It’s now clear from reports of the May-Juncker dinner that May’s big plan is to walk out of Brexit negotiations, leaving the UK with no deal. With the General Election election looming, there is an opportunity for the exposure of this to be a turning point for Remainers, who can use it to help defeat or weaken the Conservatives, and force Labour’s hand on a 2nd referendum.
You will have no doubt seen that senior Commission Officials briefed the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on May’s utterly disastrous dinner with Juncker and Barnier last week. The contents of this are really the very first thing to genuinely shock me since the EU referendum itself. There are lots of excellent summaries available on Twitter, but the one by Jeremy Cliffe, head of The Economist’s Berlin Bureau, is very good:
Today’s FAZ report on May’s disastrous dinner with Juncker – briefed by senior Commission sources – is absolutely damning.
— Jeremy Cliffe (@JeremyCliffe) April 30, 2017
There is also a good report from The Independent here: Independent Report
It’s also worth reading this excellent thread of commentary:
1. Some thoughts on the May-Juncker dinner details, as set out in this thread: https://t.co/enqq3MYjIz
— David Allen Green (@davidallengreen) May 1, 2017
(click dates above to go to Tweet)
I’ve been surprised and angered by a lot of things since the referendum, but this is in a totally different league. This is actual shock. Clearly Olly Robbins and Tim Barrow are not speaking truth to power, or else we actually have a PM that refuses to listen or is too thick to understand the reality facing her. Perhaps she just doesn’t read her briefings, but she is known for being meticulous, so I doubt that.
This leaves only two possibilities. May genuinely does not understand the situation at hand, or she is planning to walk out of talks anyway and is therefore just playing to the UK audience. Whichever it is, and I think it is the latter, Juncker now believes there is a greater than 50% chance of the UK leaving with no deal. This would be bad for the EU, and is certainly not what they want, but they would live with it, and contingency planning for it is already in place. It would however be utterly catastrophic for the UK in every respect. The benefit for May though is that it would provide crisis cover for her to do essentially anything she wants for the next 4-5 years.
I think this is potentially a turning point. May’s case for re-election rests entirely on “strong and Stable”, “Getting the best deal” etc., and this is obviously crumbling. Even the BBC ran with this, so people are finding out that a dirty Brexit is a very real possibility, and that their strong and stable PM actually has very little grasp of the realities of the situation she finds herself in.
While the hard-core levers might want a car-crash/dirty Brexit with no agreement (there is nothing clean about it, believe me), most leavers do not. A large proportion of Leave voters wanted a soft-Brexit (EEA etc.). Most of these will still accept a hard, negotiated Brexit. But a much larger proportion of leavers either want or accept a hard Brexit, but utterly oppose a dirty Brexit. I still have people telling me on Twitter that I’m being hysterical and that a decent, mutually beneficial deal is bound to happen, as that’s what markets and companies want. As they realise that this is not only not what is going to happen, but not what is planned by the vicar’s daughter, their support will wane.
We are already seeing the Tories lead in the polls cut, and this could happen at the same or an increasing rate for the rest of the campaign. Don’t forget the Electoral Fraud allegations which the CPS is going to make an announcement on before the election. The triple-lock fiasco was very damaging, and May has refused to rule out tax increases. All very bad for key tory support. Her trip to Scotland was a total disaster, actually undoing some of the small popularity Ruth Davidson has somehow managed to drum up in between supporting UK Government cuts and the Rape clause. So the 8-10 seats some were predicting for the Conservatives in Scotland looks increasingly unlikely.
At the same time, Corbyn is at least looking better on Health and Education, and has made some decent speeches. Starmer is on to the FAZ story, and looks like he’s going to run with it. Labour have still not completed their manifesto, so something that does not plan for, but does not rule out, a second ref is still possible. Lots of members and back-bench MPs want this. It is very unlikely that Labour can win outright from here, but it is looking possible that one of the following situations could happen:
1. Tories win with a tiny majority. Idea of a new, bigger mandate shot down in flames. Pro-EU rebels suddenly in a position of power, loony-right-rees-mogg lot creating division and disunity, May pulled this way and that by her own party. Then endless pressure, resulting in another U-turn (it’s an addictive habit) and a 2nd ref. Notable that Davis’s position is very shaky after he openly took the piss out of May losing at the ECJ in front of Juncker. Disgraced former minister Fox is an obvious liability. Axing them may become inevitable, and this would lead to further disunity as the hard-right snowflakes throw their toys out of Nanny’s pram.
2. No Tory Majority. This would put the 60-90 SNP/LibDem/Green MPs in the position of power brokers with Labour. Labour’s non-mental wing would be pushing for either a coalition, or, if not, a mutual support agreement. SNP and LibDems offer support, but not a coalition, in return for 2nd referendum pledge. SNP agrees to put plans for IndyRef on hold for 5 years if UK remains, Labour agrees to back the IndyRef if UK doesn’t. LibDems stay out of government, and agreement is made that they can both revolt on individual measures without breaking the pact.
If we have learned anything from 2016, it should be that massive swings towards otherwise apparently unlikely outcomes are possible. This time though, it has to be Remainers that make it happen.