It may be a bizarre piece of PR advice (or control), but Theresa May increasingly resembles Lou Beale in press photographs. And yet she lacks the ‘loveable’ old Eastenders matriarch’s control and dominant personality. The High Court result last week was not a huge surprise, but how clueless it made the Prime Minister appear, was.
To recap, a legal challenge had been made to Theresa May’s use of the arcane Royal Prerogative to circumvent Westminster from making the decision as to whether or not to trigger Article 50 and the ensuing two year sprint to leave the EU. The legal appeal was successful, in the eyes of the three High Court Judges (subsequently labelled ‘enemies of the people’ in the Daily Mail headline the next day) because parliament is sovereign (note the distinct difference that ‘The People’ are sovereign in Scotland), and the rights of people living in the UK could not be changed without the permission of parliament. This means that, rather than parliament only voting on the package negotiated by the Conservative Government, parliament now has to decide whether or not to enact Article 50 on the basis of an advisory referendum at all.
Suddenly the Westminster government is even more on the back foot than it looked before, with their own pet anti-Christ Farage promising a Second Coming if there is a ‘betrayal’ of the ‘Full English BrExit’ vote, the cabinet scrabbling to still look credible while promising to appeal the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court. And, you know, if that fails, the Conservative Government still have one place that they can turn to, in order to get permission to leave the EU without looking to Parliament: that’s right – the European Court. Ah, anybody smell the scent of irony, lightly lying on the air around the cooling last autumn barbecue of 2016? A ‘Leave’ campaign stridently proclaiming their outrage at EU legislators passing ‘insane laws’ overruling ‘our own sensible law courts’, then coming in supplication to that same European Court to ask permission to overrule those same courts decision on the most insane legislation of all – the determined act of self-harm that is the UK leaving the EU (with or without parliamentary scrutiny).
From Supreme Court to supreme irony. Bravo, for ‘taking back our courts’, people. You’re doing a fine job of building confidence, winning the Peace after the vote, and showing everyone how in control you are.
Theresa must have thought she was playing a winning hand, taking the UKIP extreme position on BrExit, and thus removing UKIP’s constituency. UKIP representatives in punch-ups, declaring the party was ungovernable without Farage…’May the Farce be with UKIP’, Theresa must have hoped, and it certainly looked as though she had seen off the biggest threat to Conservative seats. But now suddenly the prospect looms of Westminster having to debate enacting Article 50 – and all the potential damage that entails.
Nothing is as important to the Conservative Party, as their own divisions over Europe. So, although theoretically if the party whip is brought out, the majority government should still win. But traditionally the Conservatives are SO split on the issue, that that is far from certain: the resignation of Stephen Phillips, the incumbent MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham directly following the High Court decision is only the top of the iceberg – especially when you consider he was pro-Leave. Again, I say nothing is as important to the Conservative Party, as their own divisions over Europe, and they have a wide spectrum of positions on that subject – so much so that it is hard to know whether they would vote for something that is not their preferred flavour, but hold out for a revised version, or ‘hold the nose’ as the division bell rings. A subject so close to their hearts…yet wanting (one would presume?) to appear ‘listening’ to their constituents opinions for the purpose of reelection – a heady and toxic brew of conflicts indeed.
This, surely, is what May was wanting to avoid: she knows the issue could rend the Conservative Party asunder, rather than emasculating UKIP, as she had hoped. So, it will be interesting to see how the Conservative MPs vote – no matter how bullishly loyalty is demanded, there will be dissenters, and in significant numbers. That means support from other parties will be required to get parliament approval.
The Labour Party split, one might have thought, would be hard to calculate, given their ambiguous role in the EU Referendum campaign. But then Jeremy Corbyn came out critical of the government’s position, and straightaway with sad predictability the majority of Labour MPs declared they would be unquestioningly supporting the government – just to be contrary to poor old Jeremy. sigh. Extinction beckons…
And what of Scotland’s MPs? Well, the Unionist Scottish MPs – all 3 of them: the Liar, the Fool and the Puppet – will vote as irrelevantly as their numbers suggest. But what of the oh-so-Machiavellian (that’s shorthand for ‘being prepared’) SNP? It has been a long journey from the position they had just prior to last year’s General Election, when they appeared poised to conditionally open the door of 10 Downing Street to Ed Milliband, to now, cast as gatekeepers again (in the absence of any other actual parliamentary opposition in Westminster) but this time for a softened BrExit? How times change. But what concessions might the block of over 50 SNP MPs win, in exchange for their deciding votes on an Art8icle 50 package brought by the Conservatives? What deals could the SNP broker, in return for their vote for Article 50, without seeming to be undemocratic? The SNP have thus far striven to be the party acting ‘above board’, campaigning for a Remain vote for the good of the whole of the UK, and it would be tough to maintain that current public stock of integrity, if they are seen to be subsequently attaching conditions for Scotland while supporting England cancelling its (sub)membership of the EU.
In terms of Scottish independence, if Article 50 is stopped, then that removes the immediate threat which opens the door for the second referendum. So – although the government will no doubt appeal the High Court’s decision – it all comes down to whether May can get enough of her MPs to vote for enacting Article 50 or not. That’s still a big question – if her party thinks she is weak, she could have a revolt – but anyone doing so could be accused of not respecting England’s vote in the referendum, which could be political suicide for anyone going against her. The way that it will go, probably comes down to just how much control Theresa May actually has over her party – and to what extent she is exactly what she has appeared to be: a directionless puppet who has wed herself to carrying out UKIP’s policy, in the disguise of ‘people’s democratic champion’. Or does Lou Beale’s bullish resolve and cunning lie beneath her Lou Beale exterior?
One thing is for sure – if her fellow Conservatives smell a hint of weakness that she might not win the vote, it will be like blood to a pack of hunting dogs, and she will be consigned to history more quickly than Thatcher’s premiereship was by Geoffrey Howe.
Let’s see, shall we?
“When it comes to the vote, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru will likely be against and you would think the Liberals would too, but they have a propensity to get big decisions wrong. The SNP can say Scotland voted Remain and so we will. Plaid and the Greens can stand on principle and the Tories will call for party unity to respect the Leave vote. Tory rebels will vote against in small but significant numbers, which will be important as that means Labour MPs will be needed to vote Brexit through and, given their leadership’s inability to campaign for Remain, it will be interesting to see how many Labour MPs decide to back the Government. If the Westminster parliament was to block Article 50, it would be akin to bringing UKIP back from the dead, there would be a UK democratic meltdown and widespread calls for Scotland to be thrown out of the UK. UKIP will have at least 45 per cent of the vote to play with and that is why Theresa May is going for a hard Brexit: she can’t be seen to be soft on immigration and risk splitting her own party in the face of potential Labour or UKIP revivals.” (Gordon Macintyre-Kemp, 4/11/2016)