As nearly everyone predicted, May’s ‘deal’ was overwhelmingly rejected by the Commons again. Her deep-laid strategy seems to have been to scare her Conservative backbenchers into accepting it, for fear of something worse: a no-deal Brexit; or – God forbid – a General Election with the possibility of that 1960s Commie terrorist-hugging Jeremy Corbyn’s coming to power and confiscating all their ill-gotten tax-free gains. It was the same plan as she appears to have adopted in her negotiations with the EU side: leave the possibility of a No Deal on the table in order to scare the Europeans, to whom it would do as much harm as it would to Britain. Then it would depend on who blinked first. Brexiteers were telling her that the Europeans always resisted until the very last moment, when – if you held your nerve – they would cave in. (And, whatever else you can say about her, Theresa certainly has some nerve.) Well, they didn’t, did they? That’s because diplomacy is not like a poker game. It’s more serious, for a start.
The upshot – and this is being written just before the second great debate of the week, on whether or not to rule out ‘No Deal’ – is that the situation, after months and even years of foolish posturing, is at last veering towards the solution that has been Labour’s policy for months: excluding any possibility of a ‘No Deal’ (remember that this was the issue between Corbyn and May at the very beginning of this present round of debates); rubbing out May’s ‘red lines’, so as to enable Britain’s either staying in or at least securing a close relationship with the single market; and going forward from there. Now this is being widely touted as the best way out of the present impasse. Corbyn has shown that he could negotiate a settlement on these lines, and the European negotiators have clearly indicated their willingness to re-open talks on this basis. (See – again – https://www.itv.com/news/2019-02-21/jeremy-corbyn-pushes-labours-brexit-blueprint-in-brussels/.)
It’s difficult to envisage May, with her stiff and unyielding opposition to ‘free movement’ – as well as to the imposition of human rights on Britain by a European court: both the fruits of her experience as a very right-wing Home Secretary – resuming negotiations along these lines. So who can do it? Unfortunately neither of her most-touted successors – Boris and Jacob – looks capable of fulfilling this role, or, of course, willing to try it. And no-one who ‘matters’ wants Corbyn. (Do they?)
Of course there’s still the possibility that new life might be breathed into the ‘Remain’ (or ‘Return’) option over the next few days. If so, no-one would be more delighted than I; though I would fear the ‘populist’ reaction. Aside from that, however, the single market idea – the ‘Norway option’ – must be the only way out. Maybe a cross-party alliance, marginalising both the Tory ‘crazies’ and the ‘loony’ lefties, could achieve it.
Even in that case, however, one would hope that Corbyn would be given credit, if perhaps only in the history books, for having been right, all along.