Colette Browne: ‘British politicians have led their people to the cliff edge. Soon, the only option available to them will be to jump’

Mark Francois. Photo: Kirsty O’Connor/PA
Mark Francois. Photo: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

If the current state of British politics were personified, its exemplar would be Tory MP Mark Francois – gobby, cocksure and dense.

Once part of the lunatic fringe of the Conservatives, Mr Francois has hogged the limelight in recent months by making a series of belligerent and self-aggrandising statements.

Most recently, he launched a tirade against Chancellor Phillip Hammond, telling him “up yours” during one of his more measured radio interviews.

Also keen on comparing Brexit to World War II, Mr Francois has burned a letter from a German businessman on live TV to demonstrate “he will not be bullied” and vowed he would never surrender as he “was in the army” and “wasn’t trained to lose”.

In reality, he spent a few years in the territorial army in the 1980s and would be as much use in a real war as a fart in a tank.

It was once possible to ignore people like Mr Francois and write them off as useful idiots, but the malaise that he embodies has spread like a virus throughout his party.

At the weekend, 170 Tory MPs, including 10 cabinet ministers, sent a letter to Theresa May demanding Britain leave the EU on April 12 or soon after, with no deal if necessary.

They have done this despite a succession of catastrophic warnings about the impact of a no-deal outcome on the British economy and society – not to mention the collateral damage that would be wreaked on countries all over Europe.

The latest of those grim forecasts came from the most senior civil servant in the British government, Mark Sedwill, on Monday.

In a letter to the cabinet, he warned national security would be imperilled and the stability of the union would be threatened; companies that trade with the EU would collapse and the government would come under huge pressure to bail out struggling businesses; food prices would increase by 10pc with bigger increases for fresh produce; and direct rule would have to be reintroduced in Northern Ireland.

The current situation in Northern Ireland is particularly perilous as, due to the lengthy suspension of Stormont, there has been zero planning for a no-deal scenario.

Not that any of this matters to members of the Conservative parliamentary party, more than half of whom are willing to light the fuse of a bomb that will detonate the British economy.

Mrs May has been criticised for kowtowing to the most virulently Eurosceptic wing of her party, but the truth is there has been a coup and that faction has now assumed control of the Conservatives.

On Monday night, after parliament again failed to give majority support to any alternative to Mrs May’s deal, former Tory minister Nick Boles, who had advocated a Norway-plus single market option, finally admitted defeat.

He dramatically resigned after the result of the vote was announced, stating he “had given everything in an attempt to find a compromise” and had failed “chiefly because my party refuses to compromise”.

He is right. Parliament has been unable to find a path out of this mess because the vast majority of Tory MPs will not budge an inch from their preferred options – Mrs May’s deal or bust.

There was almost no support among Conservatives for the alternatives that were put to the House of Commons on Monday night.

Just 37 of their MPs voted for a customs union, 33 voted for Norway-plus, 15 voted for a second referendum, while just 10 supported revoking Article 50 in circumstances where the only other option was no deal.

In total, 228 Tory MPs and 10 DUP MPs voted against every single alternative that was available to them. Those figures are stark. A maximum of just 11pc of Tory MPs were willing to countenance a compromise that could save the country from its Brexit madness.

This intransigence is not principled. Conservative MPs are petrified of softening their position for entirely selfish reasons. The national interest comes a distant second to their own careers.

They are worried if they were to support a softer Brexit they would suffer a fate similar to that of moderate MP Dominic Grieve, who was deselected by his local constituency association on Friday for the crime of advocating against no deal.

The tragedy of the British position is that even now, nine days before the Brexit deadline, they are not negotiating with Europe. They are too busy fighting among each other.

Since Mrs May announced her intention to resign after this stage of the Brexit process is completed, senior cabinet members have appeared more interested in jockeying for position than finding a solution to the impasse.

One of those pretenders to the crown, Liz Truss, gave an interview to the BBC on Monday in which she refused to accept the need to compromise, insisted the UK was ready for no deal and stated her preference was for the Withdrawal Agreement to be renegotiated – despite the EU repeatedly stating this was not possible.

Essentially, her pitch was to mimic exactly what Theresa May has been doing and saying for two years – while remaining supremely confident of achieving a different result.

With delusional public pronouncements like this from ministers, is it any wonder patience with Britain’s warring politicians is rapidly evaporating across Europe?

What is all of this drama and high dungeon for? Even if people like Mr Francois get their dream of a no-deal Brexit, that result is not a final destination on their journey out of the EU.

If Britain crashes out, its politicians will eventually have to try to agree a deal with the EU – except they will be doing so from a position that is immeasurably weaker than their current beleaguered one.

When they do, they will face the same landmines that went off during the current talks – the question of the Irish Border, trade and the divorce bill. There is no escaping these issues. They will have to be addressed.

If the British were hoping that Ireland would be sacrificed on the altar of their Brexit ambitions, they were wrong. French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday again confirmed the EU “will never abandon Ireland or the Irish people, no matter what”.

With 27 disparate EU countries managing to maintain a more coherent stance throughout these negotiations than the British themselves, the prospect of a positive outcome is looking more and more remote.

British politicians have led their people to the cliff edge. Unless something drastic happens soon, the only option available to them will be to jump.

Irish Independent


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