london westminster at dusk

A Conservative Crisis – Where Could Brexit be Heading?

In the brief moment between crisis and catastrophe… let’s drink champagne.

But hang on a minute. Crisis? What crisis?

Today could turn out to be just another SNAFU moment.

Keep up at the back now. SNAFU: Military acronym. Status Normal. All F****d Up. Anyway, a Brexiteer’s catastrophe is a Remainer’s multiple orgasm. And vice versa.

Not that mere voters were in a position to say precisely what they wanted from the referendum back in 2016.

The question was only ‘in or out’. Not how in? Or how out? Or Norway. Or Canada. Or Canada Plus. Or Canada Plus Plus. Or WTO. Or Timbuktu. Or the dark side of the moon. Etc. Etc.

And the subsequent mutual evisceration by the politicos, all of them claiming to speak for all of us, has been an object lesson in how not to wow the fans.

A bit like watching a rugby match in the rain-drenched slime of the Passchendaele battlefield.

Thirty sets of eyes darting around, about all you could see of the players, sloshing around after an invisible ball.

They all want to win, obvs. But, apart from that, no idea what the hell’s going on.

Still, at least in that sense, Theresa May’s joined the club.

‘My cabinet is united. Er, well, bits of it. Er, that’s to say if I’ve still got one. Come to think of it, am I still leading it?’

In office but not in power, as former Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont memorably said of John Major’s government during yet another little local difficulty over Europe.

The Grey Man may yet have given Mrs May a useful clue about how to extricate herself from her current predicament vis a vis her MP’s.

Just put two fingers up to the lot of them.

He put it more politely. ‘Back me or sack me’. Amounts to the same thing.

And in 1995 when push came to shove the bastards (his phrase) couldn’t muster the push or the shove to get him out.

Triggering a no-confidence motion against Saint Theresa only takes 48 signatures. But, in the vote that counts, give her a majority of one and the rest can do one.

Seems she’s banking on that. And it might yet work.

Ok, no one much likes the deal she’s struck with Brussels. But they wouldn’t, would they? It’s what compromise means.

And it’s worth bearing in mind how many concessions she has wrung out of Johnny Foreigner.

The biggest being the special status on offer to Northern Ireland.

Buried in the fine print is the promise to grant it potentially different customs arrangements from elsewhere in Britain, to avoid creating a hard border with the Republic.

A big deal because the Eurocrats are as anxious to preserve the integrity of EU institutions as Whitehall is to hold the United Kingdom together.

It’s the holy grail for Democratic Unionist Party, on whose votes Theresa May relies to govern. But a notch or so less so for the rest of Westminster.

The very fact the British Government didn’t spot at the very outset Irish eyes not smiling says it all.

The decades-long ‘Troubles’/aka muted civil war, raised little more than a yawn from the London-centric media. And the current Northern Ireland Secretary admitted, when she took the job, that she hadn’t even clocked that people on her new manor voted on sectarian lines.

If she of all people didn’t get it what hope for the rest?

And where to now?

At one end of the spectrum there’s a second referendum leading to no Brexit after all. For all her ’the people have spoken’ spiel, Mrs May could yet change her mind and perhaps in the process save her own skin.

There’s polling evidence to suggest buyers’ remorse among leave-voters is on the up. And the European Union, alongside The City and much of the business community on both sides of The Channel, would heave a monumental sigh of relief if we did call the calling off off.

Yup, we’d be on the naughty step for a while for wasting everyone’s time. But we would be forgiven. Same as the Irish, who back in the noughties changed their minds about the European constitution in two referendums little over a year apart.

At the other extreme, a Bojo or some such could replace the Maybot in a bloody Tory coup, tell the EU to really really go swivel and crash us out without a deal.

Result? Brextremists insist there’d be perhaps a bumpy few months followed by a glorious future in which Britannia would all but rule the waves again. Three cheers and jolly hockey sticks.

Others, notably economists and security experts, predict pandemonium in the money markets, food and medicine shortages and widespread civil disorder. Plus years more austerity. No cheers and jolly rotten hockey sticks then.

Of course, every scenario seems so fraught with difficulties as to be implausible. But over the coming months, day will continue to follow night. Something will happen.

Clever people try to plot plausible courses. Take inspired guesses, make canny calculations, press a finger against the sides of their noses and know something the rest of us don’t.

But in the end they might just as well put on a blindfold and try and pin a tail onto a picture of a donkey.


Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his wonderful takes on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

Former Sky Correspondent Peter Spencer shot in front of his The Pink Palace home in Cornwall. He looks off camera holding a glass of brandy in his right hand

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