Everywhere you look in the British political landscape you see paralysis and disorder. This is not a favourable setting for the UK to exit the EU, with our weak leadership and a hopeless negotiating position.
At home the British cabinet is being held hostage by a relatively small group of hard right MPs including our own Jacob Rees Mogg and Liam Fox. The Brexiteers have a fanatical desire to leave the EU regardless of immediate consequence. For them a “no deal” Brexit is the fastest route to a political nirvana. They believe the sunny uplands are just around the corner. All Britain needs is a near death experience and we will arrive in a world where our unshackled country can resume its path back to its former greatness. So they are holding a political gun to the head of the prime minister.
In the Labour Party things aren’t all that much different. Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s cheerleaders, have from outside the party organised a coup and taken control of swathes of the party organisation. Their aim is to pull all the strings. No where is that more true than in Bristol.
The popular and unequivocally pro-EU MPs, Thangam Debbonaire and Darren Jones, are now hostages to their own constituency committees. It matters not that earlier this year they achieved great electoral success in their own right. Momentum has replaced all the long term officers, all the old hands, and is able to hold over Thangam and Darren the threat of deselection. This phenomenon is repeated all over the country.
This leaves a political centre rudderless and leaderless. Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry and those others outed by the right wing press find it impossible to tell the British electorate in unvarnished terms just how barmy and crazy Brexit is. They are afraid of the own parties their voters and worried about their political careers. The message they give on Brexit is a confused one. They say they respect the will of the people and think Brexit is a disaster but will enable our departure as long as we don’t leave the Single Market and Customs Union.
Given that most of the public would not lay claim to understanding just what the Single Market is, the so called mutineers are hardly sounding a rallying call to those of us who support our membership of the EU, including campaign groups like “Bristol for Europe “and the forty six other sister organisations in the cities and towns around the country.
The Lib Dems will argue that their position on Brexit is crystal clear. But for the moment few are listening to them. Similarly the Greens. That could change, but not yet.
Where there is weakness in the UK there is strength in the EU. The 27 nations are united and know they are in a position to dictate terms. The UK government has no chance of success anymore than a few years ago the Greek government had a chance of forcing the EU to back off in its demands for financial discipline when Syriza were attempting to renegotiate the terms of their debts. The former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has warned us. We cannot win. We stand as much chance of success as Sir Anthony Eden did with his vainglorious Suez war, where he was forced to back down by our powerful military partner, the US. Brexit has echoes of this dreadful excursion into colonial fantasy. Now we seek to go it alone from our powerful trading parter, the EU. We will fail.
Britain’s arrogance in believing it can bestride the world stage alone and without compromising its sovereignty is a folly. The belief by those on the right and some on the left that Britain can be different and special from everyone else can have only one outcome. We will fall flat on our face.
The Irish border question is insoluble. The instant creation of nearly sixty free trade agreements is impossible. As Sir Ivan Rogers, the former British ambassador to the EU, has said - to leave the EU would take at least ten years. The reality of international trade will bear down upon this Tory government. The Conservatives have always been the party of business, now it’s the home of zealots. This is not a sustainable position for the world’s oldest democratic party.
Making forecasts is a dangerous game. But the UK will not leave the EU. One way or another this flimsy government will fall and with it its mad dreams. We will be left to reflect on the damage this absurd episode in our political history has caused - heightened divisions in our society and international trust in our reliability and constancy harmed for a generation. And above all we will need to address the anger at our failure to care for the poor and the urgency to tackle our environmental responsibilities. I wish I could say there is a government in waiting ready to take on these challenges. There isn’t. But that’s another story.
An officer of Bristol for Europe