Latest Tory Mayhem gives pro-Europeans more upside than risk

by Hugo Dixon | 07.11.2017

Here’s something to cheer up pro-Europeans. The latest bout of Tory chaos increases the chance of stopping Brexit.

Theresa May isn’t just struggling with a sex scandal that has led to the resignation of one cabinet minister and left her deputy fighting for his political life. She’s so weak that she can’t fire Priti Patel when the development secretary meets the Israeli prime minister behind her back. Nor can she do anything when Boris Johnson makes a gaffe that could lead to a British woman spending an extra five years in an Iranian jail.

All this is happening when May was already a ghost of a prime minister after a terrible general election, a catastrophic conference speech and her inability to come up with a Brexit plan. There are now four main scenarios, in three of which there could be opportunities to reconsider our decision to quit the EU.

May hangs on by fingertips

When the prime minister’s authority seemingly can’t sink any further, it’s possible that it’ll do just that – keep plunging. The Tories know that kicking May out could unleash civil war between hardline Brexiters such as Johnson and softer Brexiters such as Amber Rudd. So they let her stay in Downing Street. But the prime minister lacks the charisma and chutzpah to force her warring ministers into line. So the government just limps on from one crisis to the next, depressed, drifting and debilitated.

This is bad for the country. But there’s a silver lining. Voters, who already know May is making a Horlicks of the Brexit talks, get worried that she’s seriously damaging their future. Pro-Europeans will then find it easier to make the case that we should look again at the option of staying in the EU.

PM miraculously gets a grip

May’s whole behaviour since becoming prime minister speaks against the idea that she will turn the crisis to her advantage. But it’s not totally far-fetched that she could use the sex scandals and her ministers’ mishaps to clear out the Cabinet and install a new generation of Tories.

This is the one scenario that doesn’t offer obvious opportunities for pro-Europeans. After all, the prime minister would presumably press ahead with Brexit and, if she really did get a grip and keep control, she would be able to push it through.

New Tory PM

It’s quite likely, though, that May won’t last the course. Perhaps the strain will be so great that she’ll fall on her sword. Perhaps her rivals will finally summon the courage to knife her. Perhaps the prime minister will cull the Cabinet in a night of the long knives, only to find that her enemies then cut her down in a counter-attack.

In this scenario, the Tories will have to choose a new leader. That will launch another bloody battle lasting several months, as candidates first intrigue to get support of their fellow MPs and then woo the party’s members. It’s anybody’s guess who’ll emerge at the top of the greasy pole – perhaps Johnson, Rudd, David Davis or even Michael Gove.

But the public will probably be disgusted by the internecine warfare when the party is supposed to be managing our most important negotiation since World War Two. Pro-Europeans should then be able to get a hearing for the argument that we should stop the madness of Brexit before it’s too late.

Corbyn in Downing Street

If the Tories do tear themselves apart, it may be hard to avoid a general election. Jeremy Corbyn would then be in pole position to win, although he might well need to rely on the Scottish National Party and perhaps the Liberal Democrats, both of which are pro-European, to get a majority.

The Labour leader is soft Brexit not anti-Brexit. But if he became prime minister, he might shift further in a pro-European direction. The election would certainly reopen the debate about what is best for Britain and we might decide that quitting isn’t such a good idea after all.

None of this is to deny that the Mayhem the Tories are inflicting on the country is risk-free. The chaos is already knocking business confidence and damaging our credibility in the Brexit talks. But, on balance, for pro-Europeans, it offers more upside than risk.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    3 Responses to “Latest Tory Mayhem gives pro-Europeans more upside than risk”

    • All that needs to happen is for the possibility of stopping Brexit to be firmly on the table. Most people are fed up with Brexit and its constant problems and would be glad to see the back of it. But they have gone along with it out of a feeling of resignation and impotence. Once that changes, once a tipping point occurs, many soft leavers will probably claim they were remainers all along, as most people like to be seen to be on the winning side.

    • Well based on a report in the Independent today

      it would appear that sands of Brexit are shifting rapidly

      ‘Two thirds or 66 per cent of voters say they disapprove of the way the Government is handling Brexit negotiations, compared to just 34 per cent who approve.

      When the same poll was conducted at the start of the general election campaign in May, 45 per cent thought the Government had adopted the wrong approach to Brexit.
      The way Ms May’s own approval ratings on Brexit have plummeted is also likely to cause alarm in Downing Street.
      Only 26 per cent of voters now think the Prime Minister will “get the right deal for Britain in the Brexit negotiations” – down from 44 per cent in June. Almost 50 per cent disagree with the statement.’

    • What will the deal look like? Does any Tory know? I mean any one of the many factions? How can a Party that asked for a mandate and lost seats clasim any meaningful representation of the will of the people? It seems clear to me and at least arguable by any reasonable person: that we either have a referendum on the deal or a general election. If there is no deal then leaving the Eu is the most irresponsible choice. Far better to have a general election to decide the outcome.