How to Win the Brexit Endgame:
Further Advice to the Government
(Published in The Commentator on the 29th September 2019)
Earlier this month, I advised the Government to cut through our political deadlock by using the Civil Contingencies Act to declare a state of emergency, and then to use the powers available to call an election. The Government ignored my advice, choosing instead to press forward with a prorogation. Its enemies, however, have noticed my advice – or realised this for themselves – and are now worried in public about what the Government will do next. Keir Starmer, for example, fears the Civil Contingencies Act will be used to avoid the terms of the Surrender Act that forces the Prime Minister to ask for yet another extension to our membership of the European Union. Though I said a few days ago that I had no more to give, the Labour Party has inspired me to think of more advice. Here it goes.
- The Government should ask Parliament one last time for an early general election. It should promise in exchange to get an extension of our membership to the end of January 2020. I know the Prime Minister said he would rather be dead in a ditch before asking for this. But he can argue that the opposition parties have collaborated with the French Government to make his promise impossible to deliver. His formal offer of a trade would not be unreasonable. If the Conservatives win, they can get on with negotiating our exit without a knife at their backs. If the opposition parties win well enough to throw a coalition together, they will have time to revoke our notice of leaving, and keep us in the great happy family that is the European Union. An election now, in exchange for a revised leaving date in January, would not be unreasonable for breaking the deadlock.
- If the opposition parties find some excuse for not allowing an election, then, and only then, should the Government invoke the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. It should not waste this on getting round the Surrender Act. It should instead call a general election. I said a few days ago that any use of emergency powers would be struck down at once by our politicised Supreme Court. I am no longer so sure. The Court may have been scared by the outrage that greeted its last judgment. In any event, there are grounds for believing that we are drifting into civil disorder, and that only an election with some chance of a clear outcome will stop this. Needless to say, the Government should get its lawyers to put up a better argument in court than they did last week, and it should clearly explain its actions to the people.
- In any election before we have left, the parties will need to explain where they stand on leaving the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they would cancel our departure. Labour has said it would negotiate its own deal, and then campaign against it in another fixed referendum. These may be absurd or disreputable positions. But we at least know what they are. The Conservatives will need to explain where they stand. They have been rather shy about this. But they need something that will stand up to hostile questioning in a television studio. My own preferred leaving deal would involve rejoining EFTA and staying in the Single Market. The Government’s most likely aim is to try pushing through Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement with a neutered backstop. Neither of these is ideal. The first strikes me at the best among imperfect outcomes. The second would probably do, so long as we were able to walk away after a year or so. But the Government needs to have a policy it can sell to the electors. It should still insist on No-Deal if nothing else can be negotiated – though this is not a favoured outcome with the electors, and should be kept open as a bargaining counter.
- The Brexit Party needs to be neutered. I suspect that any election this year would be a binary choice between some Brexit and none, and that the Conservatives would pick up virtually the whole of the Brexit Party vote. It would still be useful if Nigel Farage could be persuaded not to run candidates – or not too many candidates in seats targeted by the Conservatives. How to do this is beyond me. I might, however, suggest offering him a peerage. That would turn my head. It might turn his.
The Government and Brexit are now approaching a final crisis. It has almost the entire Establishment lined up against, and only the people on its side. To win though, it needs to use every legal and political device available to it. The Civil Contingencies Act is a bad law, and the Conservatives should promise in their manifesto to replace it with something less frightening. But it exists at the moment. It must be used to serve one necessary purpose, and then cast aside so no future government can use it for less noble purposes.
Above all, if the Government is to use it, the Act should be used as a knock-out blow to the Remainer Parliament. Prorogation had the same effect as pushing a stick into a wasps’ nest. Suspending the Surrender Act would be the same. If the Government must now gamble, let the stakes be the highest available. Let me quote from Moloch’s Speech in Book II of Paradise Lost:
My sentence is for open Warr: Of Wiles,
More unexpert, I boast not: them let those
Contrive who need, or when they need, not now.
For while they sit contriving, shall the rest,
Millions that stand in Arms, and longing wait
The Signal to ascend, sit lingring here
Heav’ns fugitives, and for thir dwelling place
Accept this dark opprobrious Den of shame,
The Prison of his Tyranny who Reigns
By our delay? no, let us rather choose
Arm’d with Hell flames and fury all at once
O’re Heav’ns high Towrs to force resistless way,
Turning our Tortures into horrid Arms
Against the Torturer…
Just get it over and done with.
Spoken like a true Tory, Sean. Actually, I think it could go the other way. Though, of course, I’m biased since I’m now a member of the Brexit party! But the Tories have done so much to shoot themselves in the foot, that even their deepest core supporters must be getting pissed off and angry. And not just because of their deliberate failure to carry through the Brexit they explicitly promised so many times over.
When Michael Gove met with Extinction Rebellion, then declared a “climate emergency” on the basis of no evidence at all, that was the end of Tory credibility in the minds of anyone with even half an ounce of sense. When Theresa May repeated it, that brought the sense required to see through the Tories down from half an ounce to about half a milligram. Anyone who is angry about all the green nonsense, and doesn’t want to make any more sacrifices for it (which, a Sky News poll reported, is an actual majority of the population) isn’t going to vote Tory if they can possibly help it. Then there are all the car drivers – 37 million of us, more than voted Leave and Remain put together – who won’t be keen on voting for the party that banned petrol and diesel cars from 2040, and is trying to move that date forward to 2030. But all the mainstream parties are in on these particular scams. There is only one voting option that makes any sense at all to people to whom these things matter, and that’s the Brexit party.
For my sins, I’m doing what little I can to move the Brexiteers gently in the direction of explicitly becoming a climate-skeptic and pro-car party. I had a very good and long chat last Thursday with one of their prospective candidates from Outer London, and he’s on my side (and I suspect he isn’t the only one).
As to Johnson and Farage agreeing on lists of seats each party won’t stand against the other in, I suppose that’s possible. Farage said several months ago that he wouldn’t put up candidates against some of the staunchest Tory Leavers. But the problem is that, even if Johnson keeps his side of the bargain, I see nothing to stop Tory Remainers, particularly incumbents, from standing as “Independent Conservatives” or some such against a Brexit party candidate. So I doubt that such a deal will be struck. We will have to rely on hatred of Corbyn to drive people to vote for whoever is most likely to keep him out. (But no, I myself am NOT, under any circumstances, going to vote for Jeremy Hunt!)
I hope you are right, Neil, but Sean might be right that the “Conservatives” will win the votes back. In any case, the Tories will not want to risk a pact if they think they can do it on their own.
I think they are right that the two party system will revive, and that a Conservative Part will be one of the two contenders but that may not be before the Brexit affair has fully settled.
What the Brexit Party achieved in the Euro election was phenomenal but it is ot clear if they can do similar in an ordinary election for the House of Commons.
Yes David, but I interpret the recent improvement in the polls for the tories not as support for the party as a whole, but for Johnson. If they throw him under the proverbial bus, they will be in big trouble.
And yes, the Brexit party (like UKIP before it) can make inroads in elections that don’t matter, but in the real thing, they (we) will probably be shut out, as UKIP have been. Whether because too many people decide to vote for the “safe” option, or because of skulduggery. Wasn’t it Stalin who said something to the effect of, “It doesn’t matter who votes, only who counts the votes?”