Rees-Mogg and co do not want to confront the choices currently facing the PM, still less spell them out to the country. They just want freedom to complain that Brexit has been bodgedby Rafael Behr / January 31, 2018 / Leave a comment
All things considered, the most ardently eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party has been remarkably loyal to Theresa May. I doubt it feels that way inside No 10, of course. The Prime Minister is treated to Brexit demands from impatient backbenchers on a daily basis: no more compromises, no dilutions, sack Philip Hammond, wicked diluter-in-chief.The implicit threat is regicide. It takes 48 letters from Tory MPs to Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, to trigger a vote of no confidence in the leader. Once malcontents from other wings of the party are factored in, the hard Brexit ultras shouldn’t have much difficulty getting the numbers. The European Research Group (ERG), currently chaired by arch-eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg, has emerged as a disciplined phalanx within the parliamentary party. They can topple May if they want to. Do they want to?
Clearly not yet, since they haven’t done it. And yet the hardest Brexiteers shouldn’t need much more evidence that the PM’s instincts are different to theirs when it comes to Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. Yes, she did commit to departure from the single market and the customs union within months of taking office. She did promise a “clean break.” She did say many times that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” which emboldened those who believe that no deal—a sudden rupture and reliance on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules—is exactly the sort of thing that Britain should be gunning for.
But it has since become obvious that May has no intention of walking away from the negotiations; that she does not seriously countenance “no deal” and that her path forward is paved entirely with compromise. This was clear from the terms of the phase one agreement struck in December, allowing the EU to declare that “sufficient progress” had been made for talks to proceed towards transition and final status. There was a fair amount of fudge in that deal, especially on the Irish border question, but the trajectory towards incremental change and a very high degree of regulatory alignment for many years to come was unmissable. The ERG types who have dedicated years to obsessive, paranoid critique of EU arrangements can’t have missed it. Yet they did not rebel—not seriously.
Rees-Mogg warned about red lines turning…