Scotland can do better than this shambles. Let’s leave the Tories to their parlour games and decide for ourselves what sort of country we are.
THIS column comes to you from Taipei. Taiwan is looking to win more allies in the EU, and I’m here for a three day trip, meeting the President and Ministers with a Foreign Affairs Committee delegation. Historically, Taiwan’s most important relationship is with the USA, but they’re increasingly looking towards the EU as troubles in the region move up a notch and we see dangerously unstable characters gambling recklessly as the world looks on agog.
First published in The National, 19 April 2017
Speaking of which, it was with a sinking heart I got off the plane to receive a text from the team “UK PM statement due 1800 your time, sounds big”. And indeed it was. For Mrs May to trigger Article 50 then call a snap UK election is beyond irresponsible. She is a past master in appearing strong, using strong language, proclaiming how strong she is, and then totally reversing her position. As recently as March 20 her spokesperson said: “There is no change in our position on an early general election. There is not going to be a general election.”
Clear, decisive, refreshingly frank. Except, now there is, because she’s seen her main chance and now, presumably, is not the time for consistency.
This will be the Brexit election. After all, Brexit has been about the internal politics of the Tory party from start to finish. Many of us remember John Major facing down the Brexit mob first time around, and fair play, the man has been principled and vocal since the EU referendum. In sharp contrast, David Cameron withdrew his Tories from the largest group in the European Parliament, the EPP, thereby shutting off a lot of support and goodwill, and promised a referendum to appease his backbenchers. His subsequent gamble and loss is a textbook example of hubris. Now Ukip members are joining the Tories in droves, what with the latter doing what the former could only dream about. The takeover is complete.
Well, almost. By calling this snap election, Prime Minister May has shown how weak she is within her own party. She has quietly conceded that she has no mandate for this hard Brexit. Her statement that “the people are uniting around Brexit, but Westminster is not” is patent nonsense. Look at any poll – people are in no sense united, and in fact most remain bemused at what is going on. Meanwhile, the legislation allowing her to activate Article 50 was passed through Westminster without a scratch.
Of course, by many measures May might have pulled a smart move. A 20-point lead in the UK polls is not to be sniffed at. Besides, the Brexit case is falling apart with every passing day, not because she’s in a weak position but because it is based on lies. If they don’t “silence the Remoaners for good” as one Tory MP put it, they’ll run the risk of being held to account so they’re taking their chance before the penny truly drops. The 27 other EU member states remain united, and they’re each supporting each other’s points.
Even over the weekend the hapless David Davis said he “does not accept” that two EU agencies will leave London, even though the EU has started the process of finding them new homes, in the EU. Presumably Mr Davis is preparing Global Britain’s bid to host the Sydney Opera House, Taj Mahal and Moonbase Alpha while he’s at it.
Even worse, the case on immigration has fallen apart. It’s a fact that we need more people. Immigration has been great for Scotland and great for the UK but the Brexit crowd can’t admit it. The mean spirited nastiness of “barista visas” tells us exactly where they’re coming from – people are welcome, for a while, but you’ll never be one of us and don’t get too comfortable.
English politics has realigned, and Mrs May needs an arithmetic in the Commons that will reflect that. She needs a majority that is definitively hers to command, because as Brexit unravels the Tory doubters will become more vocal and if she can win a solid majority their possible rebellion would be futile.
Then there’s the wider agenda, Brexit is just the gateway. The Great Repeal Bill is chilling in just how far they want to go. The Human Rights Act will be next, and the devolved settlements while they’re at it. They make no secret of the fact and after all, power devolved is power retained. Brexit Britain is looking like a small, bitter, mean little place, our representatives in the world little better than football hooligans wrecking the Plaza Major in Madrid last week.