It’s been a mad few days in British politics. Most of us have been a little distracted by the fact that IT’S COMING HOME, IT’S COMING, FOOTBALL’S COMING HOME, but it’s all been kicking off in Tory HQ as well. (See what I did there?)
Brexit has been a giant omnishambles for months now, but this weekend was, I think, meant to get the Great British Buggering Off back on track. On Friday, Theresa May summoned her cabinet to Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country house, for an emergency summit. Here’s an exclusive look at her agenda:
Item 1: AGREE TO MY PLAN OR YOU’RE WALKING HOME.
It took 12 hours. 12 hours. Imagine being stuck in a room full of Tories for 12 hours… And it was really hot too. For here. (There’s a joke about gammon needing to be refrigerated so that it doesn’t go off and give everyone food poisoning, but I’m only just above that. I’m saving myself for a few paragraphs.)
May had her work cut out for her, because lest we forget, Brexit came about because of dissension in the Tory ranks. She needed to come up with a plan that would keep in line the Hard Brexiteers, the Soft Brexiteers and the Remaining Remainers, and that might be agreed by the EU and passed by the Commons. Could such a plan exist? Short answer: No.
Brexiteers are like Musketeers, except without the integrity, and with worse hair. Their motto is ALL FOR ME AND NONE FOR YOU. May’s Soft Brexit plan, apparently 100 pages long, didn’t go far enough for those who’d prefer their Brexit hardboiled. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary — i.e. the guy who would have to take that plan to the EU and say GIMME DAT BREXIT but pretty please may we have a cherry on the top? — resigned.
David Davis has resigned as Brexit secretary, shattering the hard-won consensus around Theresa May’s Chequers deal and plunging her government into crisis.
His resignation was swiftly followed by that of fellow Department for Exiting the EU minister Steve Baker. It forces May to reshuffle her government, at the same time as trying to convince backbenchers to support her plan.
Davis sent a bluntly worded resignation letter to the prime minister, saying he would not be a “reluctant conscript” to the plan agreed at Chequers, which he said was “certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense”. (The Guardian)
As May’s cabinet emerged from the meeting, ruddy-cheeked and sweating, looking exactly the same as when they went in, Boris Johnson described the plan with his usual eloquence:
Boris Johnson was joking but his frustration was self-evident. The foreign secretary was blunt about Theresa May’s new plan for Brexit. “It’s a big turd,” he pronounced to the cabinet. It was the morning session of the prime minister’s Friday summit at Chequers aimed at thrashing out a negotiating position for a trade deal with Brussels.
In what was described by one minister present as “a six-minute moan”, Johnson complained that May’s customs plan — in which the UK will collect tariffs on behalf of the European Union — and which the foreign secretary had thought was dead, had instead “emerged zombie-like from the coffin”.
He warned May and her spin doctors that plans to accept EU rules on the sales of goods going forward would leave Britain a “vassal state”. It was a clear failure to fulfill the referendum pledge to “take back control of our laws”.
Anyone defending the proposal “will be polishing a turd” if they wished to sell the deal to the public and the party, he said, pointing out that he had recently watched similar activities on a trip to Whipsnade zoo. “I see there are some expert turd polishers here,” he added … (Sunday Times, via The Guardian)
And this afternoon, BoJo resigned from his post as Foreign Secretary. Boris has made a career out of verbal diarrhoea, and he knows a turd when he sees one. May wanted the party to “thrash it all out” and then “come together”, but Boris was worried that his Brexit wasn’t hard enough, and that he would be left alone and humiliated with a Semi-Brexit. A Semi-Brexit, by the way, is definitely not a penis joke, but more like Brexit, Egg, Sausage and Spam without the Spam.
Where does that leave Theresa May? Probably looking something like this:
There are rumours that Tory MPs are getting together to force a vote of no confidence, which could oust May. But who would replace her? When David Cameron resigned, the Leavers-In-Chief Boris ‘Bumbling Malevolence’ Johnson and Michael ‘Evil Hobgoblin’ Gove looked sick at the prospect of being in charge during the Brexit process, and eventually withdrew from the leadership race. May, a Remainer, almost won by default, being Relatively Normal For A Tory, At The Time, Compared To People Like Jacob Rees-Mogg. When her snap general election went badly for her party, she was kept on as Prime Scapegoat. They won’t want to lose her now, purely for that reason.
Ay, there’s the rub. They want Brexit done, they just don’t want to be the ones to do the Brexiting. Nobody wants to be left holding the Brexit. When all this goes wrong, somebody is going to end up with Brexit all over their face.
In the meantime, this is how they are looking as a party:
The Tories:— Petr V. Knava (@actwithoutdoing) July 9, 2018
Like a jelly in an earthquake. In a bowl on a table with wobbly legs. Balanced on the back of a frightened horse on a frozen fucking lake.#BorisJohnsonResigns
Some backbenchers are apparently seeing the Chequers plan as a coup for Remainers, despite not being a plan to Remain; it’s both Semi-Brexit and Quasi-Remain, which means it’s really the Hokey Cokey Brexit, and does anyone want that?
However, one backbencher — Chris Green, the parliamentary private secretary to the transport secretary Chris Grayling — has just resigned, saying that “Brexit must mean Brexit”. That’s really helpful and clear, Chris, thanks. You’d never catch me offering a vague definition like that.
To sum up: Brexit must be Brexity enough to please Brexiteers, but a little bit Remainy as well. If it’s too Remainy, Nigel Farage will be on the news all the time again. It’s like a Goldilocks Brexit, except this is what we’ll all look like before they find one that’s just right:
Where do we go from here? Oh god, who knows? Perhaps there will be a Tory coup, and someone will volunteer themselves as Brexit tribute. Maybe someone will find a way to put another referendum together. Now you’ve seen what will happen, do you wanna Brexit or nah? In all likelihood, there will be another general election soon. BUT DON’T TELL BRENDA FROM BRISTOL!
This seems to be the most strategic way out of this mess. Parties will run with a Brexit plan front and centre in their manifesto. Votes for that party will be considered approval of that party’s publicly declared Brexit stance.
Have we got the stomach for another election? That’s another story. But if we keep faffing about, our negotiating time will run out and we’ll be unceremoniously booted out of the EU without a deal at all.
At least we have IT’S COMING HOME memes to distract us for a few days…
(Header via Getty images)