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Cliff Edge Corbyn

We are on the brink of Corbyn. That is the central political effect of the general election result. Labour clearly believes this, and they will do everything possible to bring it about. This should concentrate the minds of every sensible being in the British Establishment.With this in mind, it is unsurprising that we Conservatives are now collecting ourselves, to sustain Mrs May’s administration for the indefinite future. Over the next few days, I expect we will win the votes on the Queen’s Speech, with the support of the DUP, whether or not there is a formal agreement. And then within the next few weeks, we will see the Second Reading vote on the Great Repeal Bill, and the vote on the all important timetable for the passage of the bill through the Commons. It was the inability of John Major’s government to obtain a “guillotine” to curtail debate on the Maastricht Treaty bill that so discredited the authority of his EU policy. I expect Mrs May will win all these votes quite easily. Unless the bill is unnecessarily long (it need only be a handful of clauses) it will complete its Commons stages in the autumn.The question of the longer term stability of the government depends upon “events” and on the DUP’s attitude towards the next Budget. There may be key votes on this in the Autumn as well. But nobody in the DUP wants a Corbyn government, so their minds will be focussed too.The challenge will be in the House of Lords. If the Lords fail to respect the mandate that the Commons has to press forward with Brexit, both this bill, and the other bills announced in the Queen’s Speech, then they will be courting the prospect of the kind of political meltdown we have not seen for a century or more. But there are many at the heart of the British Establishment, who are finding it so hard to accept that the nation has voted to leave the EU, and to take back control over our laws, borders, money and trade policy, that they are prepared to risk that, than admit they are wrong about Brexit.

There is so much tosh being talked about the difficulty and perils of leaving the EU. There is no “cliff edge” if the UK and the EU are able to conclude a half decent agreement about arrangements for our departure – and it is inevitable that we will. There is too much at stake of mutual interest to fail in this. Some people think that “no deal” means no customs facilitation agreements, no mutual recognition of product standards, no transition to separation of institutions like the Medicines agency, no new aviation services agreements. These need prompt no great difficulty, certainly nothing more than reaching the kind of arrangements that the EU has with a hundred or more third countries, with whom they do not have a formal trade agreement. Otherwise, the EU’s largest export market, the UK, would be at risk. “No deal is better than a bad deal” means the UK should be ready to trade on the same terms as the US does with the EU on WTO Most Favoured Nation terms, and when it comes to a long term comprehensive trade agreement, but you have to believe the EU is completely insane if you think that they will cut the telephone lines, ground all UK flights in and out of the EU, and insist on checking every mini exported to the EU at the border, to see if it does in fact meet the EU’s definition of “a car”.

The scaremongering reflects a very effective attempt by the unreconciled Remainers, who are determined to de-rail Brexit if they possibly can. We know who they are. They are the likes of Sir John Major, Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell. They are the big corporates, the City institutions, the US banks, and all the other vested interests represented by the CBI and the British Bankers Association. These are the people who wanted the UK to join the Euro. They brought you the financial crisis. Now they really believe they can overturn the substance of the referendum decision. One former Cabinet Secretary who worked under their aegis was heard reassuring a retired senior diplomat.”Don’t worry, the aim is to finish up with Brexit in name only.”

The fact that almost all the former civil servants in the Lords, including every single former Cabinet Secretary, voted against the Article 50 bill, underlines that Mrs May’s policy for leaving the EU is probably being undermined from within Whitehall with as much determination as from the House of Lords, though to be fair to Sir Jeremy Heywood, there is no sign he is part of the plot.

We need to be aware that there is such a plot – to thwart Brexit. They argue we must stay in the single market or the customs union, but the more concessions we demand on exit, the more likely it is that the EU will say, “no”. Perhaps when that happens, they hope we will all have second thoughts about leaving altogether. Alistair Campbell has really written, “Believe me, Brexit can be stopped.”

Their plot cannot possibly succeed for three reasons. First, if they press too hard, and topple the May government, they get Jeremy Corbyn. Some of them are beginning to realise that a Corbyn government will no more wish to keep the UK from leaving the EU than the Conservatives Just look at the Labour manifesto! And Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell voted against every EU treaty that they could, including the Single European Act, Maastricht and Lisbon.

Second, the Conservative Party will come to realise that survival, and a positive vision for leaving the EU, are indivisible. We got 42.5 per cent of the vote because UKIP voters believed the job would be finished by other parties, and and we united the Conservative Party in the country behind a policy to leave the EU. And Labour only prevented us from garnering more votes because their EU policy was indistinguishable from ours. This enabled them to prevent the EU being the central issue and to force us on to the defensive on the more traditional issues such as schools and the elderly.

The message could not be clearer: If the Conservatives turn back on the referendum result in any substantial way, the huge divisions that beset the party from Thatcher to Cameron will re-open, and we will become again unelectable.

Third, if there is a slow but steady ratting on the referendum result, it may not become immediately apparent, but the disillusion we have seen so far, that the voters have with their politicians, will be as nothing to what will come. The referendum vote was a cry for democracy and accountability, very much from those who feel their have no voice and have been ignored. To plot to overturn the greatest vote in our history for any single proposition or government is to court the kind of social and political unrest the like of which we have never seen.


Sir Bernard Jenkin MP

Sir Bernard Jenkin MP has been Member of Parliament since 1992, and represents Harwich and North Essex. He is Chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee and former Chair of  the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee (2010-19). For Politeia he was co-author of Britain and the EU: What must change (2015).

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