Theresa May has betrayed those who loyally believed she meant what she said about No Deal

Theresa May has betrayed those who loyally believed she meant what she said about No Deal

The Prime Minister has ignored the views of the majority of her Cabinet and ruled out No Deal. The reason, we are told, is that No Deal might lead to the re-imposition of direct rule over Northern Ireland, and might lead to a second Scottish independence referendum.

That either of these considerations should outweigh the independence of the United Kingdom from an increasingly decrepit but increasingly autocratic empire is bizarre. If No Deal causes a second referendum in Scotland – we were told that the vote itself would cause that too, remember, but it did not – then we will win that too.

But more bizarre is that these worries have existed all along. If the Prime Minister thinks the risk of direct rule in Northern Ireland (which is happening in practice anyway) trumps all other considerations, and rules out No Deal, then why did she not say so more than two years ago or at any time since? Instead, she said 108 times that we would leave the EU on 29th March, whatever happens; 50 times that she would not extend that date; and 32 times that No Deal is better than a bad deal. Not once did she say it was impossible.

The supposed reasons for rejecting No Deal have been constantly changing. It was going to lead to queues at Dover; or Calais; or a shortage of Mars Bars or cut flowers or insulin or water… In each and every case, the scare was shot down. The truth is that these latest scare stories were dreamt up by civil servants at the last moment and leaked to a newspaper this week to bounce the Cabinet – on the same day that a letter from Sir Mark Sedwill was leaked complaining about criticism of civil servants.

It appears that all along the Prime Minister never contemplated allowing us to leave without an exit permit from the European Union. Yet she allowed £4 billion of taxpayers’ money to be spent on preparations and she encouraged businesses all across the country to prepare at vast expense.

She also allowed the tariff schedule to be published for the eventuality of leaving with no Withdrawal Agreement, revealing that 90% of tariffs would be cut – to the great benefit of consumers. That might be part of the reason that YouGov found this week that by 44% to 42% people prefer a no-deal Brexit to no Brexit. The British people have been magnificently determined to keep plugging on despite the endless bias of the BBC.

Mrs May should have ruled out No Deal at the start of the negotiations, if that is what she thought, or she should have meant “No Deal is better than a bad deal” when she said it. As it is, the combination of threatening No Deal until the moment when it might actually matter in the negotiations, then dropping the threat on the feeblest of latest excuses, is about as foolish as one can imagine. And now rushing off to hand the initiative to an apologist for totalitarians, anti-Semites and terrorists instead. Thanks.

The Prime Minister and her allies are now chanting that it is all the fault of the European Research Group for rejecting her deal and are saying they have no alternative than the dismal choices of supporting her deal or no Brexit, as if amnesiac about the third option: their recent promises to leave with No Deal if necessary. Yet the truth is that ever since the debacle at Chequers in July, when everybody from half the Cabinet to the Democratic Unionists to the media to the people themselves told her quite clearly that she would never get the Chequers plan through Parliament, she has been the one at fault.

Hard as it has been, I have loyally supported the Prime Minister throughout this process, never once voting against the party whip in the House of Lords, unlike many Remainer colleagues who have done so repeatedly. I have worn out shoe leather at both the last elections to get support for manifestos that promised a referendum and then promised that the result would be respected. The Prime Minister has repaid my loyalty with betrayal.