DAN HODGES: Boris and Co should ask: Why IS Blair cheering us on?

DAN HODGES: Boris and Co should ask: Why IS Blair cheering us on?

December 8, 2018

DAN HODGES: Before Boris and Co vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal they should stop and ask: Why IS Blair cheering us on?

The DUP MP was very matter of fact in his description of the treachery. 

‘Oh, the Tory Remainers have been in constant touch. They’ve been encouraging us to keep going. They want us to help them vote down the deal.’ All the evidence suggests they are about to get their wish. 

‘We’ve been arriving every morning for a 7.30 strategy meeting,’ a Downing Street official tells me, ‘and every day it’s been the same. We’ve lost a few more MPs. At this point we’re supposed to be peeling off the rebels. Instead they’re peeling off our supporters.’

Prime Minister Theresa May held five days of debate over Brexit last week in Parliament, hoping to persuade MPs to vote for her deal. It could be voted down on Tuesday

Tuesday, the day the Commons votes on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, is being framed as the moment of her downfall. It could well be. 

But, much more significantly, it is also shaping up to be the moment of the Remainers’ greatest triumph.  

The instant the Commons formally begins the process of erasing the verdict of the British people, and calling a halt to Brexit.

That is not how committed Leavers see it, of course. They believe this is their finest hour. ‘We can’t give in to tyranny,’ one anti-Chequers rebel told me, ‘this is like 1939. We have to stand up to the EU. We can’t surrender.’

The hardcore Tory Brexiteers may not be surrendering. But they are falling into a trap – a brilliantly planned and executed trap by those they have complacently dismissed as the Remoaners.

 The former Labour leader Tony Blair said there is no point in just running head-on into a defeat and that he would pull the vote if he was still in No10

It was first laid before the celebratory champagne of June 23, 2016 had even grown warm. 

Gina Miller, a hitherto anonymous investment-fund manager, walked into the offices of London law firm Mishcon de Reya and asked it to prepare a legal challenge to Article 50. 

The House of Commons, not the Government, should have the final say on the course of Brexit, she argued.

Brexiteers decried her action as frivolous, attention-seeking. Then, incomprehensibly, they embraced her central argument. 

As recently as June, Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote: ‘Calls for MPs to have a ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit are nothing to do with parliamentary scrutiny; they are about stopping Brexit.’

And yet on Tuesday he will march through the No lobby to derail a Brexit deal in that self-same ‘meaningful’ vote. Meanwhile, the advocates of the self-styled People’s Vote are pinching themselves. ‘When we launched our campaign we were told it was pie in the sky,’ one MP told me. 

Gina Miller argued that the Commons, not the Government, should have the final say on Brexit

‘But we’ve had two major marches, a million signatures, and now we’ve got MPs from all parties saying, when her vote falls, they’re going to back a new referendum.’

Crucially, they have also secured the unwitting support of their opponents. 

The Remainers believed they would have to starve out the supporters of Brexit by delaying and frustrating the process until eventually the British people said: ‘We give up, leave things as they are.’

But not only are hardcore Brexiteers joining them in these wrecking tactics, they have also become the most vocal critics of all they once passionately championed. 

‘Staying would be better than the Brexit deal.’ ‘The Brexit deal will leave the British people even worse off than the status quo.’ 

These aren’t the arguments of Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry, but Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson.

And their arguments are hitting home – if not in the way they intended. ‘Next week we’re going to reach the tipping point,’ a Remainer MP predicted. ‘When May loses, we’re going from a second referendum being at best a 50:50 proposition to the most likely outcome.’

Theresa May speaks to the Commons in this week’s Parliamentary Question Time, ahead of the ‘meaningful vote’. On Tuesday the Commons will vote on her Brexit deal

Slowly and carefully the Remain chess pieces have been moved into place. Establishing the primacy of the parliamentarians over the people. 

Creating and embedding a narrative in which the reversal of Brexit becomes possible, then probable. And on Tuesday they intend to remove their opponents queen, and position themselves for checkmate.

For the past few weeks May has been alive to this danger. ‘It’s my deal, no deal or no Brexit,’ she has warned. And she is right. Because it is here the Brexiteers have made their most staggering blunder.

‘Reject May’s deal, and we can get a better one,’ they argue – playing right into the EU’s hands.

‘They don’t understand what they’re doing,’ a No 10 official raged. ‘They actually think if they hammer the PM by 100 votes the EU will roll over and give them what they want. The opposite will happen. If they kill the deal, the EU will be licking their lips.’

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Of course they will. As will their Remainer allies. They know that if May’s deal is scuppered, they can rebuff any demand for a harder Brexit – leaving only two options on the table. 

No Deal and No Brexit. And they know there is no way Parliament will countenance a No Deal Brexit. 

That was demonstrated by arch-Remainer Dominic Grieve’s amendment, which handed MPs a fresh meaningful vote on a Plan B if May’s deal is rejected.

‘That amendment was the Tory Party’s moderate wing putting the Brexiteers on notice,’ a Downing Street official explained to me. 

‘If the Brexiteers defeat the deal and bring the PM down, the moderates will go to war. They won’t stop until Rees-Mogg and his chums are crying into their cornflakes.’ 

They might well end up weeping into their cereal. The problem is, the rest of the country could end up joining them. On this the hardcore Brexiteers are right. 

As recently as June, Jacob Rees-Mogg wrote: ‘Calls for MPs to have a ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit are nothing to do with parliamentary scrutiny; they are about stopping Brexit’

If the will of the people as expressed in 2016 is reversed, the consequences are incalculable. 

The repudiation of a popular vote, which was itself a repudiation of the arrogance and aloofness of the political class, could lead us to catastrophe.

On the streets of Paris the protesters have been expressing their disgust in all politicians, and calling for the appointment of the former head of the military, General Pierre de Villiers. It is not impossible to imagine the Gilets Jaunes movement being transposed across the channel into the Gilets Rouges, Blancs et Bleus.

In the opening of the Brexit debate last week, there was a significant moment. Boris Johnson rose, and with characteristic panache, began to set about the Government’s deal. 

‘It has achieved an extraordinary thing,’ he proclaimed. ‘It has finally brought us together. Remainers and Leavers, myself and Tony Blair, we are united.’

They are indeed. Tony Blair is cheering Boris on. So is Gina Miller. And Peter Mandelson. And Alastair Campbell. Each and every Remainer is willing him to send Mrs May and her Government down to defeat. 

Before Boris and his colleagues walk through those division lobbies next Tuesday, perhaps they should take a moment to pause and ask themselves why.

Now Sir Humphrey tries to kill Brexit

It’s not just MPs rebelling against Mrs May’s Brexit deal. I understand Civil Service communications chiefs have pushed back on demands from Ministers to help promote Chequers on the grounds it is too ‘political’. 

The backlash has become so intense that Alex Aiken, Executive Director for Government Communications, has been forced to send formal guidance to all departments confirming the deal is official Government policy, and urging them to step up efforts to promote it in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote. 

According to one frustrated Minister: ‘Sir Humphrey is trying to kill off Brexit.’ Where’s Jim Hacker when you need him?

A Tory grandee tells me he and his wife were in bed on Thursday morning listening to Theresa May’s Today programme interview. 

“‘She was terrible,’ I said. At which point my wife turned to me and snapped, ‘No, she wasn’t, she was magnificent! You bloody politicians!”

Brexit really is dividing the Tory family. 

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