So yesterday most of the Conservative party found unity, by once again believing in a unicorn. The unicorn that the EU would allow the UK to unilaterally end the backstop. Of course a backstop that one side can end without that side being in the Customs Union and Single Market for goods is not a backstop at all. Alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border in Ireland did not exist when the UK was negotiating with the EU and they still do not exist. If you wanted an illustration of how stupid this country looks to those overseas here it is. If you want to see how implicated the right wing press is in this stupidity look at the headlines today: Mail - “Theresa’s Triumph”, Express - “She’s Done It”.
Why did the Prime Minister and her party indulge in this fantasy? Because it runs down the clock. May wants to run down the clock because she thinks, with good reason, that in the end parliament will vote for her deal. The ERG wants to run down the clock because it wants No Deal. What we saw yesterday was the willingness of the Prime Minister to look completely stupid over the next week or so banging her head against an EU brick wall just to avoid compromising on her red lines.
What was new and much more worrying about last night is that we learnt there was a new block in parliament. This block will vote to stop parliament doing anything to try and find an alternative to May’s deal. We already knew that the ERG and May’s block would do that, but they were short of a majority. They got a majority last night thanks to 14Labour MPs. If this continues, it will prevent parliament coming up with any alternative to May’s deal that can command a majority. That just leaves May’s deal and No Deal left as we approach 29th March.
But surely, you may be asking, how can May’s deal win when it was so decisively rejected last time? The ERG will continue to vote against it, because they want No Deal. But will Labour MPs and Tory rebels still vote against it if that inevitably means No Deal? I doubt it. Anyone voting against May’s Deal when it is the only alternative to No Deal would get blamed for the chaos of No Deal. Instead Labour will choose abstention, allowing May’s block to beat the ERG block and May’s deal to pass.
If this happens, no one comes out of this well. The ERG really do hate an all UK backstop. May will have her negotiating credibility torn to pieces before she has to do a trade deal with the EU, in a situation where the UK is once again fighting against the clock (the end of transition). Labour will have not voted against the deal they committed to voting against. But the institution that would lose most with this outcome is parliament itself. It had an opportunity to take control from a bankrupt government and it failed. While it is tempting to blame the 14 Labour MPs, the real problem is that the majority of Conservative MPs are prepared to seriously damage the economy, make the UK an international laughing stock and risk the chaos of No Deal just to preserve the unity of their deeply flawed party.