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And “locked in” is the appropriate phrase. Ministers have had to surrender their cell phones on arrival; they have been told to expect the meeting to continue until 10.00 p.m.; and a Downing Street flack briefed the media that any minister who resigns will lose his official car straight away and have to walk three-quarters of a mile down the drive to pick up a taxi home.
That last threat seems an empty one to me, if not an actual incentive to any potential rebel to resign early. Imagine how powerfully Boris Johnson or David Davis, the two most likely departures, would exploit the chance of addressing the world’s cameras at the gates of Chequers and telling them how they simply couldn’t countenance the betrayal of British democracy that May’s Remainer Brexit represented. They would dominate the headlines and set the narrative for a full news cycle, while just five minutes away their former Cabinet colleagues would still be haggling over its details. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.
Most commentators believe that even so, the meeting will end with general agreement, however reluctant, and without resignations. It may be so. It should be so. For it’s hard not to see May’s proposals, as relayed through off-the-record briefings, as anything other than a betrayal. Earlier this week she made a resounding declaration at prime minister’s questions as follows:
May’s promised Brexit included “out of the customs union, out of the single market, out of the jurisdiction of the ECJ . . . [regaining] an independent trade policy, controlling freedom of movement etc., etc.” That parliamentary response echoed any number of such declarations since May became prime minister. But how does that repeated set of promises stack up against the proposals now being discussed at Chequers?
Here’s an abbreviated check-list:
If this bare bones explication of May’s paper looks thin, it shimmers into nothingness when set against specific questions of importance. Two are especially important: First, will any deal allow the U.K. to set its own migration rules? European officials say No since the EU’s four freedoms — including free trade and free movement of labor — stand or fall together. May’s response is therefore to suggest that Britain offers preferential migration rules for Europeans in return for free trade. That’s a concession to the EU that reverses what may be the most politically important of her Brexit promises.
Second, will Britain be able to conduct an independent trade policy and reach free-trade deals with other countries, in particular with Australia, Canada, and the U.S.? Downing Street has been saying both Yes and No to this question. The truth seems to be that it will be able to agree on trade deals that are restricted by the rules of a customs union with the EU. Or, to put that in simple English, No — the U.K. won’t be able to reach FTAs with other countries unless they adhere to EU regulations. Deputy prime minister (and Foreign Office trusty) David Lidington deflected that question this morning by claiming Britain will be an independent member of the World Trade Organization with its own vote. Wow. But since Britain will be a member of the EU customs union, its interests on trade questions will inevitably be distorted in the EU’s direction.
By any normal standards, May’s Brexit proposals today are a betrayal of her promises and the Brexit referendum. When I examined the prospects for the EU–U.K. negotiations earlier in the year politically and economically, here and here, I was mildly pessimistic about the possible mis-steps May was tempted to make and issued particular warnings, but I did not believe that there would be anything like this collapse. (If you’re enough of an anorak, you can check it out.) So what went wrong?
All in all, things look bleak. May’s past failures and present surrenders to Europe certainly rise to the level of a resigning matter. Those ministers and Tory MPs who are seriously distressed by, as well as opposed to, the kind of Brexit that seems likely to emerge tonight, have one final argument for not resigning to fight May and her government’s plain intentions to adopting a messy Brexit that leaves the country “a vassal state,” in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s phrase. It is that the EU will reject what May is proposing. Why then resign and lose all influence if it’s likely that the odiferous package will be thrown back at Britain? It’s not an unreasonable argument, nor one without evidence to support it. EU spokesmen say loudly and repeatedly that the proposals will be “dead on arrival.” They probably will be. But suppose they are accepted? Or almost accepted — if Mrs. May will only make one small additional concession to the EU’s body of laws and regulations. It is not hard to imagine, given the current levels of spin and opinion management, that her final surrender would be reported as a triumph and Mrs. May would return to the Commons as a conquering heroine who has achieved Brexit without tears. Something like that happened just before last Christmas — yet now that triumph looks merely like a prelude to a coming disaster.
And it’s a disaster that could be nailed down quite quickly. The Queen has signed the bill to enable Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, making it law, and making the transition of European rules and regulations into U.K. domestic law relatively simple and straightforward. Do Boris, David, Michael, Liam and the rest want to find themselves cheering May’s triumph in a way that will make it impossible for them to stand up later and say, “We’ve changed our minds. It was a bad set of proposals, a surrender in stages, a gradual catastrophe.”
That’s why Cabinet rebellions are rare, and even when they occur, they resemble depth charges launched against submarines: The explosion happens quite a long time after the launch. In some cases — the famous one is the fall of Peel over the repeal of the Corn Laws — the government falls over an unrelated matter because an earlier betrayal has shattered its support within its own party. Those who went along with the betrayal can’t re-write the past but they can exact revenge. And they do.
It’s hard to imagine the Tory party surviving as a united patriotic national party if it sells the country into a vassalhood to the EU in which it not only loses its own national sovereignty but doesn’t even retain the modest 1/28th share of EU sovereignty it enjoyed as a member-state. It’s especially hard to imagine this at a time when patriotic and democratic nationalism is the principal rising trend in Europe-wide politics from Sicily to Denmark.
If you don’t rebel and obtain a change of direction today, there’s only one course left: Vote for a Tory leadership election and fight to replace May with a better leader. Picking a name from a hat would surely do that.
Original article here.