The UK government and parliament are fast approaching another of those thankfully rare historical episodes that are either nation-affirming or hugely humiliating.
Will we witness our salvation of 1940, or our Suez of 1956?
It is being brought to us courtesy of a Prime Minister doing her utmost to become possibly the worst leader to enter the doors of Number 10 Downing Street – and that’s against some fairly stiff competition since Sir Robert Walpole first occupied it in 1735.
Brexit clearly no longer means Brexit, no matter what spin is put on the Chequers Agreement. It is not even a Soft Brexit. It has become a Soft Remain, and before the deadline of March 2019 it could very likely become a Hard Remain.
David Davis, Steve Baker, and Boris Johnson were right to resign their ministerial posts this week – and Maria Caulfield and Ben Bradley were right to join them. The tactical error is it did not happen back in December, when the Prime Minister debased herself by seeking a withdrawal agreement with the EU at all costs.
It is levelled that Brexiteers in the cabinet had no alternative plan. This is simply not true. Johnson had to remind the Prime Minister of her commitment to leave the Single Market ahead of last October’s Tory party conference, and, as the resignation letter of Davis explained, there have been many occasions when he proposed how negotiations should proceed, only for the Prime Minister to overrule him.
Looking back over the last 10 months, we can see how Davis was marginalised and ignored, leading to many missteps that culminated in the Chequers Agreement.
The responsibility for this rests in the conniving and duplicitous behaviour of the Prime Minister and her team of advisers.
The analysis provided by respected barrister and specialist in European law, Martin Howe QC, available online from Lawyers for Britain, demonstrates just how damaging Theresa May’s proposals will be.
Adopting a “common rulebook” for goods and foods is nothing short of accepting the entire body of EU law, and all the ECJ rulings that go with it. It means that the right to take back control so we can set our own standards is lost.
But worst of all, it means that we shall have a treaty that cannot be undone without great difficulty.
This is far worse than being a member of the EU, for at least members can leave by triggering Article 50. Leaving the EU only to then enter into this treaty means locking the UK into permanent vassal arrangement that under international law requires both parties to agree before it can be altered.
Once signed, there will be no appetite to return to the issue for the best part of at least 20 years.
And it gets worse, for the Chequers Agreement will only be the UK’s opening position. Make no mistake, it will be eroded much further. Michel Barnier has said as much, by stating publicly that he wants a settlement where remaining a member becomes the better choice – and May is taking us down that route.
Nor is it just about the Single Market, and its poverty-exporting customs union; the idea that we shall not be approached for regular top-ups of the £40bn sweetener we have offered is no longer believable. The notion that, with everything else lost, this abject government will find it possible to hold out against remaining in the Common Fisheries Policy is laughable.
Most damaging politically, the Prime Minister has conceded that special treatment for EU migrants will be considered – emasculating the idea of a migration policy based upon the skills we need, rather than the origin of entrants.
The Conservative loyalists – those loyal to the proclaimed will of the majority of the British people expressed in the referendum, and loyal to the party manifesto that honoured that result by advocating leaving the Single Market, customs union, and ECJ jurisdiction – have so far chosen not to bring down their leader.
That may be a fine calculation, but it can no longer be one which I would share.
A Prime Minister who obtains the blessing of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU to negotiate against her own cabinet ministers and elected members, and who courts the votes of Labour and even SNP MPs to get her agreement into law, is no longer worthy of office.
The only chance to prevent this catastrophe becoming another Suez is, like in 1940, to change Prime Minister – for in doing so a lesson will be learned that the British people are not to be so betrayed for the worthless cause of party unity.