effect.

  • A second referendum almost immediately after the first vote should have been held just to make sure Brexit was what “the people” wanted. Only that would have given the government a proper mandate to start the negotiations. That is assuming they would have handled those with a trifle more intelligence and skill than actually occurred.

  • As has been mentioned elsewhere – as parliamentarians cannot agree on a viable solution – the participants in the 2016 vacuous referendum should be given the final choice through a new binding referendum, with a majority vote for or against (set 10% 15% etc?) – with all citizens living in the UK and those living abroad able to vote.

    The peoples’ vote requires full and objective statements from those offering choices to voters – these pre-vote statements to be edited independently. This is an economic issue, politics must be deterred from becoming involved – by law if possible. We cannot trust the current bunch of political malcontents, nor their supporters in the media – the public – suitably armed with bone fide information, must be allowed to vote for what ever on offer on their own volition.

    I wonder if there is a legal case to be considered concerning the mis information and deceit delivered by those public servants who have deliberately misinformed and misdirected peoples’ understanding of the complexities created by the self same individuals.