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View from the Chamber: Abandon ‘red lines’ and put country first

PUBLISHED: 10:30 31 January 2019

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WB Yeats’s 1919 poem The Second Coming is surely relevant to Theresa May’s Brexit scheme:

WB Yeats’s 1919 poem The Second Coming is surely relevant to Theresa May’s Brexit scheme:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

“The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

“Are full of passionate intensity.”

The close result of the referendum, which, under normal political principles would have led to efforts to find compromise, has instead led to the Prime Minister discarding the views of the 48 per cent who voted remain.

The outcome is ever more uncertain, as both leavers’ and remainers’ positions have become entrenched both in Parliament and in the country. Any centre ground there may be is thinly populated, with the only point of general agreement being that Mrs May’s deal has proved unacceptable all round in whatever form she tries to rehash it.

Divisions have never been as great since the days of the English Civil War, which was also about Parliament fighting to take back control from an over ambitious executive – then a king who believed in his divine right to rule.

Politics, like space, abhors a vacuum, so inevitably in the absence of any real progress we see the reports of stockpiling of medicines, food and goods; of futile attempts to test lorry queues at the ports; of key public services’ staff shortages as daft immigration polices are announced, based not on evidence but on what people think; of contingency plans for public disorder; and of the army put on standby to intervene. And, of course, a declining currency and businesses starting the trickle of relocation, at risk of becoming a flood.

To prevent the ship of state foundering on the rocks of a “no deal” Brexit in just a few weeks’ time, the government – or Parliament – must at least extend or revoke Article 50, to give businesses and services, large and small, presently in limbo, the breathing space to make proper preparations for Brexit in the absence of the detail needed to plan ahead.

But what then? In the end, “to govern is to choose”. Mrs May must now choose. Is she going to continue to put first the interests of trying to hold together the Conservative Party (which looks like it can only be done with a “no deal” Brexit); or is she finally going to put the interests of the country first, by abandoning some or all of her “red lines” which have led to this sorry state of affairs? For example, this would open options for staying in the Customs Union.

If she is not going to shoulder the burden of governing in the best interests of the UK, then she should stand aside and let the people decide, either in a general election or, in my and the preference of many others, a “people’s vote “ – a vote that would also let the millions of young people who were not able to vote last time have their say in their future.

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