I wonder if Gavin Williamson, sacked by the PM after accusations of leaking confidential discussions, ever reflects on what I told him in July 2016 when he came seeking my support for Mrs May’s leadership bid: that he had taken leave of his senses and that, in my estimate, she’d be a disaster. (I had twice tried to persuade David Cameron to dispense with her services).
Once she became leader however, I began to re-appraise her. She was decisive, resolute, and said all the right things about BREXIT. It wasn’t until the general election campaign of 2017, that all my previous misgivings about her judgement and her style resurfaced.
It is true that she has been given the most difficult and controversial task of any post-war Prime Minister, and without a parliamentary majority with which to achieve it. She has shown extraordinary determination and resilience in the face of repeated setbacks.
Nevertheless, a complete horlicks has been made of the enterprise. The measure of it rubbed-in by last week’s screening of BBC’s BREXIT Behind Closed Doors.
The fact that we can even treat as credible the report that Olly Robbins, the PM’s trusted negotiator, asked Guy Verhofstadt -the BREXIT lead for the EU Parliament- if he could get a Belgian Passport after it’s all over, is a measure of our humiliation and the chaotic way in which the negotiations have been handled.
The PM assured Parliament over 100 times that we would leave the EU in March of this year. The failure to deliver that fundamental aim of policy must come with consequences.
Stay with me, this is complicated:
The principal difficulty with the PM’s withdrawal agreement is the ‘backstop’ which keeps in the UK in a form of limbo at the end of our transition period after leaving the EU, if a solution to the Irish border question has not been found.
Much work was done to identify such a solution in an exercise that came to be known as the ‘Malthouse Compromise’ and subsequently a parliamentary motion was passed known as the ‘Brady amendment’ which required the PM to return to the negotiations, re-open the withdrawal agreement and substitute the arrangements identified by the Malthouse compromise.
A great deal of effort was also put in to persuade the EU negotiators that the arrangements set out in the Malthouse Compromise were workable using existing procedures and technology. They must have been impressed because, when for a short while, it did appear that the UK might actually leave the EU in March without a deal, Mr Barnier announced that, even were that to happen, there wouldn’t be a hard border in Ireland because the EU would rely on ‘other arrangements’.
So what became of the parliamentary instruction that our negotiators re-open the agreement and substitute Malthouse for the backstop?
We discover from the EU Commission that the UK negotiators never even asked.