There is a logic in Theresa May’s late move to Labour. It is the same logic by which both parties, at the last general election, put forward very similar policies about Brexit. They need to stay together (while feigning disagreement for party reasons) to frustrate what people voted for. Just as they both said in 2017 that they wanted to leave the customs union, now both are working to stay in it. It is the same logic by which Mr Speaker Bercow has arranged for Sir Oliver Letwin to become prime minister on roughly alternate days. None of the main players really wants Brexit, but none can really say so. There are differences between them, of course, with some (Philip Hammond, Sir Keir Starmer) actively wanting us to stay in the EU completely and others (Mrs May, Mr Corbyn) preferring to have only non-voting shares in EU plc, but if party enmities can be held back, there is the basis for a deal. What really matters to them is that Brexit should be drained of all power.
That is why, having lost on every other fear-based tactic, they are so tenaciously maintaining it in relation to the no-deal option. In a bit over a week’s time, the political establishment’s gigantic bluff against Brexit will be exposed if they fail, so they are coalescing by every possible means to ensure they succeed. It is as if British commanders at Dunkirk had holed all the little ships below the waterline to prove that the policy of appeasement had been right all along. Incredible ingenuity has been deployed to make Brexit terrifying, none to make it work.
Other things are distractions. One is what is satirically called ‘the will of parliament’, which just now resembles the will of Hamlet. Another is the obsession of the Conservative party with leadership contests. The no-deal option is a lusty child, but also an orphan. No leadership candidate dares advocate it full-throatedly because all of them are trying to suck up votes from all bits of the parliamentary party when Mrs May goes. We are constantly warned that Peel’s abolition of the Corn Laws kept the Tories out of office for a generation. True, but the next point, usually not made, is that the repeal of the Corn Laws was a good thing for our country.
Charles Moore's Notebook appears in the forthcoming issue of The Spectator, out tomorrow