The logic of Theresa May’s Brexit policy, such as it is, has led to her to turn to Jeremy Corbyn. It is unlikely that the two leaderships will band together to let her deal pass: there is institutional pressure from Labour MPs for a second referendum, and from Conservative Ministers against the Customs Union. But Downing Street is still holding out against the first, and Team Corbyn still pressing for the second. This takes us to timing.
Number Ten’s best chance of spooking Labour into backing the deal, actively or passively, will come if and when the latter is sufficiently terrified by the Brexit Party’s electoral progress. At such a point, the party’s leadership might, at a minimum, let the deal through Parliament, hoping thereby to draw the sting from Nigel Farage’s electoral threat.
Some Ministers believe that Corbyn and company are likely to discount the European election results. The D’Hondt proportional representation system used may shelter Labour from the very worst. And, like some Conservative bigwigs, some Labour ones may say that it has all been seen before. UKIP won the Euro-elections of 2014, gaining 28 per of the vote. But the hurdle of first-past-the-post proved too high for it to vault at the general election a year later. Douglas Carswell held on to Clacton. And that was it.
Those Ministers think that a Brexit Party win in a by-election might have a different effect. And lo and behold, we have one: in Peterborough, where that party has just selected Mike Greene, a local businessman and former Conservative donor. It will be interesting to see what effect his background has on the city’s Labour voters, if any.
At any rate, it could just be that, were Greene to win, Labour might re-think. But even were this to happen, the timing wouldn’t be quite right for the Prime Minister. The European elections take place on May 23. The by-election will be held on June 6, a fortnight later. Some of those who want May out will dismiss the 1922 Committee Executive as ditherers. An alternative reading is that it is slowly closing in on the Prime Minister, and will move as soon as the Euro-election results are declared.
Labour will surely be deterred from doing any kind of deal with May – assuming one entertains the possibility of it doing so in the first place – if her support on the Conservative benches is ebbing away further. It ought to be off to the worst possible start in Peterborough, given the ex-Labour MPs conviction for perverting the course of justice, and the consequent successful recall petition.
Katherine of Aragon is buried in the city’s cathedral – “down by the frozen fen’, as Charles Causley’s poem puts it. Nigel Farage will be hoping to bury both the major parties in Peterborough, too. That his own has no members and no policies may not prevent him from achieving this aim. The Conservative candidate is Paul Bristow.