May failed. There was no surprise there. And, since she took command, she has no one to pass the buck to: this failure is hers to own.
That she failed is hardly a surprise. I was not alone in spelling out all the issues she faced, in Ireland both North and south; with the hard-right of the Tories, and with the Commission. It was obvious that the available positions were irreconcilable. What was staggering was that she had to take a phone call during the lunch that was supposed to seal the deal before that reality dawned on her. Most negotiators do their preparation a little better than that.
So what now? When historians look back they will, I suspect, treat yesterday as a significant moment. A UK prime minister could not deliver her stated foreign policy desire. Her government lies in tatters. With three issues to agree upon to deliver the policy she claims to be mandated to fulfil it is not clear she got close on any issue.
Even if a sum of money in settlement with the EU was agreed it is not clear that she would have got this past the Daily Mail.
There was no apparent agreement on the role of the ECJ post 2019, and yet it will clearly have one. This issue still appears insurmountable with the hard-right.
And for the first time in 800 years Ireland has the upper hand in international diplomacy with the UK, and is not relenting now.
Put like that, this is not just an impasse. This is instead outright failure. And this is not failure because of ‘events’ but failure because there had been an outright refusal on May’s part to recognise three key issues.
The first is that there is no mandate for hard Brexit. It was never on a ballot paper. People did not vote for it.
Second, there is no such thing as ‘the settled will of the people’. In democracy, in life, in negotiations, and most certainly in politics things change. And that was not altered by a referendum result.
Third, if you haven’t got a Commons majority and want to lead the country on a momentous issue then you have to build big alliances. A tawdry deal with the DUP does not count, and it’s failed May, badly.
So, what happens now? Given the fast moving nature of this issue prediction is a little hard but some things can, I think, be taken as given. The Irish, DUP, Tory hard-right and the Commission are not going to change their positions. They’re all clear as can be that they’re sticking where they are. I think we can presume that they all mean it.
So, in that case, all compromises have to be within these constraints. And given that it has to be recognised that there are three possible outcomes.
One is hard Brexit. That would be a win for a tiny minority in parliament and the country. It would be the consequnce of putting the priorities of ‘the bastard’ wing of the Tory party higher than the majority will of the people of this country. It may happen. But it would tear the country apart. I think the Union with Scotland would be the least price paid. Economic chaos would be the other. It is entirely possible that this might happen: Tories obediently trotting behind their leader aided and abetted by the DUP and a few Labour members in leave of their senses could deliver the greatest English foreign policy failure in nearly 1,000 years (for English it is).
The second is not leaving the EU. I actually can’t see that happening now. I do not think Labour has the courage to state the obvious and say that this was, all along, a terrible idea. Barry Gardiner clearly demonstrated the crassness of Labour’s position on this when saying it would take a two thirds majority in a referendum to now overturn the 2016 result.
Third, then, there is compromise to be had. We could leave the EU as the referendum demanded and stay in the customs union and Single Market. We could do a Norwegian deal. We could still try to negotiate. But after yesterday will the Commission do that? Why should they when it is apparent that Theresa May has no better command of the issues, or support to deliver a deal than David Davis? I am not sure they will.
My suspicion is that there is only one way forward. We either have a general election, for which no one is prepared, or there has to be a Grand Coalition. I am not sure how else the demands of the Tory hard-right and the DUP, that are intended to destroy wellbeing, can be shaken off and progress can be made.
The chance of such a Coalition is, however, remote. May could not lead it. And I doubt Tories would serve Corbyn. Angus Robertson is not in the House. So, what of Vince Cable, or better, Caroline Lucas? Is it just possible that the strangest of alliances could be created to deliver stable government now? But remember it too is no panacea. It could also be a centrist neoliberal alliance around Chuka Ummuna intended to keep the City in power in the UK.
Yesterday revealed the mess we’re in. It’s deep, real, and not at present readily soluble. Blame can be attributed later. The requirement now is for solutions. So maybe an election is the only viable one. But that costs vast amounts of time that is not available in the Article 50terms. And yet, precisely by eroding time available an election might require the compromises that are also necessary.
However it is looked at, Theresa May is now very obviously in office but not power. There is only one certainty: she has to go as a pre-condition of change. And an election may be the only way to deliver that change.