How unsophisticated can Theresa May get in her efforts to persuade MPs to back her crumbling Brexit deal? Earlier this week we had her £1.6 billion bribe for “left behind” constituencies of Labour MPs who might just be tempted to back her deal. Yesterday, in Grimsby, she turned to her own backbenchers, telling them:
“Reject [the deal] and no-one knows what will happen. We may not leave the EU for many months. We may leave without the protections a deal provides, we may never leave at all.”
She is of course right: no-one knows what will happen on Tuesday nor in the coming three weeks before 29 March. It does her no credit that she has allowed it to get to such a late stage with businesses still having no idea how to prepare for Brexit, or no Brexit. But one thing is for sure: hard Brexit or no Brexit at all, May’s deal was and remains the worst of all worlds. The arguments which Tory rebels employed to justify their rejection of the deal in January are just as valid now as they were then – Britain faces being stuck in the backstop indefinitely, forced to accept EU rules on trade and product standards without having any say in those rules. We would be unable to cut our own trade deals with the rest of the world or to attract investment to Britain by deregulating – negating two of the fundamental benefits from leaving the EU. As Katy Balls explained yesterday, while Michel Barnier has today suggested that mainland Britain might be allowed a unilateral exit from the backstop, the right would not apply to Northern Ireland. That would put a border down the Irish Sea, break up the United Kingdom, and no UK government could possibly accept it – least of all one propped up by the DUP.
The utter failure of Theresa May or Geoffrey Cox to wring any meaningful concession out of the EU has not stopped some of January’s rebels crumbling.