May’s attack on Blair shows strain is taking its toll

Daily Express
Theresa May SLAPS DOWN Tony Blair as he tries to rally Remain 'insurgency' against Brexit | Politics | News |

Daily ExpressTheresa May SLAPS DOWN Tony Blair as he tries to rally Remain ‘insurgency’ against Brexit | Politics | News |

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

Theresa May’s latest outburst against Tony Blair’s support for a further referendum on Brexit shows that the strain is really beginning to take its toll. Not surprising after a terrible week both in Westminster and Brussels; but deeply alarming in that it shows not a hint of new thinking in the predicament she finds herself in, just opportunistic lashing out.

Is John Major also guilty of an “insult to the office he once held”? He has, after all, called for a new referendum too. And Gordon Brown? Next we will be being urged to criticise Barack Obama when he opposes some of Donald Trump’s wilder policies. But of course Blair is a soft target because he is disliked by many Labour supporters who May is hoping will stem the shift towards that referendum.

What should the Prime Minister be doing at this stage? Well, first of all, she does need to recognise that she is not going to get out of the EU 27 the sort of legally binding qualifications to the Irish backstop in the Withdrawal Treaty which she needs if she is to have any hope of getting the backing of the DUP and of those 117 mutineers in her own ranks. Non-binding clarifications In bucket loads may be available, but nothing likely to vary the judgement of her own Attorney-General that there will be no way for the UK to unilaterally exit from the backstop once it has been triggered by failure to reach new trade arrangements which remove any requirement for new controls on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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So the present deal, however embellished with warm words, is not going to get through Parliament and be ratified. Further delay will not change that harsh reality; it will only increase the damage to British business and the economy as more resources are poured by the government and the private sector into “no deal“ contingency planning. It really is, therefore, time to weigh up Plan B options; time too for a calmer approach and less rigidity in outlook.

What are the options? Well, one is to switch horses and go for the so- called “Norway Plus“. But this comes with an obligation to maintain free movement and with a heavy budgetary contribution and membership of the customs union; and with exclusion from shaping the EU policies we would find ourselves having to apply. It is rather hard to see why this should be preferable to remaining a member.

The other main option, if one regards a no deal exit as unacceptably damaging – as most members of both Houses do so regard it – is to have a People’s Vote. That is now the only way the Prime Minister’s deal has any chance of being approved. It also offers the electorate a chance to express a view on Brexit now that they can actually see what it entails, rather than having it sold to them, as it was in 2016, by a bunch of fantasists who have been demonstrated as incapable of delivering what they promised.

An insult to democracy? Hardly.

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