Last night, Theresa May addressed the nation and pledged to deliver Brexit – albeit with a delay. The date 29th March 2019 was of sacred quality to the Brexiteer lexicon. Dubbed independence day by those desperate for their lifelong dream of severance from the EU’s shackles, they cheered joyfully at every sound of our Prime Minister uttering the her favourite broken promise: ‘we’ll be leaving the European Union on the 29th March’.
This was said by Mrs May over 100 times. Our airwaves have featured Brexit enthusiasts time and time again these past two years who explain just how they plan to celebrate the 29th March and our exit. It is seen as a woeful failure of our representatives that we are facing a delay, but many leavers are keen to make an important distinction: they can stretch to a short extension but they would never tolerate a long one, for fear of a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all.
We won’t leave the EU on the 29th March anymore. Rather than take back control we wait to hear our fate from Brussels, where the EU27 meet today to decide whether to grant us an extension to Article 50 and, if so, for how long.
Last night’s statement was terrible politics. In her message to the nation Mrs May told us: ‘ I am on your side.’ She isn’t on my side. I’d like a people’s vote to end the mess and she is resolutely opposed to one. In a desperate attempt to pit parliament against the people she derided those very MPs she needs to pass her deal. Those – such as Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell – who had previously indicated they might come to back the withdrawal agreement immediately denounced her comments. This is May’s mess, and her poor attempt to shift the blame at this late hour only alienated her from MPs further.
Mrs May has trapped herself. She indicates she will not countenance and long extension and, in doing so, gives a lifeline to those Brexiteers who still cling to the possibility of a No Deal. These MPs on her backbenchers are never going to vote for her deal if a harder option is on the table and, by pandering once more to them, she gives them no reason to change path now.
So where now? The nation waits for the EU27 to decide the terms of extension and indeed whether we deserve one at all. There are legitimate questions asked many times in the past few days by those in Brussels. What is the purpose of an extension? Does May want it to pass her deal, or to seek another? Why, when nearly three years after the 2016 referendum we are still no closer to deciding what Brexit means, will a few short months make a difference?
That Mrs May is seeking only a short extension proves she still believes she’s in with a chance of passing her deal. This is unbelievably risky on her part, for it would require 75 MPs to change their mind and support her. After her insulting comments last night, some MPs who reluctantly backed her deal last time are now saying they will vote against it! It should hardly be surprising that politicians with high exposure in a febrile political climate are enraged at being brandished traitors – everybody is aware of the threats many of these MPs receive on a daily basis and the Prime Minister’s latest move was recklessly irresponsible.
The European Parliament elections in May are being spoken of by the Prime Minister and her team as if holding them in Britain would be a worse outcome for our country than a No Deal exit. Holding these elections would be an inconvenient but entirely acceptable demand if it means this carnage can finally come to an end – instead, May suggests her entire premiership can be stoked on resisting a long extension and with it the need to hold elections. The implication of this claim is that should MPs reject her deal again – as they are sure to do, and with incredibly good reason – she must take us over the cliff because the European Parliament elections would be too divisive.
A GDP hit of 10% or more under a No Deal would be too divisive. A continuation of the 90% drop in EU doctors and nurses coming from the EU would be too divisive. The decimation of our manufacturing industry and the loss of thousands of jobs would be too divisive and a nation left rudderless in an increasingly fragile international order will spell disaster.
Whatever happens next needs a fresh and renewed public mandate. This country is suffering from a national crisis with no leadership from either of our two main parties and It’ll be my generation who will inherit the consequences of their failures if they are not stopped.
A short extension will not solve the fundamental problem that a majority is yet to be found for any form of Brexit. Indeed, I don’t think one exists. And when this fails again May hopes it is too late for us to hold European Parliament elections and so the only alternative will be to back her dodgy deal. This is a Hobson’s choice and we must not accept it. This country voted to take back control, for more jobs and opportunities and for a leading role on the global stage. How far away from these sunlit uplands we are now.
Mrs May insulted MPs last night but she insulted the public too. In reference to a second referendum she said: ‘I don’t believe that is what you want – and it is not what I want.’ Less than 24 hours and over 800,000 had signed a petition to revoke Article 50 altogether, a far more radical solution to holding a referendum. In fact, while opinion polls show that 9 in 10 people think Brexit has been a national humiliation, they show more and more people in favour of handing the decision to the people. On Saturday, hundreds of thousands will march on Parliament to demand MPs stop this madness and finally put it to the people.
The people won’t stand for this. We won’t allow the government to manipulate and bribe its way to success by a slim margin and force through a deal which nobody voted for and which leaves us poorer. We won’t take a short extension with no purpose other than to push back the cliff edge with no solution. Theresa May has shown no evidence of listening to those around her or to the mood of our nation but, with the sight of hundreds of thousands this Saturday, she might finally come to listen.