Theresa May faced another potential crisis this week as she tried to paper over Tory divisions about Brexit.
The clock is ticking and at some point May will have to face down some section of her party. The present strategy of avoiding a decision cannot be maintained indefinitely.
The Financial Times newspaper, the voice of big business, is angry and gloomy.
It wrote last weekend, “If the government wishes to secure a withdrawal deal with the EU, it will have to change its approach.
“The current strategy of delay and obfuscation has failed.”
When giant corporations Airbus and BMW recently criticised the Tories’ approach, foreign secretary Boris Johnson replied at a private event, “Fuck business.”
Yet “business” and its profits are the main concern of the Tory party.
Senior government ministers were set to meet at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, on Friday.
May has said the government will then publish a White Paper setting out “in more detail what strong partnership the United Kingdom wants to see with the European Union in the future”.
But what that means is highly contested. Not only do the Tories have to persuade the European Union (EU) to do a deal, they have to agree what they want themselves.
The immediate issue is what customs arrangements there should be after Brexit. One side wants to effectively shadow the present arrangements—but that means accepting most of the present EU rules.
The other side wants to break from those rules. But that means customs checks that will inconvenience bosses and could mean a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
May apparently has a new and cunning plan. But nobody knows if it will work.
Last Saturday, it was revealed that environment secretary Michael Gove physically ripped up a report on May’s previously preferred option. He was said to have been “livid” because he felt the government document downplayed his objections to the proposal.
Nobody now bothers to pretend there’s unity among the Tories. Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg was accused by other MPs of trying to “blackmail” May after writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
He said that he and the Tory MPs he leads would reject a deal that did not lead to a clean break with the EU. He added that May risked “splitting the Conservative party” if she softened her “red lines”.
Foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan retorted, “Rees-Mogg’s insolence in lecturing and threatening PM is just too much. Risks debasing government, party, country and himself.
“PM must be given maximum latitude and backing.”
Another Tory MP, Simon Hoare also tweeted against Rees-Mogg—“The hectoring nonsense/blackmail has to stop and the reality of parliamentary arithmetic and the calamity of a Corbyn government woken up to.”
With the Tories in disarray it’s time to increase the resistance to them and to demand a Brexit that looks after workers, not bosses.