Shocked as I am to say it, there does appear to be an establishment conspiracy against Brexit

Shocked as I am to say it, there does appear to be an establishment conspiracy against Brexit

Some months ago during a meeting of the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents – which I sometimes attend as a substitute for EFDD Group Leader Nigel Farage – there was a report back on Brexit talks by the Parliament’s Brexit steering group.

One member hinted that keeping open routes to get the UK back into the European Union had been made a very high priority by both the EU and UK sides in the talks. At the time (pre-Chequers), I thought this to be something of a long shot. But it lodged in my mind nonetheless.

Then I heard something similar just two weeks ago from another senior EU source. This time the wording was more explicit and the concept far more developed. The plan was to get the UK back into full EU membership in time for the European Parliamentary elections of 2024, meaning we would have only technically been outside for one term, 2019-2024.

Further comments suggested that a “purgatory backstop” would be used to persuade the UK to reapply for membership rather than languish in the equivalent of EU solitary confinement on a diet of bread and water. Far from having left the prison, we would have to beg to go back on the wing and probably only get accepted on inferior terms – no budget rebate, fewer national vetoes – and possibly an undertaking to be absorbed into the euro and Schengen in due course too.

Our fate would also serve as a perfect example to other troublesome member states – especially Italy and the smaller countries of central Europe – as to what would unfold when a country challenged the writ of Brussels.

Now, in general, I do not go a bundle on conspiracy theories. I am not one to blame unexpected political developments on Bilderberg Group meetings or the like. But when the issue at stake is as momentous as the future path of the United Kingdom within the international order and when a tightly-knit establishment is of one mind and yet a majority voted the opposite way, then means, motive and opportunity all point to the possibility of an organised and sophisticated subversion of the wishes of the people.

When someone as calm, analytical, well-connected and balanced as Michael Portillo declares, as he has, that there has been a conspiracy against Brexit then one’s mind is certainly opened up to that possibility. The constant stream of pro-EU British politicians who have been over to Brussels for unofficial private talks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier merely strengthens the suspicion.

And further developments in recent days have convinced me that there is now a private understanding between leading figures in the UK political and civil service establishment on the one hand and the Brussels elite on the other that a preferred pathway to the UK rejoining is now in place.

A key moment came when Barnier raised at the weekend the prospect of an extension to the so-called “transition period” during which Britain sits as a de facto EU state – subject to all the controls and policies of the EU but without political representation – until the end of December 2022. That would mean moving into the indefinite backstop, with no unilateral right to leave it, at the start of 2023.

This timing is key because it will mean the relationship between the UK and the EU will not have been settled and will dominate a British general election that must take place by the middle of 2022. In such an election, the leading pro-EU force, the Labour Party, could blame the failure to enact Brexit and the looming purgatory of the backstop fairly and squarely on the Conservatives.

What would be more natural than for it to offer a new referendum to the British people within the first year: shall we settle into the backstop as a vassal state or rejoin the EU as a full member? In such a Hobson’s Choice referendum I doubt I would vote at all. But even I could see the logic of preferring to rejoin the EU – which a country theoretically has the right to leave – rather than being stuck in the humiliating backstop with no way out.

Up until the publication of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, I had always thought that one secure advantage even of Brexit In Name Only would be that pro-EU forces would have to switch from being Remainers to Rejoiners – and that given only zealots would wish to reopen this can of worms anytime soon, they would find that a very hard sell.

And yet the Remainer Theresa May has managed to create an attainable path for them by making her own version of Brexit so appalling that even Brexiteers are saying being in the EU is better.

And what serviceable proposition could the Tories put in their own manifesto at the next election to compete for votes on this dominant issue? On the working assumption that May has been succeeded either by another figure who campaigned for Remain in 2016 or a lukewarm Leaver, there is every chance that the Conservatives too would support giving the public an “emergency brake” on the Brexit process in a new referendum. After all, they would be able to point out that the referendum mandate was now six years old and that a lot of water had flowed under the political bridge since then.

What the Tories will certainly not be able to do is promise to take the UK out of the backstop and out of the customs union and into a future of new dynamic trade deals with the sunrise parts of the global economy. They will have precluded that possibility via their own undertakings to the EU during the present Parliament. They will have locked our country into a legally-enforceable trap and could only promise a credible way out of it with the goodwill and support of the European Commission and other EU institutions. And the only way the EU will ever allow us out is if we rejoin.

As Sabine Weyand – Mr Barnier’s German deputy – recently told reporters, the withdrawal agreement hands the EU sufficient leverage to ensure the UK remains in permanent high alignment with it.

So as the House of Commons’ “meaningful vote” on Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement draws near, it is clearer than ever that nobody who is sincere about supporting Brexit should have anything to do with her plan.

It will inexorably lead not to taking back control, but to a further diminution of UK national sovereignty, below the eight per cent voting weight we have in the Council of Ministers or the 10 per cent in the European Parliament to zero per cent in transition and then in the backstop.

And if we rejoin instead, we will be going back to an EU that is pushing ahead fast with setting up its own army and will have abolished more national vetoes thanks to powers that Jean-Claude Juncker has referred to as unused “treasure of the Lisbon Treaty”.

That a British Prime Minister could have played a central role in locking the UK onto such a path after having stood at the general election on a down-the-line Brexit manifesto is profoundly shocking. Her culpability is complete. Remember she went behind the backs of two successive Brexit Secretaries to make far-reaching concessions to Brussels and twice tried to bounce her Cabinet into signing up to her plans in ruthlessly plotted manipulations at Chequers in the summer and 10 Downing Street last week.

The role of the Chancellor in not only blocking most preparations for a no-deal Brexit but also organising big business warnings of Armageddon should we leave without an agreement has also been crucial. But it can now be seen that the idea he was ever being “slapped down” by a Prime Minister committed to delivering on her Brexit promises was always an elaborate con.

The only chance we now have of rescuing Brexit is if MPs vote down Mrs May’s deal and the Government is forced to switch course to preparing for a WTO Brexit (by the way, in what state are those contracts with ferry companies that we were told would need to be signed by the end of last week to make such a course viable?).

Mrs May’s threat – sometimes uttered, sometimes withdrawn – that voting down her deal may lead to no Brexit at all should not put off a single Brexiteer. No Brexit at all would force into the open the establishment conspiracy against Brexit, leave us with our 8-10 per cent residual sovereignty intact in the EU, save us a bundle of money and give us every chance of seeing a genuinely pro-Brexit Prime Minister take office with a landslide majority and on a mission to right the wrong in 2022.

Certainly a no-deal Brexit at the end of next March will now be bumpier in the short-term than it need have been had it been properly planned for over an extended period. But as one wag put it over the weekend, on 4th July 1776 the United States of America crashed out of the British Empire without a deal. And it has never looked back.

Thanks to the political venality of Theresa May, the choice facing our country is between freedom and serfdom.