Tories at war because May hasn’t clue what to do on Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 26.01.2018

It’s hard to see any good coming from the prime minister’s lack of leadership over Brexit. It’s certainly not in the national interest. It might not even save her own skin.

One doesn’t have to search far to discover why the Tory party’s factions are at war. Theresa May has spent her 18 months as prime minister mouthing meaningless platitudes – such as “Brexit means Brexit” – while not spelling out the sort of Brexit that she wants.

Other politicians have tried to fill the vacuum. Hence, Philip Hammond’s call yesterday for a Brexit that would see only “very modest” changes to our trading relationship with the EU. Hence, too, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s threat to lead a backbench rebellion if the government decides to enter into a customs union with the EU after we quit.

The prime minister doesn’t know which way to turn. That’s why she took several hours to disown her chancellor’s comments. But after Tory hard Brexiters objected, Downing Street put out a statement saying the government’s Brexit plans “could not be described as modest changes”.

Fear of a revolt by the Brextremists also explains why May told David Davis to water down a speech he made today, according to The Telegraph. The Brexit secretary’s original draft was supposedly downbeat about the transitional period that the government is proposing to cushion the blow after we quit the EU. A Whitehall source told The Telegraph: “The main thrust of the speech was to tell the Brexit lot ‘it’s going to be s**t, but you have to suck it up’.”

The prime minister’s latest bout of flip-flopping has been triggered by the fact that more Tory MPs are calling for her head, according to numerous newspaper reports. For example, May’s allies told The Times that “only a handful more Tory MPs were required to reach 48 and trigger a vote of no confidence”, while The Express said that Boris Johnson was preparing to oust May in a coup.

Until now, she probably thought that spouting guff was a clever strategy. It meant that she didn’t antagonise any faction in her party. It also meant that voters didn’t have a clear idea what Brexit meant – and so wouldn’t get too worried.

But it’s not clear that ducking and diving is going to save her premiership. After all, part of the charge against May is that she is “timid”, according to The Telegraph.

Even if she does manage to cling to office, failing to spell out a realistic vision for Brexit is not in the national interest. It means the government can’t get down to proper discussions about the future with other EU countries. It means things could still be so unclear at the end of the negotiations that MPs will be asked to approve a blank cheque. And it means that the whole country could be required to take a giant leap into the dark. This is not what the country needs in the midst of a national crisis.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “Tories at war because May hasn’t clue what to do on Brexit”

  • I think she’s playing a blinder. Reminds me of that scene in Lawrence of Arabia where Allenby and co sit outside Damascus (I think) and wait for the Arab leaders to fall out so the British can move in and pretend to be neutral bringers of peace (there’s a bit where Allenby practices his fishing technique). May is crabbing along, eating up time, waiting for the inevitable: the EU tells the UK what is going to happen, it ain’t great and certainly isn’t what was promised by the delusionists, and sentiment re-coalesces around some other view. Such as a) let’s have a re-think or b) the EU always was a bunch of tossers, let’s go or c) let’s stay out but get as close as they’ll let us. At present, there’s absolutely nothing she can do when the country is split 50:50 right down the middle on the basic yes / no question and the crap spoken by Johnson et al has yet to be definitely exposed as such.

  • Brexit remains what it has been right from the very start, a sordid internal Tory Party squabble which they have through arrogance and negligence allowed to engulf the whole country and Europe. It is a national disgrace. Why are we letting them get away with dragging the country down like this?

  • It’s outrageous that a group of Tory tax avoiders are managing to takke the UK out of the EU for their own benefit against the wishes of half the population.

  • The headline here was “Tories at war because May hasn’t a clue what to do on Brexit”!

    It seems that slowly and surely the general public is not in the least bit convinced that the ongoing Tory negotiations (along with their embarrassing in-house tribal war) are going in the right direction. The reason why is because public opinion appears to be starting to shift heavily towards wanting a final say in what the Tory’s will have negotiated. The general public is far from stupid!

    According to the Guardian (26 January 2018), the latest ICM poll, based on the question, “If there were another EU referendum tomorrow, how would you vote?” shows the following:

    47% of people would favour having a final say on Brexit once the terms of departure are declared, and 34% of people would not favour a new referendum.

    The figures are much starker if those, without an opinion, are stripped out: 58% to 42% in favour of a new referendum. A massive 16-point lead. Great news!

    It seems to be that the big bunch of privileged, fighting babies, who continue to throw their toys out of the pram, are just digging their own graves. Voter vengeance will arrive.

  • What will really stir our brave MPs is if they think jobs might be threatened (theirs). In May we have the local elections. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_local_elections,_2018 .

    It is our opportunity to use tactical voting to express our concern about Brexit. If we cannot get off our backsides to show how angry we are then we deserve everything we are going to get. So vote for your local Remainer, regardless of political affiliations and get your colleagues to do the same…or we shall find ourselves knighting Rees-Mogg for his “services to the country”!