— Jules Birch (@jules_birch) July 4, 2017
‘Due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.’ – Douglas Adams
That quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy probably best sums up the mess Theresa May and the Tory party finds themselves in due to Mrs May’s calamitous decision to call an early election and run the worst general election campaign in living memory, this article gives a very good account what that means going forward.
From the FT article there was a lot that stood and I recommend reading the entire piece but here’s two selected highlights.
Mrs May only survived the humiliation of last month’s snap election because Conservatives have decided that the alternatives to an enfeebled leader are even worse. On June 9 party grandees trooped into Downing Street to tell the emotional prime minister that she had a duty to party and country to stay.
Most Conservative MPs fear that if Mrs May is ousted, the party would face a leadership contest that would once again split it over Europe, this time between those favouring a soft or hard Brexit. There is no obvious frontrunner, the eventual winner would have no direct mandate from the British people and they might inherit a party in a state of nervous disintegration.
There would be a clamour for another election, which the leftwing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could win. Although Mr Corbyn is no fan of the EU, the Brexit process would be thrown into chaos.
“There is a general mood of seriousness and a sense that if we screw this up, a Marxist government steps into the breach,” says one senior Conservative MP. Another says: “The person holding the party together is Jeremy Corbyn. The fear of Corbyn is greater than any nuance in the Brexit negotiation.”
In place of paranoia has come a remarkable reappraisal of what exactly Brexit should mean. “There wasn’t really any debate before,” admits one minister. The only problem is that it comes a bit late in the day: Britain voted to leave the EU more than a year ago and the clock is ticking down to an exit in March 2019. “It would be nice to know exactly what we want from Brexit,” confided one government insider.
No senior minister has yet directly challenged the central tenets of Mrs May’s “hard Brexit” strategy set out in her January Lancaster House speech, which called for Britain to leave the single market, customs union and the jurisdiction of the European Court. But the soft Brexiters are starting to chip away at the edifice.
Mr Hammond is pressing for a long transition during which Britain would retain close ties to the EU, including remaining in the customs union. The Treasury is challenging Liam Fox, international trade secretary, to prove that the deals he hopes to secure when Britain eventually leaves the customs union more than offset an expected loss of trade with the EU. Mr Hammond is vehemently opposed to Mrs May’s threat — or bluff — that Britain could walk away with no deal at all.
Mr Davis, who is said by colleagues to be “more flexible than you think”, is exploring ways in which the ECJ might have a limited backstop role, allowing Britain to continue participating in European regulatory bodies, rather than recreating them at great expense at national level.