Theresa May's Brexit limbo endangers the Union
Sometimes, just as a sense check, it’s good to reflect on how others see us, and right now Europe is laughing.
The Tory Brexit shambles stutters on. And it is now abundantly clear after Theresa May’s latest hapless outing in Brussels, that when we leave the EU, on March 29th next year - and that is the only thing she seems sure of - it will be the most gratuitous act of national self-harm that any prime minister could inflict on its people in the disingenuous name of democracy.
Indeed, the only take-away from the EU summit that was previously billed as the historic moment when a deal would ultimately be sealed, was the cold one that May was forced to eat alone in her room while the other EU leaders went out on a pub crawl.
With just five months to go, there remains a fundamental sticking point - how to keep the border free and open between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
And the dilemma at the heart of May’s Brexit nightmare is, and has always been, the need to strike a deal with Europe that she could agree back home; with parliament, with her party and with the DUP, on whom her government relies. It is perhaps no surprise then that when she makes progress on one score, she loses on another. It’s a circle, she simply cannot square.
We now know though, that the EU27 have rejected her Chequers Plan. That’s gone. And the best that can be said of what she achieved last week was a potential extension on the transition period.
We are about to fall from the plane without a parachute and May has just asked if the fall could take a little longer!
The very idea that Britain would remain any longer within the EU; abiding by its rules, paying into its coffers and in the words of Jacob Rees-Mogg, be that vassal state, has prompted uproar among the Brexiters.
But worse, has brought May dissent on yet another front - the Scottish Tories.
Already angered by the prospect that there could be any deal in which Northern Ireland enjoyed a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, given the clear implications for Scotland, Ruth Davidson’s party has made clear on an extension, it would not countenance any delay to leaving the Common Fisheries Policy.
That’s not about ideology, it’s about political self-interest.
Davidson simply cannot go into the 2021 Scottish parliament elections campaigning against the SNP and a second independence referendum in which they would claim that the nationalists ‘would drag Scottish fishermen back into the CFP’, when her own party has already left them languishing there.
So, now the prime minister doesn’t just have the Northern Ireland MPs to appease, she has upset her Scottish contingent too. For a party that prides itself on upholding the Union, she is making a jolly good fist at tearing it apart.
And in this context, there was surely a rich irony in watching the leader of the SNP speak at an event in London urging the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party to adopt an approach aimed at unifying the whole of the UK over the EU, just 48-hours before Theresa May was struggling to get her own voice heard in Europe?