Dodo of a deal deserves to be made extinct

Published by The i paper (26th November, 2018)

Amber Rudd has been back in the Cabinet for nine days, yet already there is talk she has joined ‘a gang of five’ top ministers opposed to a hard Brexit that has been placed on ‘resignation watch’. Meanwhile, another Cabinet quintet has split in two, this time Eurosceptics behaving like those groups on the extreme left obsessed with purity of their cause. The former foreign secretary spent his weekend urging another party to stand up strongly against his own leader. And a backbench coup against the Prime Minister has been stymied for now.

Welcome to the strong and stable government promised by Theresa May when she stood before the electorate last year. This sounds like a callous joke now amid the Brexit debacle as the Prime Minister repeats robotically that we must respect the wishes of voters. I have never witnessed such fetid mess in Westminster. Plots abound, factions form, rumours swirl. Ministers resign with such frequency Downing Street should consider installing a revolving door. A rebellious MP handed a dodgy knighthood is instantly abused by his own allies.

Yet at least May is just pitied and privately pilloried by her own team. On the other side Jeremy Corbyn is loathed by many of his own MPs. The Labour leader is so inept he has failed to take advantage of a deeply-fissured government, leading to tensions with his deputy who is more ambitious for power and muttering over a second referendum. Yet amid the tumult this party is similarly contorted, divided and deceptive towards voters over the most important issue facing our country.

Brexit is clearly disastrous for Britain. It weakens our global standing, undermines the economy, disrupts business and divides the people while more crucial matters such as schools and social care, health and housing, are swept aside in Westminster’s civil wars. But the Prime Minister is proclaiming a fudged deal that solves few core issues, ensuring the same dreary arguments carry on crippling our nation for months ahead. No wonder even some of the fanatics who pushed the cause to the public now say we would be better staying in the European Union as they bleat pathetically about betrayal.

Such is May’s desperation to sell her deal she drags out a central falsehood from the referendum campaign in a letter begging for public support: that Brexit delivers a fiscal boost for the health service. We must point out the truth again: it drives up costs for Whitehall, slows economic growth and reduces tax take – while funds must still be found for things such as farming subsidies and scientific research that currently come from Brussels. Misleading voters is not the way to restore trust in politics, among root causes of the electoral insurgency that led to this tragic crisis.

The Prime Minister also brags about ending free movement, a move that will shock generations used to flitting around their continent, while contemptuously accusing Europeans of ‘queue jumping’ when many come here to aid public services. As the father of a woman with profound disabilities, I am grateful for their fine endeavours – and have seen the dire impact Brexit is already having in worsening staff shortages. The Tory manifesto promised to ensure the crumbling care system would have all the carers it needed, claiming it would be a ‘priority’ in negotiations to ensure staff from EU countries could carry on making ‘their vital contribution’ to our system. Yet many carers are deemed ‘low-skilled’ – precisely the people May wants to deter with her statist, self-defeating migration stance.

Has a prime minister ever worked so hard and expended so much political capital to slash a nation’s power, restrain freedom for its citizens, frustrate businesses and reduce economic strength? The end result is a deal that only underlines the utter futility of the process while attempting to con the public that their nation is taking back rather than losing control. It is a compromise that pleases no-one; even the Prime Minister cannot claim it is better than existing arrangements while her aides privately admit it is far worse. As Tony Blair points out, the Brexit choice was really between this pointless sloppy mess or painful severance of ties.

Yet note how easily May saw off the ‘Dad’s Army’ coup last week, which crumbled when Jacob Rees-Mogg’s gang was confronted rather than being thrown another chunk of red meat. Just imagine if David Cameron had shown similar steel instead of wilting on the European issue? Instead the Tory party psychodrama that has corroded our politics and contorted our country for four decades becomes ever more depressing, although the finale is still far from resolution.

May insists she has won ‘a deal that is in our national interest’. This is strange since two years ago she insisted ‘it is clearly in our national interest to remain a member of the EU.’ Perhaps she has undergone drastic conversion, yet this seems unlikely since she added that ‘remaining inside the European Union does make us more secure, it does make us more prosperous and it does make us more influential beyond our shores.’

She was right then but not now. I can only conclude she is deliberately deceiving the public as she tries to cling to power, just as the Brexiteers lied in the referendum campaign – and the consequences will be just as profound. This dismal deal that Blair called a dodo should be rendered extinct by parliament, then the siren call of no deal crushed. The least bad option ahead – and it is far from ideal given potential impact – is offering voters the chance to decide if they really want to weaken Britain now they can start to see the blurry shape of departure. Our feuding politicians face a stark choice: do they wish to demean themselves still further or find a way to save their nation from this damaging crisis.

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