Brexit: Remainers are failing to get their act together
FT editor Lionel Barber and chief political commentator Robert Shrimsley on the narrowing options to halt the UK's split from the EU. They argue Remainers lack the ideological cohesion, conviction and passion of the Leave camp.
Filmed by Nicola Stansfield and Petros Gioumpasis, edited by Richard Topping
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LIONEL BARBER: We've heard a lot about the leavers, those people, led by Boris Johnson, prime minister, who insist that Britain will leave the European Union by October the 31st, no ifs and buts. But what about the remainers, those that think there is a chance of stopping Brexit, what chance?
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: Well, there is a very, very narrow window within the British parliamentary cycle, but it's open little more than a crack, and it's getting smaller and smaller each day.
I think there are-- and we should talk what the key to stop this no-deal Brexit more than just Brexit itself. I think there are two options available to those people who want to line up against Boris Johnson. The first is a vote of confidence to bring him down. His majority is officially only one. He's got a little bit more to play with, but not much. Bring his government down. Force a general election.
The problem with that is it's become clear that because of the nature of the British constitution, he could probably delay that election until after Brexit has happened, unless they can offer up a rival administration. And it looks like they--
LIONEL BARBER: That's the government of so-called national unity.
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: Yes.
LIONEL BARBER: And you've had some figures-- Caroline Lucas-- suggesting that this new government of national unity should be comprised just of women--
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: Yes.
LIONEL BARBER: --who've got more sense.
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: I think that was a strangely tokenistic call. She said, let's have a all-women cabinet. But I think what she was attempting to do was cut through the fact that party issues and tribal loyalties are stopping the different parties from being prepared to work together. Liberal Democrats won't serve under Jeremy Corbyn. Rebel Tories wouldn't either. Jeremy Corbyn wouldn't countenance serving under anybody else. So they're possibly pulling together that kind of caretaker government. The Brexit don't like it being called a government of national unity, because they say, well, it's only one side of the argument.
But this caretaker government, it looks very, very difficult to assemble. So if you can't do that, then the only other option is to try to legislate to block a no-deal Brexit, as they succeeded in doing under Theresa May. But here, again, there's a problem.
LIONEL BARBER: Was that the Cooper-Letwin amendment?
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: The so-called Cooper-Letwin amendment. Here, again, there's a problem, because the way the European Union works is a request for an extension to delay the Brexit date has to come from the government. And if the government is refusing to do it, even legislation can make it tricky. So then you find yourself back in, well, we'll have to bring this government down territory, but you've wasted a lot of time. So it's very, very tricky for the remainers.
LIONEL BARBER: Is there a deus ex machina-- the Queen, perhaps-- that could resolve this possible deadlock? Or do you think, actually, it'll be senior civil servants?
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: The Queen will not want to intervene directly in politics, making any choice that isn't apparently obvious to the rest of the country. So if the assembled forces of opponents of Boris Johnson are able to unite behind one figure and say to the Queen, we believe X commands a majority in the House, then she would, under advice, probably call for them. But she's not going to go looking to solve this problem for the politicians.
LIONEL BARBER: And there is something even deeper here, and you allude to this in your writing, Robert that the remainers don't have or appear not to have that ideological cohesiveness and conviction and passion that the leavers have.
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: Yes. I've written [INAUDIBLE] the believers, particularly under Boris Johnson, his chief of staff Dominic Cummings, a disciple of Bismarck, you should know, have essentially adopted the Goldwater maxim, moderation in defence of Brexit is no virtue. Extremism in defence of Brexit is no vice. And--
LIONEL BARBER: That's Barry Goldwater--
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: Barry Goldwater, the former--
LIONEL BARBER: --who completely bombed in the 1964 presidential election against--
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: Yes, there were drawbacks, drawbacks to this approach.
LIONEL BARBER: --Lyndon Johnson.
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: But they believe they're going to-- they are going all out with an absolute single-mindedness, and it's making a government, with a wafer-thin majority, very hard to resist at the moment. And the remainers are not getting their act together and fighting them.
LIONEL BARBER: Extraordinary, really, given that, as you say, Boris Johnson has a nominal majority--
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: Yeah.
LIONEL BARBER: --of one. Conviction brings you a lot these days.
ROBERT SHRIMSLEY: It does.
LIONEL BARBER: Thank you, Robert Shrimsley.