How perverse can Parliament get? It has twice rejected Theresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement (her mis-termed “deal”), yet it is likelier to pass it if its author quits.
On Wednesday, Parliamentarians were outraged when May blamed them alone for the failure of her proposal and her own government’s unreadiness for Brexit (she did so through both a statement to the House of Commons and in a subsequent live television broadcast).
The EU belatedly realized that May lacks the political tricks to win Parliament over to her deal. (She needed tricks, because nobody tried offering a good deal for Britain, because that would be bad for the EU.) In this blame game, the EU was never blamed, and never took responsibility.
Even stalwart Brexiteer Nadine Dorries said on Wednesday that she would vote for May’s Withdrawal Agreement on condition that May gives up the leadership. Then reports emerged that the leader of Conservative backbenchers (the 1922 Committee) had already warned her on Monday that she lacked their support.
Nothing changed on Thursday or Friday to help May. On Thursday night, the EU agreed to a shorter delay than she requested. Her own government leaked its “strictly prohibited” plan for leaving without a deal in order to suggest it wasn’t ready. Meanwhile, the government has postponed implementation of its no deal plans until at least 8 April, on the bogus grounds that on Thursday the EU agreed delay until at least 12 April. The government is so incompetent and pro-Remain that it simultaneously wails about its own unreadiness, chooses unreadiness, and uses unreadiness to promote its Remain agenda.
By Saturday night, the BBC was ready to report that “senior” Conservatives would back her WA if she agreed to step down earlier than entitled. The Sunday newspapers are full of reports of plots against her leadership, and urgings to back May’s “deal”, even from Labour Brexiteers.
The plotters’ strategy is wishful. How could anyone expect electoral favour for backing a bad agreement on the grounds that you got its author to step down earlier than she needed to?
They would be rejecting a leader for sticking with a bad proposal, while approving the proposal. They would be getting rid of a leader, while endorsing the leader’s legacy.
If Parliament rejects one it must reject the other.
If you approve her WA, she departs while claiming vindication, whether you pushed her or not. Her WA is the only thing she has hanging on to fulfill a meaningless political career of fence-sitting and playing both sides.
If you reject her WA but keep her, she gets months to re-present her WA or negotiate an ever worse “deal” (she has already written, on Friday, to MPs offering them choices to revoke Article 50 or extend indefinitely). She can take months if she wants to, because she cannot face a parliamentary party leadership challenge until December, due to spineless Conservative MPs confirming her leadership last December for at least 12 months, instead of taking the opportunity to side with colleagues who had written to the 1922 Committee with no confidence in her.
The main reason Parliamentarians have backed her this long is that getting rid of one parliamentarian reflects badly on all, and because the Remainer majority believed she was sufficiently on their side. Parliamentarians in general have put Parliament before country.
The main reason Conservative Parliamentarians have backed her is that another leadership contest, within three years of the last, reflects badly on them. Conservative Parliamentarians in general have put the Parliamentary party before country. (The wider party is not to blame – a clear majority of party members wanted rid of her last year.)
Conservative Parliamentarians don’t offer much competition. Senior conservatives – in a Remainer-dominated government, formed by a Remainer-dominated party, in a Remainer-dominated Parliament – are still talking about replacing May with another Remainer, having replaced David Cameron with Theresa May the Remainer in 2016. Their top choice is Remainer and May’s deputy (David Lidington).
Those members of her Cabinet who voted Remain but claim conversions to Brexit cannot be trusted (Jeremy Hunt), any more than the few Brexiteers who stayed in her Cabinet but claim to have been unhappy with her WA all along (Michael Gove).
Parliament offers a lousy peer group, increasingly bifurcated between Remainers and Brexiteers (like the country), and mostly tainted by their long complicity in May’s procrastination and softening of Brexit. Getting rid of May but not her WA wouldn’t erase Parliament’s sins or restore Parliament’s legitimacy.
If Parliament is to survive May, it cannot sacrifice just May. Next week, Parliament must get rid of both May and May’s bad proposal, confirm the law to leave on Friday 29 March, form a government led by Brexiteers, and restore credibility to British democracy and legality.