ABHI Membership

ABHI Brexit Update: The End of May

On Monday, we hosted a very agreeable dinner with our Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care, the increasingly impressive Baroness (Nicola) Blackwood. It helped, for me at least, that it was held at Shepherd’s, the Westminster institution noted for delivering comfort food to middle aged men. It was once jam-packed nightly with political types, many of whom lived above it in the Marsham Court mansion block. That type of activity seems to be less de rigueur as the make-up of the House has changed, politics has become more professional and expenses claims subject to greater scrutiny, although the Parliament channel plays silently when the place is open. The closest I have got to political spotting was seeing Peter Capaldi in there once, but he was definitely not in Malcolm Tucker mode.

During the dinner, one of our members asked me if I was missing Brexit. It was, presumably, a reference to the fact that there had been little reported on the subject in the previous days. Not that it made switching the news on a much happier experience. Climate change, trade wars, knife crime, the fact that half the species on the planet when we turned up are now extinct and will the wretched soccer season ever actually end? Usually when such silences occur it is not that absolutely nothing whatsoever is happening, quite the contrary. The perceived wisdom is that it is a sign that the protagonists are working diligently away from the spotlight to resolve whatever issue is on the table. In this case however, my interpretation is that absolutely nothing whatsoever is happening.

Talks between the two main Parties are now over. Any hope that did exist was effectively extinguished when Labour’s Brexit lead, Keir Starmer, announced that as many as 150 of his MPs would not support any deal that did not include a second referendum. That, I reckon, is that. More interesting was the fact that this practically ignored what seemed to be Jeremy Corbyn’s preferences. Indeed, where was Corbyn? Maybe he is being gallant and does not want to embarrass the lady. Rather than highlight the ineptitude of her leadership, he covers every wrong move with one of his own. I do not know how else to explain it. I think he has just lost interest and is longing to be back on his allotment contemplating events in Cuba and El Salvador. We should not be surprised that no agreement was reached, the Tories never wanted to get into bed with Labour, and Labour never wanted to bail the Tories out.

Speaking of leadership. Time is up for the PM. Her audience with the 1922 Committee ended, quite literally I understand, in tears. It had already been announced that she would bring her Bill back to Parliament in the first week of June, and she had already promised to stand down if it was passed. Nobody seems to think that is going to happen, but any plans she might have had to stick around subsequently have been scuppered. Yesterday the ‘22’s Chair, Sir Graham Brady, announced that that June’s vote will be her last hurrah whatever the result. After it they will discuss the timetable for her departure. No need to feel any sympathy. She put herself up for this, has confused stubbornness with strength and has failed in three years to make any significant progress which has cost us all a shed load of money.

This matters because of what happens next. And when it happens. Ordinarily the timetable would take care of itself from this juncture. Business as usual for the next few weeks, a contest over the summer and a new leader crowned at the Party Conference in late September. But, of course, there is nothing ordinary about the time in which we find ourselves. Not that you would know it from the lack of urgency being displayed (see above) but October 31st looms large, by which time we are supposed to have left the EU and be negotiating our future. It is as if we all collapsed in a heap after the relief of the Flextension and have found excuses not to do anything subsequently. First there was the Easter holidays, then there was the local election elections and now there are next week’s European elections. After that it will be the Peterborough by-election. It will be interesting to see how many potential Party leaders head up to support the Conservative candidate Paul Bristow. What will be more interesting, not that we will ever know, is what Bristow actually thinks about that. It reminds me somewhat of an exchange I had with Rudi Vis, the sitting Labour MP in Finchley and Golders Green during the 2005 campaign. It was the time when misgivings about Iraq were at their height. A combination of its proximity and being what is called a “key marginal,” meant that Government big guns were wheeled-up the Northern Line. Both Blair and Brown were there gripping and grinning, prompting children to burst into tears in the case of the latter. The advice to Rudi from his agent was “do not be seen with them.” Funny thing politics and who appeals to whom. A happy aside is that Rudi, who became a friend, got home by 300 votes. I put it down to the intervention of College Farm, rather than the Politburo. Like many such city projects, the farm was under threat and Rudi did much to protect it. Those that ran it took it upon themselves to remind voters by issuing hand printed bills and sticking them through letterboxes. It was the farm what won it I told Rudi over a beer in Strangers, pointing out that he had now won Margaret Thatcher’s old seat three times in a row. Heady times.

Not sure how to describe these times exactly. I think that the Tories will want to get on with it quickly, with May possibly out by the end of June, giving a new leader time to act decisively before October. A new leader often prompts a General Election, as it did with Mrs. May. Often, but not always. Last year, at a meeting in the US, I started my description of our journey to Brexit with the General Election that never was in 2008. Had Gordon Brown, a new leader without an election mandate, gone to the country then and won, as the polls suggested, few of us would now remember David Cameron.

I still maintain that we will not see an election before 2022. Neither of the main Parties will be keen following their performance in the local elections, and I imagine that this time next week I will be writing that the exit polls suggest they have been all but obliterated from the European Parliament. The Tories will also face accusations that they have been self-absorbed and indulgent in holding a leadership contest at a time when the future of our country should have been paramount. Now it is down to who and how that might change our position towards negotiations. It will not have escaped your attention that the Daily Telegraph’s £5,000 a week columnist has thrown his hat into the ring. The prospect of the free world being led by Johnson and Trump is too horrible to contemplate and I think Tory MPs know that. I do not expect Boris to make it onto the final ballot paper. You can take your pick from the rest of them.

So how are your Euro election preparations going. Planning an all-nighter next Thursday? I thought not. Will you even bother voting? Will they ever actually sit anyway? And is it me, or does Nigel Farage look nastier and more sinister now he is not getting it all his own way. And if you thought Change UK might have been the answer, you should read this.

Until the next time, we travel in hope.