As the dust settles around number 10 and the rubble is cleared away from the corridors of the House of Commons the combatants come blinking and coughing into the daylight to find they are still here, nothing has changed – and yet everything is different. Nothing at Westminster will be quite the same again. The events of yesterday were of the type that means more, much more, has changed than immediately strikes the eye.
Mrs May is still the Prime Minister. In theory unchallengeable for 12 months. Her position bolstered by a vote of confidence she did not seek but in which she won more votes than garnered in the contest to become party leader. She has handily seen off an attempted coup and forced her Cabinet, indeed every Minister in her government, to reaffirm their loyalty to her and her policy. For a Minister to resign now would appear quixotic. Many expressions of respect and regard have been delivered in support of the Prime Minister. On she goes.
The corollary of this is that Mrs May is now in her final lap as Prime Minister. The end is in sight. Unwillingly and regretfully Mrs May was forced to concede the Conservative Party would need a new leader to fight the next General Election. Little noticed but important to note she also undertook not to call a snap General Election, giving up a key Prime Ministerial right. These are two mighty concessions.
In any sphere – business, civil service, the military, any organisation or institution – power flows to the strongest person in the organisation, whatever their title. Politics is all about winning, holding and retaining power. It is the ultimate and most brutal arena in which to compete, which is how it renews and refreshes itself so successfully. It is how as a society and as a country we progress. Our politicians slug it out at Westminster, so we do not see fighting on our streets.
As Prime Minister Mrs May retains a huge amount of institutional power and patronage, and it would be a great mistake now to underestimate her determination and ability to wield it. Any Prime Minister, politically strong or weak, remains always the most powerful person in the country. Now, however, the time that that institutional power can be exercised is limited. Already we see leadership campaigns raising money and building their organisations. This is where the focus of Westminster watchers and increasingly the nation will inexorably be drawn. Who is our next leader? It is an irresistibly powerful question.
Relieved of the need to worry about the next General Election it now remains for her to fulfil that one great challenge how to deliver in practical form the result of David Cameron’s ill conceived and lost referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. To achieve this the Prime Minister is going to have to work with the House of Commons to find a way through. Time is not on her side and it would be unwise to wait until the new year to start providing MPs with choices on which to vote. No matter how bullish or blasé some politicians and journalists bizarrely continue to be the continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the concomitant political instability is doing profound damage to the country.
Swiftly MPs views need to be tested on a range of options, including the new terms Mrs May will bring back from her discussions with EU colleagues. If as, seems likely, all these options are voted down, including her own revised deal, the Prime Minister is then left with two choices to put to the House of Commons. On a free vote MPs should then be asked to choose between: 1. a Brexit where no withdrawal agreement, that the EU will agree to and which MPs will approve, can be delivered is agreed. So a no deal Brexit. Or, 2. In the absence of an agreement Article 50 should be withdrawn pending further discussion and negotiation – with all the political rumble that that will cause.,
Barring any other resolution, which at this point I cannot foresee but which cannot be ruled out, this is where in the end we land up. There is no reason for this to be a long drawn out process now. Politicians have a duty and a responsibility to the nation to produce some answers, and the only way we are going to produce them is by MPs voting on a series of options until one is finally approved. Oliver Cromwell once said:
“The State, in choosing [people] to serve it, takes no notice of their opinions; if they be willing faithfully to serve it – that satisfies. I advised you formerly to bear with [people] of different minds from yourself…”
The House of Commons voted to approve the holding of the referendum. The House of Commons approved the triggering of Article 50. Now the House of Commons must embrace its duty and its responsibility and deliver a way forward. It dare not approve a second referendum because all that would say is that when push came to shove MPs were not up to the task of sorting out the nation’s business. It dare not fail to produce an answer to this question which our Sovereign Parliament itself put to us in that ill-conceived and crassly conducted referendum. Parliament should now sit every day voting on options until it reaches a conclusion. If it does not the British people may well conclude that other words of Oliver Cromwell are more suited to the occasion:
“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”