Why the Brexit deal will fail
And why everyone hates it
Do you hear that? That ugly splooshing sound is the melancholy, long, withdrawing roar of the British people's faith in their prime minister.
Theresa May's government lies in ruins following the announcement that she has reached a deal in principle with the European Union on terms for the United Kingdom's departure. On Thursday several of her ministers resigned, including Dominic Raab, the secretary responsible for overseeing Britain's departure from the European Union. More resignations are expected in the days to come. May has already received letters of no confidence from members of her party, including one from Jacob Rees-Mogg, arguably the most vocal supporter of the Brexit cause in Parliament. Further letters will follow soon; if that total reaches 48, a leadership election will be triggered, one which she almost certainly cannot win.
This was bound to happen. The Brexit negotiations and the referendum that produced them were a farce that everyone except the leaders of the Conservative party decided to take seriously. If the leadership of any of Britain's major political parties had their way on the eve of the referendum in June 2016, the United Kingdom would have voted to remain in the European Union. The referendum itself was never supposed to have taken place. It had been promised as part of a cynical ploy by David Cameron, the oleaginous Tory prime minister, in the event that Conservatives won an outright majority in the 2015 general election. Cameron did not expect, or want, his own party to win, and expected to form another coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats instead. If no meaningful action was taken on Europe, it was not going to be his fault; he could not go against his coalition partners on this important issue.
But things did not go his way. The Tories won their first majority since 1992 and Cameron was forced to keep his word, calling for a vote after a series of pointless grandstanding gestures. When the result was announced, he resigned. He was replaced not, as some diehard Leave voters hoped, by a seasoned Brexiteer but by his own home secretary, the mercurial May, who supported remaining in Europe while refusing to campaign for this position.
What May has done with her two years of office is worthy of her earlier political career. She has presented her country with a deal for which there is no constituency. For Tory Brexit supporters it does not go far enough; for Remainers in both parties it is objectionable on its face. But on all sides there is widespread agreement that if approved the deal would put Britain in the worst position imaginable. It would leave the United Kingdom in a kind of limbo, beholden to European laws and facing significant financial obligations to a body in whose deliberations it would no longer have any say. It would be exchanging membership in a supposed confederacy of nations for vassalage.
This is why the deal is almost certain to fail in Parliament. Conservatives are divided between Tory radicals like Rees-Mogg, who has opposed the European Union since he was in silk diapers, and middle-of-the-road City of London hacks, like the vast majority of the old Cameron government and its few allies on the backbenches. Labour is mostly united, at least when it comes to the question of how to vote, though factions within the party have their own reasons for opposing the deal. Some Blairite members of the opposition will vote no because they reject the idea of leaving the EU on any terms, good or bad; others, like the Old Labour stalwart Dennis Skinner, will vote no for reasons virtually identical to those of gin-soaked High Tory backbenchers. The alliance between the far right and the far left on the question of Europe is as old as the issue itself, stretching back to the days when Enoch Powell stood shoulder to shoulder with Michael Foot. Practically the only persons on whose support May can depend are a handful of toadies and bootlickers in her own party, bankers, financiers, devotees of conventional wisdom, and a handful of pragmatists who see her deal as a holding position from which a better deal might ultimately be secured. There are not enough of them.
May called last year's general election for the explicit purpose of shoring up the Conservative majority ahead of the Brexit negotiations. These negotiations, such as they were, have taken place. They have failed in every meaningful sense. Determined as she is to see things through, she will watch the bill get voted down and doubtless resign before a no-confidence vote is triggered. But she has already lost.