Richard North, 16/05/2019  

There is no logic in the current developments. Mrs May has already tried three times to get the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament and failed. With nothing fundamental having changed, there is every indication that she will fail again.

The Sun is even more certain than mere indication, reporting that the government faces "a catastrophic three-digit defeat". As well as the Tory rebels standing firm, leave-backing Labour MPs are also refusing to bail out the PM, with one telling The Sun that the PM "will be lucky to get 10 of us".

It could be argued that the prime minister can only pursue the line she is taking because she has completely run out of any other options. But with such an obviously flawed strategy, one has to ask what she hopes to gain. And there, there is no plausible explanation.

Certainly, to eke out another few weeks in office before she is finally forced to resign does not seem enough. But anything else is speculation and the more one digs, the wilder it gets. What is probably undisputable is that another major defeat will mean the end of the May premiership. It is hard to believe she could weather the almost total loss of authority that a major defeat would entail.

Nevertheless, trying to work out what is going on amounts to an exercise in advanced futility. But there is a view that we are dealing with an advanced degree of incompetence which goes under the description of "deranged complacency".

This, though, is focused on the electoral prospects of the Conservative Party, where the party hierarchy is discounting the threat from Farage's party. They believe that the voters will have their "fling" on the meaningless Euro-elections but will obediently come trotting back into the fold for the general election, when it really matters.

Such a scenario may or may not be true, but it's an argument born from experience. People are generally willing to take a punt on the Euros, but when it comes to choosing a government, wiser heads prevail. There is no way that Farage and his misbegotten group of allies could constitute a credible government and it is unlikely that they could prosper in a real contest.

Looking at the way the polls are panning out, it does rather seem to be the case that Farage is hurting the Tories more than Labour. With 20 percent of the vote spread evenly across the country, he will do little more than rob the Tories of marginal seats and hand them to either Labour or the Lib-Dems.

One serious possibility, therefore, is that Farage's intervention could hand victory to Corbyn, doing more damage than the polls would indicate. This would be a variation of the Ukip effect, where the votes lost to the interloper favour the second runner to the marginal Tories, who would otherwise have kept their seats.

But, assuming we are not going to see an early general election, this tells us nothing of what might happen to Brexit if Mrs May fails once more to get the Withdrawal Agreement ratified. We are still left with the three broad options: a no-deal Brexit, revocation of the Article 50 notification, or the launch of another referendum – although the timescale is probably too short for this option.

If we assume the failure of what is being cast as May's final card, the last-chance for MPs to vote for an orderly Brexit, then the pundits' favoured outcome seems to be a vacancy in Number 10 and a rapid leadership contest. That could even be concluded before the recess, giving a new prime minister the summer break to devise a new strategy.

That might mean the victor addressing conference to reveal all to the faithful and the nation, presumably having made soundings in Brussels to assess whether there is any slack that can be exploited.

The vibes we're getting at the moment is that the "colleagues" are not disposed to extend the Article 50 period beyond the end of October, and neither will they entertain reopening the negotiations. Whether they will be prepared to reconsider their stance with a new prime minister in post is an unknown. The response may even depend on who the Tories choose for their new leader.

Maybe it is an unlikely possibility, but the Tories could choose someone deemed to be a moderate in the eyes of Brussels. They could successfully negotiate more time for a referendum on the deal, with a pledge to be bound by the outcome.

However, there is still the possibility that Mrs May refuses the invitation to fall on her sword. With no obvious replacement waiting in the wings, and with the 1922 Committee having baulked at the prospect of changing the rules, there is no mechanism short of a vote of confidence in parliament that could depose her. Defying all odds, it could still be her presenting the case at the Tory conference.

Such an outcome seems far more likely than Corbyn pushing a vote of confidence and precipitating an election. It is not even apparent that he has anything to gain from an early election. In any event, there can't be a referendum over the summer, which means that nothing could happen until September. And the very last thing we need is an even bigger political vacuum than we already have.

Once again, therefore, we're facing unresolvable imponderables. Short of being a fly on the wall in Number 10, anyone's guess is as good as the next man's. The legacy media is all at sea, awash with speculation but with nothing of substance to offer.

If there is one certainty to come out of all this, it is that the result of the Euro-elections will be an irrelevance. The parliamentary vote will come just over a week afterwards but, unless it is posited that MPs will be bounced into voting for Mrs May's deal because of the Farage vote, the outcome will the same as it was always going to be.

Effectively, there will be no bankable leverage from the Euro-vote. In any case, if things run to form, it will only take weeks for Farage's group of newly-elected MEPs to disintegrate in recriminations and squabbles, rapidly dissipating any influence they might have had.

The main game, as always, will be played out in Brussels. In the event of the MPs failing to ratify the deal, it is up to the European Council to decide whether it wants to entertain a request from the UK government for another extension – if such a request is made. Until then, we must assume that every day that passes simply brings us closer to the 31 October and a no-deal exit.

A no-deal outcome is, of course, the preferred outcome for Farage, so some might regard this as a win-win for him - except that this was always on the cards. But what has barely, if at all been discussed, is what might happen if Farage gets his way and we do drop out of the EU at the end of October without a deal.

Given that we might still be looking at a general election in May 2022, that would mean that the country will go to the polls with nearly 30 months' experience of a no-deal relationship with the EU. If the adverse effects are anything like the predictions, there will be a very different mood in the land.

Potentially, what we might see is the country turning against those who have brought about the situation in which we then find ourselves. Far from being seen as the saviour, Farage might well be marked down as the author of our considerable misfortunes. By then, the effects of a no-deal will no longer be theoretical. They will be plain for all to see.

Farage's best, and possibly only chance of long-term fame and glory might be to fight a battle before the reality of what he advocates comes to pass. But he is not master of events and the opportunity he needs may not come to him in time.

On the other hand, both the main parties might be tainted by a no-deal outcome, affecting their electoral prospects. But it is a bit of a stretch positioning Farage as the man who will rescue us from the consequences of a no-deal when that is what he wanted in the first place. Crazier things have happened, but I don't think we're that crazy – yet.

If we are then faced with a situation where there is general disaffection with politics, that also takes in Labour, we must expect the Farage party also to be caught in the flak in any general election, as opposed to the Euros. Against all expectations, we could end up with a massive Lib-Dem resurgence, where they hold the balance of power.

It is a mistake, therefore, to focus too much – or at all – on the imponderables of a general election that may be some years away. The here and now is the battle for Brexit, and if the choice becomes one of no-deal or no Brexit, the dynamics may yet again change, adding strength to the "stop Brexit" campaign.

For the next week, though, it seems nothing is going to arrest the unstoppable march of the Farage party. But when the games are over and we lift the curtain again, the reality will be just the same. We'll be no further forward.

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