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Here’s Theresa May calling a snap election, annotated by a froth-mouthed remainiac

If you’ve just joined us, the prime minister over-riding the Fixed Terms Parliament Act to improve her own political prospects is accusing other people of treating politics as a game.

“I have just chaired a meeting of Cabinet where we agreed that the Government should call a general election to be held on the 8th June. I want to explain the reasons for that decision, what will happen next and the choice facing the British people when you come to vote in this election.”

Okay, strong start. I mean, I do wonder whether anyone around that table – Scotland secretary David Mundell, say (majority: 798) – may have been quietly wetting themselves that they were agreeing themselves out of a job, but nonetheless.

“Last summer after the country voted to leave the European Union, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership and since I became Prime Minister the Government has delivered precisely that.”

Yes, if you ignore the lack of certainty that comes from there being no plan for Brexit, the lack of stability that will come from crashing out of the Single Market, and the strong leadership that’s seen the Prime Minister threaten war against a confectionery firm – then yes, Theresa May has delivered precisely that.

“Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations.”

Write out 100 times “Britain has not left the Single Market yet”. On my desk by 9am, pls.

“We have also delivered on the mandate we were handed by the referendum result.”

I mean we’re still a member of the European Union and have no idea what leaving will look like, but, sure, whatever helps you sleep at night.

“Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back.”

Actually, legal advice on this is divided: if, in March 2019, Britain were to turn up at the European Commission’s door sobbing that it had made a terrible mistake and begging them to take us back, it’s very possible they would do just that, on the “prodigal son” principle.

So while there probably won’t be any turning back, it’s far from clear that there can’t be.

“And as we look to the future the Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe.”

Cool. Any chance you fancy telling us what that plan is, or...?

“ We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a UK that is free to chart its own way in the world. That means we will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders and we will be free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners all around the world.

“This is the right approach and it is in the national interest...”

Which nation? Scotland? Northern Ireland? The UK, which may well break apart? Which?

“...but the other political parties oppose it.”

I mean, they don’t though, do they? The SNP does, but so does Scotland, so fair enough. The LibDems do, but polls and by-elections both suggest they’re likely to see an increase in seats, so that’s an odd criticism too.

What May means here is that Labour opposes the Tories' plan. Which is weird because it doesn’t: most of the PLP voted cheerfully for May to trigger Article 50 and to hell with the consequences.

God knows I’d love it if Her Majesty’s Opposition thought that, on the biggest issue facing Britain in decades its role was to actually oppose the government, but it. Just. Doesn’t.

At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.”

Why should there be unity? Half the country voted against Brexit. What kind of representative democracy would it be if our political system just ignored them?

 “The country is coming together but Westminster is not.”

I am genuinely curious to know whether she believes this stuff. There is no evidence, at all, that the country is coming together: polls consistently show that around 40-45 per cent back Brexit, a very slightly smaller group oppose it, and the rest don’t know.

Sooooooo... does May really think that the Recidivist Remainers don’t exist? Does she think they are so small in number they can be ignored? Or is this a cynical attempt to de-legitimise the views of two whole fifths of the population by pretending they’re a tiny left-wing elite who can therefore be safely ignored?

Rhetorical question.

“In recent weeks Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union...”

It’s a parliamentary system, prime minister. It’s your job to get a deal so good they can’t.

“...the Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill, the SNP say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union and unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.”

This is probably the most sinister paragraph in the entire speech. Even if the most extreme of the polls are correct, the Conservatives are unlikely to get over about 43 per cent of the vote. The idea they would get a majority of the popular vote is for the birds.

Yet the prime minister is unsubtly trying to imply that any opposition at all to her executive fiat is somehow illegitimate. This despite the fact that “Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition” has been a recognised feature of the British constitution for nearly 200 years.

Why does Theresa May hate Britain so much? Why does she not share our values? You may well ask.

“Our opponents believe because the Government’s majority is so small that our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course.”

As, to be fair, do half your backbenchers. And we all know which group you’re really frightened of.

“They are wrong, they underestimate our determination to get the job done nd I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government’s negotiating position in Europe.”

By not handing the prime minister a blank cheque, you are hurting hard-working families, you monster.  

“If we do not hold a General Election now their political gameplaying will continue and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.”

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand there we are.

On the timetable currently envisioned, the UK will leave the European Union at the end of March 2019.  In other words, Theresa May could be taking the country out of the single market without a deal, leaving lorries to queue up for customs checks on the M2, just 13 months before the deadline for the next general election.

In other words: this may well be the high water mark of the Tories’ polling. Better to hold an election now, before we all realise how bad things are going to get, and pray that somehow this mess has been sorted out once again by June 2022. Could happen.

“Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.”

Does she think she’s going to get every seat? Does she imagine that opposition will magically stop?

So we need a general election and we need one now because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.

“I have only recently and reluctantly come this conclusion.”

This would explain why you kept saying you weren’t going to hold an election, certainly.

“ Since I became Prime Minister I have said there should be no election until 2020 but now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.

“And so tomorrow I will move a motion in the House of Commons calling for a general election to be held on the 8th June. That motion, as set out by the Fixed Term Parliament Act, will require a two thirds majority of the House of Commons.

“So I have a simple challenge to the opposition parties. You have criticised the government’s vision for Brexit...”

No, they’ve criticised your lack of one.

“ have challenged our objectives...”

What are they?

“... you have threatened to block the legislation we put before Parliament.”


“This is your moment to show you mean it, to show you are not opposing the Government for the sake of it, to show that you do not treat politics as a game.”

If you’ve just joined us, the prime minister over-riding the Fixed Terms Parliament Act to improve her own political prospects is accusing other people of treating politics as a game.

“Let us tomorrow vote for an election, let us put forward our plans for Brexit and our alternative programmes for government and then let the people decide. And the decision facing the country will be all about leadership. It will be a choice between strong and stable leadership in the national interest, with me as your Prime Minister, or weak and unstable coalition government led by Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, who want to re-open the divisions of the referendum, and Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.”

Now what does this remind me of?

“Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done.”

The Lib Dems should stick this on a poster.

“ Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union. Every vote for the Conservatives will mean we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future.

“It was with reluctance that I deided the country needs this election but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond. So tomorrow, let the House of Commons vote for an election, let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for government and let us remove the risk of uncertainty and instability and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands.”

Sometime in the 17th century, Louis XIV is said to have told a gathering in Paris, “L’etat, c’est moi” – I am the nation. Whether he ever actually uttered that phrase is disputed, but it sums up his unshakeable belief in the divine right of kings – that there was no difference between the interests of France and those of himself.

Well: today we learned that Theresa May feels exactly the same. To convince the world she has brought Britain together, she must find a way of dismissing those who disagree with as somehow illegitimate. Opposing her is opposing Britain. Voting for anyone but the Tories is thus unpatriotic.

I wouldn’t mind so much, except she’s going to win in a landslide.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.