IT WOULD Be foolish not to see the Chequers settlement for the shocker it is. May is transparently trying to shunt any kind of palpable Brexit into the sidings, with baleful consequences. Possibly if they were better apprehended, there might be something of a change of course, for which ministerial resignations are opening the door. Here are the warnings David Davis and Steve Baker may reasonably give.
1. Stand by for a godawful but futile roar of frustration from disappointed partisans for Brexit.
2. Expect also complaints from the same quarter about Europe being bound to reject the Chequers scheme. This cannot be ruled out, but…
3. …May has sought to orchestrate (and from what I can gather, pre-sold) a de facto capitulation, which Barnier ought to be smart enough to take - while asking for a wee bit more on services, jurisdiction and freedom of movement. Which if May’s stance holds, he’ll get.
4. Meanwhile, look for quiet-ish expressions of regret from Oz, US and maybe Canada. No-one in Britain will care. Even if Trump were to offer something substantial next week, he’d be ignored as he’s just not taken seriously here.
5. Unless May’s rebels coalesce, she will get her bills through Parliament as Corbyn will not whip the PLP to defeat her. She is ready to sail over complaints that she has pushed a deal which places the UK in a worse position than before the referendum and which fails to honour it. She will glory in criticism that she has put party first, though it is becoming uncertain that she can achieve this. If the Chequers settlement holds, look out for some frothy turmoil in both political parties, succeeded by delight at having something else to talk about.
6. If May’s deal holds, Leavers will regroup slowly. This includes intellectually, as they seek to learn lessons from their failure, as to negotiation (understanding the other side), domestic constituency-building (press and industry), constitution (Northern Ireland) and technology (customs, visas etc). This is just as well, as much of their thinking has been second eleven. If those in the Brexit camp are wise they should channel Joe Hill (“Don’t mourn, organise”). Otherwise, they risks becoming more narrowly Little Englanders, unlike Hannan not to say Boris, however much the latter may have lost his mojo with the public and the press.
7. UK diplomacy will be damaged: potential trading partners - Oz, US etc - will be disappointed. Britain will be disqualified from leadership in free trade. Our former natural allies in the EU - Scandinavia and the Netherlands - will have to write us off for some time, possibly indefinitely. In a reversion to the Seventies, investors will see the country as politically risky, to the extent that commitment to May’s coup is palpably incomplete. This would put capital flight back onto the domestic agenda for the first time since Thatcher. It will also abate inward investment in capital-intensive industry, frustrating one of May’s intentions.
8. The EU will feel vindicated. Its reformers will be discomfited and Brussels’ weakness for centralising and general bullying will be encouraged. Shortly, however, new constraints will emerge out of reinvigorated hubris.
A longer view of the British climate
9. If May’s coup succeeds, disgruntled Brits will blame any disharmony with our European neighbours on her untidy resolution: Remainers will call for full re-entry, Leavers for full departure. For some time, however, there will be little interest amid a general feeling of exhaustion, if not revulsion. So the boil will remain un-lanced. Eventually however, the accumulation of friction will force reluctant politicians to revisit the issue.
10. Expect manufacturing’s disrepute to intensify. The sector’s successful campaign nonetheless betrayed a whiff of desperation. This means that fewer Brits than ever will see industry as a good place for their cash, careers or children. Questions will get asked about the country’s thirty-year policy of featherbedding large-scale production which is foreign owned - which is all there’s going to be.
11. Ireland - north and south - will come in for flak as the tail that wagged the dog. The Republic remains in an unbalanced position - highly dependent on the UK for imports, if less so for exports. Relations risk turning a tad more acrimonious all round, with Tory devotion to the Unionist cause weakening.
12. The political parties will strain themselves to rectify the breakdown of trust between voters and representatives. This will be a tough hill to climb and unless they make it, we’re in for a generation of chronic resentment, finding acute expression in ways beyond prediction.
13. If May pulls this off, she wins every prize for tactical skill but none for strategic apprehension. Her attempted coup against the voters is a masterly attempt but if it succeeds, is more likely than not to take the country to a dark place. If I were writing the book this afternoon, I’d have her as England’s worst leader since Mary Tudor.