I genuinely feel bad for Theresa May. The United Kingdom’s prime minister seems like a nice person — she’s a vicar’s daughter after all — but politics isn’t a game for nice people. More often than not, they get chewed up and spat out by a profession that can be as unsavoury as the oldest.
Right now, she is like a turkey fretting over the approach of Christmas.
And by Christmas, May will be chewed up and spat out by her rabble of Conservative members of parliament who are intent on devouring their own as never seen since the days of the Corn Laws in 1846.
Here’s the ironic thing: Ireland was and is at the centre of the Tory turmoil then and now, which speaks to the Conservatives failure to learn the lessons of history.
In 1846, Ireland was in the midst of its Great Famine, a three-year period where the potato crop, on which poor farmers and labourers depended, failed consecutively. The population fell from eight to four million, with millions emigrating to Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America, and as many as 500,000 dying from hunger. The Tories then split over repealing Corn Laws that protected British agriculture from cheap imports, creating the Liberals.
Those cheap imports would have fed the starving Irish. Let’s just say that in 1847, Queen Victoria donated the princely sum of 100 guineas for famine relief in Ireland. She gave 200 guineas to Battersea Cats and Dogs Home.
After the split, it took three decades for the Tories to regain a parliamentary majority again.
But that was then and this is now, and the Tories too risk once more of a major split in their ranks. And Ireland, and the issue of the border, is at the centre of this split. There is nothing more than lard-line Brexiteers would like than a clean short sharp break from the European Union (EU) — even at the expense of turning the frontier between British-governed Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to its south into one where security and customs checks may be required — anything to keep out those Polish plumbers and Lithuanian bar maids.
Reverting to a hard border means there is a great danger that extremists on the nationalist and republic side might turn again to violence in a campaign to reunite north and south. And the last time that happened, 3,600 people lost their lives, 36,000 more were injured, and every penny that the UK claimed in North Sea oil revenues was squandered on keeping a fragile and unjust peace in that disputed corner of a disunited Kingdom.
But some Tories, it seems, have forgotten the lessons of history, adopting the view that the Good Friday Agreement that ended those three decades of violence is no longer relevant.
Much has been written about the backstop for the Irish border. In the simplest terms, it is a vital guarantee that the border remains open, making it no different than driving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. That must remain so, and the EU27 made it one of the key principles for any Brexit negotiation.
Much has been written about red lines. As far as the EU and the Dublin government were and are concerned, it is a green line. Not having that guarantee was never going to happen, regardless of what the most fervent and rabid Brexiteers may want in their hare-brained rush to ending their ties with Brussels.
One of the best analogies I have heard to explain this entire Brexit mess is having sprinters get ready at a starting line, then the official starter shoots himself in the foot, and no one knows whether to run, get help, or abandon the race.
And poor May is the starter in this instance. In fairness, she has stuck to her gun and brought her Cabinet into line, wearing them down by her blandness and attention to detail. She did the same with Brussels, eventually, when she figured out what Britain might want from Brexit.
But she has absolutely zero chance of getting this Brexit deal — and the second political agreement — through Westminster.
By December 11, when all the MPs at Westminster have minced their words, they will vote it down. And by December 12, May will likely resign, leaving the vicar’s daughter ample time to bake her mince pies for the Christmas fete.
But then what?
Will there be a snap general election i UK? And how will the Conservatives fight any such campaign when they will be in search of someone — anyone — who might be able to bring the shambles of a party back under one roof?
And what happens to Brexit?
The clock is ticking, and by December 19, the Brexit day of March 29 will be just 100 days away.
And does the EU want to prolong this whole miserable affair any longer? Hardly. Oh, what a jolly mess this is.