What If Theresa May Had Confronted Her Brexit Wing Sooner?

Rees-Mogg can neither change a nappy nor organise a coup, but May is headed to a proper crunch vote with her own backbenchers

Elvis Presley, in the midst of his 1968 comeback special, admitted “I’ve got to do this sooner or later, I may as well do it now, baby”. He then launched into Hound Dog, which was what everyone wanted.

I can’t help keep thinking that Theresa May should have taken inspiration from this. She had to confront her ERG Leaver wing at some point, why not sooner (baby)? What could May have won, if she’d confronted her strong Leavers back far ago in 2016? What if she’d challenged them to a showdown not in Christmas 2018 but the summer or autumn, say, of 2016?

Well, there would still have been a row. Possibly a hell of a row. But think this through. She was riding high in the polls, with a reputation for diligence and taking tough decisions. She was more popular than Cadbury Dairy Milk (Britain’s favourite in 2018, though see what was number three for a real shock).

Instead of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and triggering article 50 what if she had gone all ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’? She could have told the UK ‘look, this is all very complicated and we need some time’ because ‘otherwise’ she could say, doing her stern face ‘it will go badly for us’. It would have bought May the only thing a politician ever really needs. Time. Time to prepare, discuss, plan.

If the ERG had challenged her approach, May could have said ‘give me your own plans’ while saying loudly under her breath ‘idiots’. This would have been easy, given their plans, after two long years, seem to be ‘tell the foreigners more firmly about our Spitfires’, threaten Spain with war and place David Davis on the Irish Border with a speed gun.

The last few weeks has shown just how weak this group is, especially now it has lost its ‘turn it up to 11’ amplifier of the Daily Mail. Rees-Mogg can neither change a nappy nor organise a coup, and should think seriously about spending more time with his indigenous communities/far right friends. This group ruthlessly exploited the very real grievances and anxieties of people up and down the country who are now, ironically, more pro-immigration than any time since 2002.

Instead, now May heads to a proper crunch vote. She needs Conservative and Labour votes to get her agreement through the Commons. And here’s the problem (brace yourself). May’s party is split between soft, hard or Remain and she herself voted Remain in 2016 (quietly), then went all hard Brexit in 2017 before walking backwards 2017-2018. She also needs votes from a Labour party that are (mostly) pro Remain, and are increasingly favouring a Peoples’ Vote. However, the Labour leader is a bigger Brexiter than the prime minister, but is either back-tracking slightly, doesn’t understand or hasn’t decided, all the while secretly hoping Brexit will put him in Downing Street. Just before you suggest we should take heed of the public, 30% of the public polled think MPs should accept May’s deal, 41% think MPs should reject it and 29% don’t know (and a full 59% find it ‘fairly’ or ‘very boring’) .

It gets more complicated. Most MPs are dead against May’s plan and the only thing that unites them is not wanting a no deal, despite the cheaper trainers it could bring. May continues forward, relying on her classic World War One general style approach. It could be she knows something we don’t or she has a plan B (and possibly a plan C) but she can’t say this because it would making voting down her deal less scary.

If May loses, as far as I can work out, we will either (brace yourself) have another vote on it post some tinkering, she’ll resign and someone else will have a go, or Corbyn might become prime minister. It could also lead to a no deal. Rees-Mogg reassures us this will lead to cheaper footwear, and we can test our new cheap trainers as we can scavenge for blood supplies, insulin and clean water, while dodging aircraft falling from the sky (which he’ll watch from binoculars over the Irish border where the investment firm he founded has apparently re-located).

The outside possibility is that they’ll be another referendum. I’m pleased about this, as I feel the last time we had one, which was in June 2016, we really sorted out, very clearly indeed, the issue of our future relationship with Europe.

The real tragedy is that the noisy group that caused all this, shouting about straightening bananas since the days of John Major, have been shown to be pretty feeble. ‘Weak, weak, weak’. I began with Elvis so I’ll end with Bowie. Very much like when Sarah finally discovers the Goblin King’s weakness in Labyrinth, all May needed to say was ‘you have no power over me’.


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