The Life and Woes Of A Conservative Government In The Grips Of A Fatal Case of Ineptitude
Europe has been ever since Margaret Thatcher stood defiantly at the despatch box and in her most commanding voice insisted that “..the lady is not for turning!” whilst at the same time squashing under her high heel, like some discarded cigarette butt, the idea of ever closer union with our EU partners; the very utterance of the word Europe was enough to send the Tories in to a state of open warfare. It was a subject that often pushed itself centre stage, requiring Prime Ministers to employ all of their tact to negotiate the balance of keeping their back-benchers happy, whilst time and again failing to curb what many saw as an organization so large and complex as to be unmanageable. Europe had become toxic, it was the new Tory taboo. Salacious sex scandals, questionable expenses claims and duck houses were so yesterday’s news. It was the bubbling tensions just below the surface that most sensible leaders did their best to avoid.
That was until David Cameron decided that the EU boil had at last got to be lanced. It was a gamble of immense proportions. He proposed that the country should decide the future of its membership of the EU by holding an advisory referendum. With what I feel was a genuine belief he told the British people that he was going to negotiate a better, different relationship with the EU: one that didn’t mean we had to adopt proposals that tied us in to ever closer political union; membership that allowed us at least some control over immigration; an end to the automatic entitlement to state benefits for those coming to live in the UK from within Europe; these were the lines that David Cameron drew in the sand. They were the very lines that with each one of his highly publicised tour of European leaders trying to drum up enthusiasm for his brave new World, that were washed away, much to the delight of Nigel Farage and the Brexiters, not to mention a large number of his own back-bench MP’s who were very sceptical of his negotiating success.
There was however, one very large assumption that underpinned everything that David Cameron and the Remainers held, which in the end turned out to be the kiss of death for Britain’s membership of the EU. They (as we now know, mistakenly) assumed that no matter what, people would vote for the status quo. No one liked change, and this change really was like jumping off a cliff in the pitch black of night, not knowing what was at the bottom. Even those campaigning whole-heartedly for Brexit never really believed they were likely to win! I have to say one of the most painful moments of television (and there were many) throughout the EU referendum was the moment Boris Johnson stood in front of the TV cameras on the morning of their victory. He had the look of a man who had turned up 10 minutes late to his own funeral. Having spent the first few frenetic days of the campaign leaning from one-side to the other, when he finally made his statement to the press announcing he would be campaigning for Brexit, he did so the passion and commitment he throws in to anything he does. It was a very solemn Boris Johnson that appeared on the morning after.
Unsurprisingly the decision to quit the EU hit the political establishment like an express train going full pelt. The whole nation took a deep breathe in, hardly able to comprehend the result. David Cameron did what he considered was the only decent thing and resigned, cleverly absenting himself from having to clear up the mess that he’d singularly created.
Since his departure, the Tory party has found itself a new leader, in the guise of Theresa May, the former Home Secretary and former Remainer was now handed the task of managing our exit from the European Union. I wonder at what point she realised that not only had her predecessor thoroughly believed that he would not lose the referendum, but that he was so certain (or perhaps concerned that doing so would have created a groundswell of support for Brexit) of winning, that he had ordered no preparatory work or planning for the event that the UK voted to leave.
The process thus far, if that term is even appropriate, as it implies at least some understanding of where we want to go and how, highlights gaping chasms that have grown up over the extent of our departure and the myriad of possible ways a new relationship should be built. In this void, we have a Prime Minister who argues that we
must now trust her completely not only in deciding on our future relationship, but on managing the process, with little if any oversight by Parliament. Her proposal of using the Royal Prerogative to kick start Article 50 meant that negotiations could go on behind closed doors. Rightly and courageously this has been questioned. With the High Court pronouncing that Parliament must be given an opportunity to vote on the outcome of the referendum. The Tory party will undoubtedly appeal this decision, but the courts must stand firm and continue to uphold Parliaments sovereignty.
However much our MP’s are criticised, often quite fairly, we must not forget that it is us in the end that they represent. We elect them to make the difficult decisions. It is them in whom we place our trust to take what is the best decision, not for themselves, or their political masters, but for each and everyone of us. Too often they fail in this task, but to take that right away would be to hand the executive a power that should not and must not be given up freely!