May’s Vichy Britain?

BY DAVID EYLES

Thursday 15th November 2018 might perhaps go down in British political history as one to remember. More likely is that it will be remembered as only one of a series of skirmishes by the Westminster political classes. But by the end of the day, two cabinet ministers had resigned, and four junior ministers had done likewise. Initially it was thought that 48 letters of ‘No confidence’ had been submitted to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. In the afternoon, a breathless media had assembled upon College Green to listen to Jacob Rees-Mogg say precisely why the EU draft withdrawal agreement to settle the future of our relations with the EU was not just inadequate but risked breaking up the United Kingdom (and much more besides). All the signs suggested that the process of evicting Theresa May from No. 10 Downing Street had begun in earnest.

Preparation to events began on the preceding Tuesday, with individual Cabinet Ministers trickling into No. 10, one by one, for little chats with the Prime Minister. Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party – and without whose support in the House of Commons, it would be impossible for Theresa May to govern – flew over from Belfast for a similar little chat. There were grim faces all round as the media caught individual ministers to try to find out what was going on. Only wooden, carefully guarded statements expressing loyalty to the Prime Minister were forthcoming.

On Wednesday, there was a full Cabinet meeting. The draft agreement was presented to the cabinet a full two hours before the meeting. The Cabinet ministers were expected to read, understand and then get a grip on the consequences for the United Kingdom of 585 pages of impenetrable legalese in two hours.

This was a re-run of the Chequers meeting tactics of bouncing highly complex legislation into acceptance by a cabinet which had no chance of fully understanding it or its implications for our future. It was designed to ensure compliance and acceptance by relying upon the craven self-interest of ministers, combined with their ignorance of the contents. If ministers are ignorant, then they do not know enough to object or raise difficulties.

The only difference between the Chequers meeting and the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, was that Chequers was a more relaxed affair. Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting was altogether more urgent, rushed and fraught. Ester McVey is said to have put up a spirited fight. The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Dominic Raab, was scheduled to fly out that evening to Brussels, but refused to do so. It is now known that he informed Theresa May of his resignation that evening. His resignation letter was submitted and made public the following morning (Thursday).

That same morning, there was a statement made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons. It started at 10:30 am and finished at very nearly 1:30 pm. Three hours in which the house questioned and commented upon the Prime Minister’s statement. Repeatedly, she rebuffed criticism, most of it from her own backbenchers. It took one and a quarter hours before anyone made a friendly comment to her. But she continued to face down everyone else.

There was evidence of politely suppressed anger – notably in the statement made by Nigel Dodds of the DUP (who is increasingly in evidence these days) and where he stated simply that thePrime Minister was not listening and that the DUP would vote against the document as it has been presented. There was the elegant intervention from Jacob Rees-Mogg who seemed to channel Mark Anthony’s speech in the market-place. In this speech, after the murder of Caesar, Mark Anthony repeatedly assured the crowd that “Brutus is an honourable man”. By the end of the speech, the crowd were fit for lynching Brutus. In the finale to the play, Brutus falls upon his own sword rather than be defeated by Mark Anthony. In the Parliamentary play of yesterday, Rees-Mogg assured the PrimeMinister that she is honourable and then went on to provide a simple but devastating rhetorical repetition in the manner of Mark Anthony.

In so doing, Rees-Mogg produced a metaphor: Brexit is Caesar – which has been murdered by this draft agreement.Theresa May is Brutus, who is honourable but will shortly fall upon her own sword. A lesser woman than the Prime Minister would have quailed at such a polite demolition of her policies and character, but she did not falter except to wait for the tumult to die down. A press conference was held later – and she continued in the same vein. As Roger Helmer observed:

By the afternoon, there was a meeting of the 1922 Committee where letters expressing no confidence in the Prime Minister were reaffirmed as ‘live’. Others were called for and apparently delivered. But Sir Graham Brady is a man of discretion and will not reveal whether he has received the necessary minimum of 48 before a motion of ‘no confidence’ is triggered in the House of Commons. And, so far, he says that the requisite number has not been reached. The flurry of excitement surrounding the otherwise humdrum doings of the 1922 Committee has vanished like an early morning mist.

More cabinet ministers were expected to resign by Friday 16th. The biggest beast who was expected to resign was Michael Gove. On Thursday, he cancelled a planned trip to Yorkshire and seemed to go into hiding. Then he appeared at No. 10 Downing Street for a meeting with the Prime Minister at which (it is alleged) he was offered the job as Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. It is also alleged that he attempted to make his acceptance conditional upon considerable revision of some of the terms of the draft agreement. But this was refused and when he walked out of No. 10, he had not resigned. On Friday morning he was tight lipped about his intentions and by roughly 11.00 am it was confirmed that he was staying in position as Secretary of State for Defra. If Gove had resigned, there would have been more to follow. There were no more resignations over the weekend or during the following week. It looked as if the plot to remove Theresa May as Prime Minister had faltered and died.

So much for the calculations and machinations in Westminster. But what may be happening in the constituencies?

Every Conservative MP who is anxious to keep his or her job after the next election, should now concentrate upon doing one simple calculation. That is, they should calculate the approximate Leave vote in their constituencies and compare it with their own majorities. If the Leave vote exceeds their majorities, then as things stand at the moment, they must expect to lose their jobs. Those MPs with comfortable majorities, say in excess of 20,000, will argue that they are probably fairly certain to get back in. As a result, many are comfortable with Westminster-bubble type arguments which are concerned with balancing their political ambitions with what the Whips are telling them and their own Brexit voting record and consciences. Some think that just because the Leave vote was less than 50% in their constituencies, their own jobs are safe.

But this argument is illusory.

What is now happening in the country is that vast numbers of people who voted Leave (and a good percentage of people who voted Remain) are watching the shambles which daily issues from No. 10 Downing Street with increasing incredulity. Many voters are now saying that theTories are all liars and cheats; that none of them could be trusted alone in the same room as your cat, because they will bugger it in the same way as they have buggered the entire country.

And so on.

Within the Westminster bubble, there is an almost complete lack of awareness as to what people are really thinking. But beyond the M25 boundary, the political tectonic plates are shifting. We are heading for a political change which is far greater even than the 1945 General Election.

In the interests of those Conservative MPs who might actually be raising their gaze from the political froth and outwards towards their constituencies, I give below a few examples of MPs and their constituency results. These were chosen merely because they had tweeted something which is generally supportive of Theresa May and the draft withdrawal agreement which has been put forward by No. 10.

In these charts, the total number of votes achieved by each of the MPs in question are shown in red, their majorities in blue and the Leave votes in grey. In most cases, the Leave vote exceeds the total votes polled by that MP – this makes their position very difficult if they are to argue that the draft agreement is a good thing.

What is very likely to happen is that Conservative voters will be so angry with the Tories, that they will vote tactically against the Tories for the next largest party. In many cases this will be Labour. As explained here, votes cast in this way mean that the effectiveness of each tactical vote is doubled. When this happens, each MP’s majority slips away twice as fast.

Some MPs (such as Simon Hoare or Victoria Prentis) might look at this graph and, seeing that their Conservative vote exceeds the Leave vote, might assume that they are safe. But this complacent group are in for a shock because, very often, their Leave vote exceeds their majority – often by a long way.

In the chart above, whilst Lucy Allan will almost certainly lose her seat because she is in a seat (Telford) which voted 66.2% Leave, even Simon Hoare (North Dorset, 56.6% Leave) is looking dodgy.

 So much for a few backbenchers. Below are five selected Cabinet Ministers:

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border; 55.2% Leave) has unwisely come out as a full-on Remainer and is doing everything he can to support Theresa May in her suicidal attempt to make the United Kingdom a vassal state of the EU.  Something tells me that the good citizens of Penrith and The Border are unlikely to forget or forgive his loyalty to a failed Prime Minister, rather than the people.

Poor Brandon Lewis, Conservative Party Chairman (Great Yarmouth; 71.5% Leave) is busy trumpeting feel-good, virtue signalling, distraction tweets with the unembarrassed enthusiasm of a flatulent horse. But his constituents voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU and Mr Lewis’s craven obeisance to Theresa May will not be forgotten and will be used against him.

My favourite steamrollerClaire Perry (Devizes; 53.5% Leave) is also no slouch when it comes to emitting vacuous tweets:

M/s Perry has a huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ constituency in which many of the houses are so big that they have proper carriage drives, with roundabouts big enough to turn your coach-and-four around. In an average election, a Black Labrador sporting a blue rosette (a Lurcher or a Jack Russell Terrier simply would not do) would get sufficient votes to be returned to Parliament with a majority of fifteen or twenty thousand. This is roughly what Claire Perry has. But the number of Leave voters in Devizes exceeds this by a comfortable margin and the next election will be far from average. Even if she has a Black Labrador (or even a Flatcoat Retriever) to accompany her on her campaign, she will have her work cut out to convince the voters of her continued worth.

Steve Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire; 56.9% Leave) has been elevated to Secretary of State for Leaving the EU. Despite the grandiosity of his title, it is widely rumoured that this involves nothing more arduous than making Ollie Robbins’ tea and doing the photocopying in preparation for Theresa May’s regular visits to Brussels. Like every office junior, he may be given a treat and get a run out to Brussels. But that will only be under the strict supervision of his boss – Ollie Robbins. Once again, his majority is exceeded by the Leave votes by a comfortable margin.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon; 53.2% Leave) is one of the most powerful members of the Cabinet and an ardent Remainer. It is his work which brings so many of the rebellious Tory MPs back into line to vote for the government. But the number of Leave voters in his constituency exceeds his majority by roughly 11,000. Mr Smith wields great power in the House of Commons. He can cajole, bully and offer sweeteners to reluctant backbenchers. But he has no power at all over his constituents. In particular, the working class and rural voters in Skipton and Ripon will be looking for revenge if the country is sold down the river and Mr Smith is seen to have played a part in that.

The so-called “Gang of Five” are the only proper Leavers left in the Cabinet – all the others have left.  All of this group are rumoured to be on the point of resigning, but in practice, have failed to do so. It alleged that they are attempting to persuade Theresa May of the folly of her Draft Agreement. But it is now clear that she is set upon propelling the country to the cliff edge and beyond. The continued presence of these five ministers in the Cabinet is now an embarrassment to their own voters.

Of these five, Michael Gove presumably thinks he is electorally safe in the leafy suburbs of Surrey Heath (51.9% Leave). This perhaps accounts for his seemingly erratic behaviour over the last couple of years. First, he started off as a Leave campaigner; then he appeared to stab Boris in the back during the leadership campaign. Then he seemed to do the same at the Chequers meeting, which forced the resignation of Boris, but left Gove still on seat as Cabinet Minister. And once again, in this most recent of shambolic manoeuvrings by No. 10, he has failed to resign. Each time this has happened, Theresa May has been the beneficiary. It has been suggested that he is terrified of a “no agreement WTO option”. It has also been suggested that he is terrified that an EU-free Britain will run out of drinking water. These rather odd superstitions might explain his behaviour. But as the wee sleekit cow’rin’ tim’rous Gove scurries, hither and thither, hippety hop through the dense thickets of political expediency and personal aggrandisement, the rest of us can pause to look at the graph above and note that the Leave votes exceed his majority by 5,000 votes. We might also observe that, nationally, about 70% of conservative voters threw their lot in with Leave. If these voters decide to vote tactically against him, even Gove will struggle to keep his seat.

Liam Fox (North Somerset; 47.6% Leave), Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire; 53.3% Leave) and Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell; 47.8% Leave) are all in a similar position to Michael Gove, but actually slightly worse. Their Leave votes all exceed their majorities by 7 – 12 thousand.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North; 63.7% Leave) has a large working-class percentage of her constituency, which explains why her majority is relatively low. It is pretty obvious that her position is now difficult and will become a great deal more so if she continues to support the government.

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The nation has now reached a very, very dangerous moment in its history. On the one hand, we have the extraordinary prospect of vassalage to the European Union – a kind of unbreakable bondage which has been set in incomprehensible EU legalese and which has been railroaded by Theresa May through a craven and compliant Cabinet. On the other we have the vanishing mirage of freedom which was offered to us by the referendum; but which has been turned to ashes by a deeply cynical and ruthless establishment which is Hell-bent upon reversing the referendum result.

As things stand, we have a draft agreement which cedes significant matters of sovereignty over the Northern Ireland border for no good reason; there appear to be technical changes of detail which may cede the sovereignty of Gibraltar to Spain; UK armed forces are being increasingly enmeshed with the EU “defence” force, whilst muddying the waters over our commitment to Nato; supremacy of the ECJ over UK law remains in many areas, especially trade; there are concessions to control over our fisheries; there is supremacy of the EU over our trade agreements with countries outside the EU – in effect we will have to follow the EU in all matters relating to non-EU trade; the UK deposits of £9 billion in the European Investment Bank have not been taken into account in the ‘divorce bill’ and there is an enormous sum of money to be paid as reparations for having the temerity to vote Leave. A good, but short, summary of the dog’s breakfast which Theresa May has presented to us is here, written by Martin Howe QC.

This draft document is not an agreement, but a total capitulation of the UK to the EU. It is said that Mrs May thinks that those of us who voted Leave were only doing so in order to stop wholesale immigration and for no other reason. And thus she has “negotiated” a deal which concedes nearly every other control to the EU, bar immigration. She obviously thinks that that will be sufficient to pull the wool over the eyes of the voter.

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On the 22nd June 1940, French military officers signed the Compiègne Armistice with General Wilhelm Keitel in exactly the same railway carriage that the armistice was signed 22 years earlier and which brought an end to the First World War. For a short time, a victorious and contemptuous Adolf Hitler was present, but he departed quickly and left the details of the armistice to his subordinates to sort out.

These details amounted to the southern 40% of France, and French possessions in North Africa, being left as an unoccupied self-governing region by the French. The rest of France was to be occupied and administered by German forces. The self-administered region was run from Vichy – a small town in central France, near Clermont-Ferrand. Despite its nominal autonomy, Vichy France contributed massive reparations to Germany and was also directly responsible for the deportation of 73,000 French Jews to concentration camps in Germany and beyond. The nominal head of state was Marshall Pétain who subsequently became the symbol of a defeated and humiliated France. A mere two years later, in November 1942, the German army occupied Vichy France – and the subjugation of a proud and independent nation was complete.

It does not take too much imagination to conclude that the EU’s plan for the UK is to punish and humiliate us. Indeed, many EU officials have already said that that is their intention. The deal that is presented to us is in many ways similar to the one presented to France in that railway carriage in 1940. The reparations and conditions are designed to subjugate the UK into EU law in as many different ways that they can find. For those who doubt that this is the intention of the EU, they need only look at the treatment of Greece by German and Dutch banks to see what happens to a nation that transgresses EU diktat. It should be noted that the Greeks have not even tried to leave the EU; but they have been punished nevertheless with impoverishment followed by asset stripping.

History repeats itself in many different ways; and it does not necessarily take a military invasion and occupation to achieve a similar outcome.

There is very little standing between us and the humiliation that Theresa May and the EU have prepared for us. One course that events might take us are that Theresa May is triumphant and that this draft agreement is accepted by Parliament and then agreed by the EU. Eventually, there will be a general election and the British people will throw the Conservatives out of office. Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister of the most left-wing government this country has ever seen. The Conservative Party will split irrevocably and will be reduced to something like the size of party that the Liberal Democrats are now.

As I have suggested above, with those unassuming little charts, the writing is on the wall for the Tories. All over the country, thousands of people are saying that they will never vote Tory again.

Another possibility is that the majority of Conservative MPs (who are just wishing all this horrid stuff would go away and leave them to get with their comfortable lives) actually discover some backbone and do the things that are essential for the country to survive and prosper over the next century or so. In chronological order, these are:

  • To vote against the draft agreement.
  • To evict Theresa May from No. 10 Downing Street.
  • To elect a new leader who has the clarity of vision to take the country forward and away from the vicious clutches of the EU.
  • To deliver either a hard Brexit, or Canada+++ deal with the EU. And stop all this nonsense of so-called “last minute deals” which have been prepared months in advance and are designed to ensnare us even further.
  • To get a grip of the country and re-establish a proper conservative government. A government which will throw out all the problems created by the wishy-washy quasi-Liberalism that has blighted the administration and rule of law of our nation over the last two decades or more.

Clear, convincing exit from the EU and a new Prime Minister is the only way of averting the combined disaster of Corbyn and a victorious EU plundering our shores.

All that separates the country from a quasi-Vichy subjugation on the one hand, and freedom on the other, is a thin blue line of 200 or so querulous Conservative MPs clutching at their own careers – but whose jobs are unlikely to last for more than another year or so. The Conservative Party is on the brink of being snuffed out, guttering and popping like an oil lamp when the wick has burnt out.

Meanwhile, regardless of the fate of our oldest political party, the country waits.

More in resignation than in hope.

David Eyles spent the first twenty years of his career as a quantity surveyor in civil engineering. He started work on the Thames Barrier Project in the mid 1970s and from there moved on to building hardened aircraft shelters in East Anglia – those being the days of a rather warm Cold War. On RAF Lakenheath, he was once observed nearly slithering his mini under the wheels of a taxiing F111 loaded up with tactical nuclear weapons. If nothing else, it would have been one helluva motor insurance claim and a sense of humour loss by the US Air Force. Later, he went to Nigeria for two years to build roads and see first hand what corruption can do to bring down an intrinsically prosperous country. There he had his first experience of seeing British overseas aid being wasted. He returned to the UK and attempted to write a novel, but was instead diverted into bird ringing and spent far too many nights chasing radio tagged Nightjars around Wareham Forest at dangerously high speed. By a mysterious route, then fell into farming via six worn out commercial hens; and wound up with a flock of 350 Dorset Down ewes and forty Traditional Hereford cattle. He then divorced, changed his life and arrived in Cornwall to find solace in the pedantry of hard data, wonderful pubs, good people and writing. His other interest include walking; some very poor quality photography; the philosophy of consciousness as it pertains to animals and humans; and a certain amount of politics. David’s writing can be found here

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