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Analysis

Sensible Tories must beware hard-Brexiter coup

by Nick Kent | 04.03.2019

Moderate Tory MPs need to watch out; if Theresa May’s bad deal gets through the ERG will move to oust her and impose a much harder version of Brexit.

Hints emerged over the weekend that the hardline Brexiters in the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs are softening their opposition to May’s deal. A team of pro-Brexit legal eagles has been established to examine whatever May can negotiate on the Irish border “backstop”. Their positive opinion would enable all but the most fanatical of Brexiters to endorse the deal in a forthcoming “meaningful vote”.

This apparent Damascene conversion to May’s deal hides a clever calculation: once the UK is out of the EU, Brexit will be a reality but everything else will be up for grabs. Calls for the prime minister to go will mount on the grounds that a new leader should negotiate the future relationship between the UK and the EU. May is only protected from another Tory leadership challenge until November, which is convenient timing for the ERG as the EU won’t be in a position to negotiate with us until then because of its five-yearly change of leadership due this autumn.

So there will be time, the Brexiters will say, for the party to hold a leadership election and to settle its policy on the future EU relationship. That will make the leadership election a contest about European policy, which suits the ERG’s supporters just fine.

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And what kind of European policy will the party membership choose? A majority of them are already keen on the scorched earth policy of a no deal Brexit. You can be sure that anything the ERG labels “not Brexit at all”, that is, a softer Brexit that protects UK business and ensures continuity in the UK-EU relationship, will not get past the membership. They will say no way to Norway, or anything like it.

Where does this leave moderate and pragmatic Tory MPs and ministers? Trapped in a party led by their worst enemies, who are contemptuous of business (“f**k business” said Boris, remember) and with a mandate from the membership to pursue the hardest of hard Brexits. Potentially even with a commitment to tear up May’s withdrawal deal.

Approving the prime minister’s deal means that Brexit uncertainty will continue for years because of the battle over the leadership and then the negotiations with the EU. How many more foreign investors like Honda will pull out of the UK while our future trading relationship remains undecided?

The chances of the miserable Brexit saga being over before the next general election are receding fast. It will be an election all about a Tory Brexit voters are already fed up with. If Labour, pressured by the breakaway of several MPs to create The Independent Group, finally ditches Corbyn, the notional Tory lead in the polls will evaporate quicker than rain in the desert.

The right thing for pragmatic Tories to do now is to block May’s deal. It is bad for the country because it makes us a rule-taker, prolongs uncertainty for business, reduces our negotiating leverage (we will be one against 27 once we have left) and it will give the ERG the opportunity to complete their takeover of the party. Brexit is a mess already; May’s deal just makes it even worse.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Sensible Tories must beware hard-Brexiter coup”

  • We have been reading about the realities of making the US a trading partner and what demands they will make if this does take place. Taking this article one tep further will ask who will our new trading partners be?

    If the ERG choose and enforce the USA we will be their puppet on a string (and Fox will be a Very wealthy man).

    Don’t forget that Pall Mall, world’s biggest tobacco company, has recently spent millions suing countries that want to put cigarettes in a plain package and also those who have put photos of cancer etc. on the packages. They (Pall Mall) have only just given up on the health warning now printed on a pack of cigarettes.

    How well will we defend ourselves against the power of the US legal machine?

    The best solution is this: Withdraw A50, the quickest and least expensive way out of this mess we are in. How can conditions that exist in the UK right now be preferable to resuming our seat at the top table as a respected and honourable member of the world’s largest trade group? Don’t forget, we would not forfeit our right to decide to leave at a later date. When we have a plan and are better prepared, but not now.

  • The tory party is pretty well scuppered anyway. After the dust has settled, if the ERG group do as suggested, then droves of moderate conservatives will leave to join the Independent group. Likewise, if Corbyn remains head of the labour party, they will be joined with large numbers of labour MPs who are sick of Corbyns spinelessness but who are hanging on in the belief they can change the party from within – not going to happen. A few years on, we will have a fully right wing tory party, a marxist labour party and a moderate centre party which will, with the addition of the Libdems, be the largest party. Once they are in power – and that could be 2027, the UK will return to something like sanity. Maybe we will also canvass to return to the EU.

    “May you live in interesting times” – indeed.

  • Any Labour MP thinking of voting for May’s deal needs to re-think fast. Her derisory offer of money plus her statement about police cuts in relation to the rise in stabbings shows the contempt she holds the country in. She is completely heartless and not fit to be PM. This must all stop either with revocation of Article 50 or People’s Vote.