THE BLOG
17/07/2018 14:58 BST | Updated 17/07/2018 16:53 BST

We Are At The Point Where No Brexit Outcome Can Find A Commons Majority - So What Now?

Is it an impossible dream to gather together those scattered amongst all parties who share the same liberal views? In these unpredictable times anything is possible

Russell Cheyne / Reuters

So, what happens now?

The short answer is that from this broken, dysfunctional, dystopian, fractured and fractious state of our politics, any outcome is possible. Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no Brexit, no deal, crash out, break up of the Tories, break up of Labour, new centre Party, Lib Dem government – no I go too far – but you get the point.

A number of things are certain and they’re all pretty strange, such is the measure of our bad fairytale times.

Unless something really big happens, everything will stay the same.

The plague of Rumplestitskins which have overwhelmed us - Trump, Johnson, Farage - will continue to smash the crockery because they can, because they enjoy it, and because no-one is able to stop them.

Our Pushmi-Pullyu Cabinet will continue going nowhere, because it knows of nowhere to go to. And our sad Cinderella PM, ashen, distraught, dutiful, close to tears and desperate to go to the ball, will continue to be stopped at every turn by one ugly sister or another.

In the history books of our times, a good number of pages will be written about what happens in the next few, febrile months.

Now that the quarter-century of hidden Tory revolt on Europe has broken into open warfare, it cannot be magicked back into the box. The whisper I hear about the Westminster tea rooms betrays that old fatal symptom of a party in full-scale self-destruct: “We don’t mind if we lose, just so long as our faction wins control of the party.”

And indeed it might just come to that.

We are now close to the point – maybe at it - where no Brexit outcome, from the most extreme to the very softest, can find a majority in the Commons.

There is a reason for this stalemate.

Politics can only work if, on the great issues of the day, the Parties oppose each other on a united basis. Only then can the people have rational choice. Only then can we have meaningful debates across the floor of the House which arrive at meaningful conclusions.

But on the great issue of our time, Europe (and many of the others as well – but that is for another time), the parties are catastrophically internally divided. And so the struggle is not between them, but within them. And so the national interest becomes submerged under the inner Party squabbles. This way madness lies and our entire political system is becoming infected by it.

The evident truth is that the current political division with which we are presented and through which we try to run our country is no longer fit for purpose. It neither represents the true choices people want in a modern democracy, nor provides a sensible framework for running a democratic system of Government.

Consider for a moment the most likely course of events for what happens next.

Starting this late in the curve and having wasted so much time, there is now no way that our Prime Minister (if indeed she survives as far as Thursday) can bring Parliament any deal in October worth the name. At most it will mix 20% firm detail with 80% fudge, backed by a solemn promise to fix the rest in the transitional period. If Parliament buys that, it buys a pig-in-a-poke.

Given what has happened over the relatively smaller matter of customs last week, it seems very rational to conclude that Parliament will say no and demand something better (leave aside what kind of better for the moment because that’s something they can’t decided on either). But who has the mandate to negotiate that, if the EU will allow us to, which I imagine they will. Mrs May would of course have to go. But who is to replace her? With everyone in the trenches there is no longer any candidate who can unite the Tory opposing forces - the Brexiteers will not permit a Remainer and the Remainers will not permit a Brexiteer.

So we are back to deadlock again. And so a shame-faced Parliament will have to return to the people and beg for a solution, because they cannot find one.

A referendum? That’s certainly one solution. But is a yes/no answer on such a complex question really enough to find our way out, if the parties stay the same? Might we not then be hog-tied after it, almost as much as we were before it?

A General Election on the issue of Europe, then. But how can we have a General Election which offers a clear choice, if both parties are divided? That is merely to translate deadlock in the Commons into deadlock in the ballot box.

The truth that is staring us in the face is that we cannot find a way out of this miserable never-ending nightmare, unless we can find our way to a new shape for our politics. The Rumpelstiltskins have found theirs. They have not scrupled to invent new parties or colonise old ones. They are united, powerful and deadly in the way they have changed our politics for the worse.

Do we have to cede the ground to them? Is it really an impossible dream to gather together those scattered amongst all parties who share the same liberal views? That’s what Macron has done and given a new future to France in the process.

In these unpredictable times anything is possible. If the hobgoblins can be so successful at making things worse for our time, could we not at least try to create a good fairy to make them better? It may not succeed, but I become more and more convinced that it is the only way to find a route out of this unholy mess.

Lord Ashdown is a Lib Dem peer and a former party leader