Welcome to the s**tshow. We wouldn’t usually use such intemperate language in TWFW, but the English language offers no finer phrase to describe events in Westminster in recent days. “Difficult days lie ahead,” declared the Prime Minister when she unveiled her Brexit deal on Wednesday night. Well at least she got one thing right this week. Because almost from the moment of publication, the proposal was attacked on both sides. Whether a Brexiteer or a Remainer, it is hard to find anyone in Westminster with good words to say about this plan for our future relationship with the EU.
And yet, where are the counter-proposals from those who criticise the PM? What is the Brexiteers’ alternative plan? They too say they don’t want a border on the island of Ireland, nor down the Irish Sea, but nearly 2½ years on from that referendum, they are yet to produce any sort of plan for how that might be achieved without the sort of messy compromise put forward by Theresa May. Instead, they seem to believe that they can wish these problems away. But hope is not a strategy, still less a plan.
So where do we go next? Theresa May’s plan is to spend the next few weeks offering a stark choice of no deal, remain or her deal – hoping that faced with two unpalatable choices her party will fall into line behind her after all. She’s already lost the 10 votes of the DUP though, so she’d also need scores of Labour MPs to come to her aid in the vote for that plan to work. It already looks impossible.
Besides, it looks increasingly unlikely that she’ll even make it as far as a Parliamentary vote on the deal without a formal leadership challenge from within her own party. In Westminster, expectation is widespread that the angry Brexiteers will commence the ‘no confidence’ process against her in the coming days, with the goal of deposing her before the Commons vote. For months they’ve dithered on the decision on when to launch this process, uncertain as to whether it would ultimately be successful and lacking agreement on who they would support in the leadership contest that would follow. But now the risk of Theresa May staying (and, they fear, doing a deal with Labour to stitch them up) is just too great. If Theresa May is ever to face that no confidence process, it will surely begin in the coming days.
As for where all of this leaves businesses and citizens trying to plan life after 29 March, there is only one honest answer. No-one knows. We’re through the looking glass here. All options, from the most mundane to the most extreme, remain possible. And as day succeeds day, the chances of a sensible, orderly, pragmatic departure from the European Union recede. We strongly advise ending the week with a stiff drink.