I am, as most of you know, desperately opposed to our membership of the EU. I have stuck to that position through thick and thin for fifty years or more (a lot longer than almost any others of you). It doesn’t really matter what my reasons are, though I suppose it is worth pointing out that immigration, obviously, is not one of them (when we – people like genuine Left Wing Socialists and dyed in the wool Tories – tried to convince the electorate in 1975 that the Common Market was a bad thing no one ever dreamt that immigration would be a problem).
I was pleased when, contrary to my expectations, the electorate, in 2016, voted by a significant majority for us to come out of the EU. I assumed, without thinking about it, that the government would make arrangements for our departure and that would be that.
Of course, I was greatly saddened when the reaction set in, as it did within hours. People I had counted as real friends, who had always known of my eccentric dislike of European bureaucracy but had never thought it anything but slightly amusing, took to posting incredibly offensive comments on social media about the “totally uneducated” voters who had deprived the clever people, and their children, of their futures. That should, as they say, have given me pause.
But it didn’t.
I went on, blithely, thinking that what has now become known as the “Will of the People” would be executed. Of course, it was miserable that lots of my good friends would never speak to me again because they couldn’t stand stupid people, but I hoped, and believed, that, in time, they would recover from what had obviously been a gigantic shock to them. Maybe, one day, decades into the future, if I were still alive, there would be a moving scene when, at my death bed, my old friends would gather around me and assure me that my astounding stupidity in thinking Brussels bureaucracy was not quite as good as British democracy had been forgiven. “Yes,” they would say, “you and all those horrid common people from the North destroyed our futures, but it wasn’t your fault that you and they were given the vote. It was the System that gave you the vote. So, we forgive you. Should you pass on to a better world, though that is unlikely for someone who voted leave since we all know God is a remainer (just ask the Archbishop of Canterbury), see what you can do to intervene in the world and ensure Ms Soubry succeeds in her Bill to abolish Parliamentary democracy and replace it, once and for all, with rule from Brussels.”
Allow me a little fantasy. Sorry, it probably upset you. But you (I am assuming you are amongst those who hate common people being given the vote) are, at the moment, on the winning side.
I was quite wrong to think the referendum result would be respected. The government has announced that it is desperate to have the same “rule book” as the EU. Every new regulation designed to stifle entrepreneurs and keep big business at the forefront of the European economy will be faithfully adopted by the UK. Profit will remain an evil word in the UK just as it is in the EU. Rules and regulations will continue to be the life blood of the British government.
I could go on for a very long time. But that would be very tedious. The point is that the government’s latest proposals for the terms of our departure from the EU bear no relation at all to what all we stupid, uneducated and desperately common people voted for.
Does that make the Prime Minister a traitor?
I don’t think it does.
Politics is the art of the possible. That is true even though it is a quotation from Otto von Bismark. The government had to come up with a potential deal which stood a chance of being accepted by the House of Commons.
We mustn’t cry over spilt milk. Everyone agrees that Mrs May’s election campaign, not necessarily the decision to call the election, was disastrous. I can say that without fear of being attacked for being beastly to her. I really wanted her to succeed and, more to the point, I went into print within days of the election being called to predict it would be a massive failure if Mrs May persisted in her “strong and stable” nonsense. I begged her to see sense. But a dreadfully evil man called Mr Timothy (now employed by the Daily Telegraph) told Mrs May to ignore me and every other sane commenter. She must, he said, go through to the bitter end declaring that the election was all about HER, not about the Conservative Party. The result was inevitable. The Tories scraped home, but in no way could it be said Mrs May had any sort of personal mandate.
That is history. Plainly, it made the Brexit business far more difficult than it would have been if there had been no election or if Mrs May had sacked Mr Timothy and conducted an ordinary election campaign. But we can’t do anything about it now. The government is stuck with a very tenuous hold on the House of Commons. It has to face reality.
What do Conservative MPs think about the EU?
Most of them, obviously, try not to think about it at all. It is a subject which appears to interest their constituents, but does not interest them at all. You may think I am being beastly to all those Tory MPs. But I am not. It would be disastrous for the country if our MPs, whichever parties they represented, indulged in having opinions on important subjects. Most of them are not awfully bright (not a party political point: stupidity is the norm throughout the Commons). But nearly all of them understand they are stupid. They know they must be guided by the Whips. They do what they are told. The Queen’s government goes on.
But things are not so straight forward when the government’s majority is tiny or, as at the moment, non–existent without the support of other parties. When that happens a very few fanatics on the government benches who dislike the government’s policy (or, in this case, the policy supported by the electorate – you must remember we are incredibly stupid and should never have been given the vote) declare that they will bring the government down unless it agrees to support the policy advocated by those who lost the referendum.
We can all get on our high horse. Anna Soubry, plainly, should be chucked out of the Commons as being an exceptionally stupid pest (I have never heard anyone saying she is vaguely intelligent). Ken Clarke is an immensely tiresome bore who is just not prepared to admit he ever got anything wrong. My old friend, Dominic Grieve, has an odd view that Britain only became European when we joined the Common Market (the rest of us know that being European has nothing to do with political institutions — but we had proper history lessons when we were children and he, I assume, at least when he was at the South Kensington Lycee, was never told that Britain was an important part of Europe even before 1973). But those three, and a few other nutcases on the Tory benches, have made it clear that they will vote against any settlement with the EU which they think might find favour with the British electorate (remember? the electorate is stupid and should be changed so only North Londoners with third class degrees from former technological colleges have the vote).
That is the reality. It would have been glorious if Mrs May had had a majority in the House. But she hasn’t. She is stuck with having to give ludicrous importance to the opinions of Ms Soubry, Mr Clarke and Mr Grieve. Those three, and their rather dimmer supporters (who are so dim as to think they might become ministers in a government headed by Ms Soubry) have said they will happily defeat the government if it dares to propose a settlement with the EU which does not leave us in the EU in all but name.
What can Mrs May do? Lots of my friends say she should stick with an honest policy, she should tell the EU Commission that we are leaving whatever happens, we don’t mind not paying the Commission £40Bn if they don’t want it. If the EU is not keen on a trade deal, that doesn’t matter. We will leave without one. We might even (very brave) have a zero tariff policy of our own (a policy of which Peel would have approved but which is not popular with modern Conservatives who tend not to be keen on free trade).
But this is a world of fantasy. Obviously, any sane person who has our country’s interests at heart, will agree with me as to what, ideally, should happen. But it can’t. A handful of MPs could, and would, bring the government down and usher in a Corbyn government if Mrs May dared to propose a settlement with the EU which failed to keep us subject to the rules imposed by Brussels bureaucrats and to the edicts of the European Court of Justice.
“But,” you screech, “Labour’s policy at the last election was exactly the same as the Tories’. They said they would take us out of the Customs Union and the Single Market. They were determined to honour the Will of the People.”
Well, up to a point. Lip service is played by the Labour Party to that Will of the People stuff, but they are trying very hard to get away from it. Mr Corbyn is on the side of us (all those exceptionally stupid people who don’t adore the EU). But the chap he’s put in charge of his party’s policy on the EU is quite the opposite. He is a remarkably dim lawyer from North London, he was once DPP, who, like almost all dim lawyers from North London, thinks rule by Brussels bureaucrats is vastly superior to democracy. He certainly thinks that, should we ever have another referendum, the working classes should not have a vote.
The point is that Mrs May cannot, if push comes to shove, rely on Labour sticking to its manifesto promises. Mr Corbyn, oddly sensible of him, doesn’t like the EU. But his EU spokesman adores it, and thinks the idea of the British Parliament being superior to the European Commission is horrifying. More troublesome than all that is that, apart from a very few of them (Kate Hoey is an obvious and brilliant example), almost all Labour MPs, despite the views of their constituents (the men and women they think not to be mature enough to have the vote because they haven’t got third class degrees from technical colleges), love the EU. They all long to be told by Mr Corbyn that they should oppose our exit from the EU.
What should Mrs May do?
Let’s be sensible. The first thing she obviously can’t do, much as I wish she could, is propose a settlement with the EU which would reflect the wishes of the British electorate. If she did that, Ms Soubry, Mr Clarke and Mr Grieve, together with the half dozen or so back benchers who have convinced themselves they will have jobs in Ms Soubry’s government, would gang up with Labour to force a general election. And goodness knows what Corbyn’s government (almost inevitable) would then do about the EU, though the betting, obviously, would be on cancelling Brexit and declaring that the working classes should never be allowed to vote in referenda again.
The choice, therefore, is between some sort of compromise or just handing the government over to Mr Corbyn. The Prime Minister has gone, as I would have done, for the compromise. But almost all those of my friends who agree with my opposition to the EU (you had no idea there were any) are appalled. They say Mrs May is a traitor, that she was always a remainer who decided secretly to work towards our remaining in the EU against the wishes of the people.
How wrong those friends of mine are. I must first put them right on their theory that Mrs May is a remainer. I happen to know she is not. That is not because she has told me. It is just that I have known her, not all that well but well enough, for roughly thirty years. And I know she has never had any political opinion in her whole life. During the referendum campaign she took ages to say on which side she was. She finally opted for remain, but no one who knew her would ever have suggested that was because that was what she wanted. She had no view either way. She just thought favouring remain would be better for her career than opting for leave.
Mrs May has not been evilly plotting to keep us in the EU because she loves it and is determined to overturn the referendum result. Obviously, as we all know, she has a major failure as a politician. She does what she is told by advisers who often get things wrong. If she had paid no attention to Mr Timothy’s mad advice during the election she would now have a large majority. It could well be, we just don’t know, that some eurofanatic from the civil service has taken Mr Timothy’s place. But I think that unlikely. Yes, most civil servants think the EU a lot better than democracy, but they are also very professional. They know it is not their place to oppose the policies of their political masters. The advice the Prime Minister is being given will have been objective and unbiased.
I am not wholly stupid (other than having voted leave). I know that a prime minister who actually supported our departure from the EU, rather than one who had no opinion on the subject because she disliked politics, might have fought a tiny bit harder for her country. But that would have made no difference. The European Commission, sadly with the support of too many British remainers, has made it clear from the outset that its aim is, if possible, to destroy the UK as a trading nation. What the government is now proposing, though far from being attractive to those of us who would prefer to be ruled by a British Parliament than by unelected officials in Brussels, is a genuine compromise which is likely to be supported by the House of Commons (only Mr Clarke and Ms Soubry will oppose it on the grounds that it doesn’t keep us in the EU). Regrettably, however, the overwhelming likelihood is that the Commission will reject our offer. When that happens, or so it seems to me, we have only one option: we will have to walk out of the talks and make as many trade deals as possible with other countries. Yes, Messrs Clarke, Soubry, Grieve and Starmer will jump up and down with fury saying, if the EU won’t make a deal, we have no choice but to offer to remain bound by all EU rules and subject to the authority of the European Court of Justice for all eternity. There will then be an election. If Corbyn goes along with Starmer’s fanatical support for our being ruled by Brussels with no say in the rules, my guess is that there will be an overwhelming Tory majority (so long as Mrs May is not allowed to dictate the campaign). But, who knows, Mr Corbyn may win. That would be a fascinating outcome.