17th May 2019

Running out of road, last chance saloon doors slamming shut… it what you will, we are approaching the endgame for the Prime Minister

The political maelstrom that will overwhelm both the Conservative and Labour parties next Thursday is already heavily “discounted in the market”. No serious pundit contends that the result of the European elections, which will become known late on the Sunday night following, will be anything other than cataclysmic for both main parties. It will be more so for the Tories – they are the party of Government and therefore have most to lose, and it is their core vote that will “leech away” fastest to Nigel Farage’s rampant Brexit Party. But the impact of the Brexit brigade will also hit Labour hard in their traditionally safe heartlands – watch out for results in places like Hartlepool, Sunderland and South and West Yorkshire. Farage is an absolute past master at maximising the “you’ve been cheated” feeling. He knows exactly what he is doing. Stand by for a European Parliament containing people like John Longbottom, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, Ann Widdecombe and Richard Tice - it’s going to happen. That’s a given. The only question is what comes next?

This week’s manoeuvrings make it clear that the Prime Minister is going to have one last shot at getting a Withdrawal Deal through when Parliament returns from the Whitsun Recess on the 4th June. She might even wait until after the Peterborough by-election on the 6th. It can be argued that the greater the “shock and awe” of the results, the more likely her malcontent troops might be to step into line.

Quite what the Deal will look like by then we don’t know. The post-Euro election tsunami might just elicit a sea change amongst MPs who realise that if they want anything other than a No-Deal exit, then they have to support something that can command a Parliamentary majority. Will she have folded to Labour on a Custom’s Union compromise – and if she has will it just alienate more of her own troops in Parliament? If Parliament tried to revoke Article 50, would it trigger a General Election or maybe some kind of constitutional crisis? What we do know right now is that there is no sign of a shift within DUP ranks – nor any movement amongst the “Spartans” – the hard-core Tory euro sceptics who seem oblivious to what happened to their historical namesakes. They all ended up dead!

But by indicating that there will be a fourth Withdrawal Deal vote early in June the Prime Minister is possibly displaying a degree of cunning that she has to date found remarkably elusive. She is effectively ignoring the forthcoming tsunami, because she knows it is going to happen. What she is going to do is confront immediately post-election the shell-shocked troops of both her own and Mr Corbyn’s armies with a stark contrast – back this deal or it will be no-deal. The country will have made it clear again they are determined to leave. And she is also staving off the question from her backbench1922 Committee officers, namely: “What is the timeline for your departure Prime Minister?” Her answer appears to be: “I’m going to meet Sir Graham (Brady – their Chairman), after the second reading of the Withdrawal Deal”. One can almost hear “until the twelfth of never” playing in the background.

It is now impossible to believe events aren’t about to move quickly. The only question is when? Today’s best guess seems to be the week beginning the 10th June. And how will the exit work? The very latest assessment seems to suggest a relatively organised contest over the summer months with the new Leader being “crowned” at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester at the end of September. Hats are already landing in the ring. The next challenge may be to reduce the field from a dozen plus to just two. Apparently, the “men in grey suits” have now decreed that there must be a proper contest – no last-minute withdrawals or elections by acclimation. So, the Tory rank and file will have the final say.

And when this is all over, and we finally have a new Prime Minister, what will their policies be? One day, surely, there must be life after Brexit. Until then, to use a couple more clichés – “Watch this space” and “Hang on tight” – it could be a bumpy ride!