There is a great opportunity in front of the Tories. As I say in the magazine this week, there’s 12 more years in power for the taking for them because of the split in the Labour party. But seizing this opportunity will require the Tories to temper their passions on Brexit.
There are two Brexit outcomes that would be electorally disastrous for the Tories: no Brexit and no deal. No Brexit would be catastrophic because the Tories would have failed to deliver on the referendum result. The last two and a bit years would have been for naught and a pro-Brexit party would take huge chunks out of the Tories’ support. No deal wouldn’t be as bad. But it would still send the Tories to defeat at the next election. Both the challenges of it and how late in the day the government has left preparations for it, mean that it would destroy the Tories’ reputation for competence.
If the Tories are going to stay in power they need to deliver an orderly withdrawal. This is going to require voting for a withdrawal agreement, with whatever tweak to the backstop, that is flawed. But Tory MPs should remember that Brexit will be defined by what governments do with the powers that are returned to Westminster. 12 more years in power would give the Tories ample opportunity to define what kind of country post-Brexit Britain will be.
There’ll be those Tories who argue that the benefits of a cleaner Brexit are such that it is worth risking a period in opposition to secure them. In normal times, there might be merit to this argument. But in the present circumstances, this would mean a Corbyn government. A Corbyn government would do such damage to Britain’s economy and global reputation that it would make it impossible for a generation to make a success of Brexit.