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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "ToryDiary"

Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Conservative MPs do not look nearly as loyal as one would think to listen to them

Conservative MPs did not look nearly as loyal to Theresa May as one would think to listen to PMQs. Many sat in glum silence through the moments when they might have been expected to cheer.

There were times when the ironic cheers for the Prime Minister from Labour MPs were louder than any sound emanating from the Tory benches.

Kenneth Clarke, the Leader of the House, said it would be “unhelpful, irrelevant and irresponsible” for the Conservative Party to embark on a leadership contest. He was cheered with manic frenzy by Michael Ellis, who was sitting on the steps almost at Clarke’s feet, and who for much of the time appeared to be the only Conservative MP waving his Order Paper.

When Ellis is being sycophantic, he makes as much noise as 12 MPs who have a sense of shame. To be so dependent on him for decibels must be rather embarrassing.

Jeremy Corbyn is better than he was, and began with a pointed question about what concessions May had obtained on her continental tour yesterday. The answer is evidently none.

But Corbyn does not know how to create a crescendo. With him, the six questions he is allowed become a diminuendo. He did not put her under any real pressure,

The Prime Minister showed fighting spirit. She was, however, on rather thin ice when she wondered “what U-turn comes next in Labour’s policy” on Europe. In the week she pulled the meaningful vote, she is not in a strong position to talk about U-turns.

Her handlers had provided her with a good line about “the inconstant Gardiner” who will let us know what Labour policy is – a reference to Barry Gardiner, who enjoys his role as a Labour spokesman very much more than his listeners do.

Immediately after PMQs, we learned that May has promised she will step down before the next general election. It appears she has bought her colleagues’ reluctant support by promising she will not be there for much longer.

Rather touchingly, her husband, Philip May, had come to watch her performance from the gallery. It was watched also, from the far end of the Chamber, by Boris Johnson, who was sitting next to Nadhim Zahawi.

There was a sense that this was the end of an era, not the start or continuation of one. When the Conservatives refresh themselves with a new leader, it will be hard for Labour to avoid following suit.

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The Prime Minister’s three key arguments for her survival are fundamentally flawed

The Prime Minister’s statement in Downing Street this morning presented three central arguments against MPs voting that they have no confidence in her leadership.

Unfortunately, each of the three suffers from some fundamental flaws:

1. “A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the 21st of January legal deadline”

There are two reasons to think that this simply isn’t correct.

For a start, the House of Commons itself has publicly stated that the deadline is no longer 21st January, but 28th March. And, it must be said, that just because May has said she would abide by a January deadline, that doesn’t mean she actually would – she said she would hold a vote on her deal this week, but she hasn’t, so evidently her diary is flexible. Either way, it’s a soft ‘deadline’ at best.

Also, there is no good reason why even a contested leadership election couldn’t take place swiftly even if May’s claimed deadline was correct. The timetable for the process is set by the 1922 Committee, in consultation with the Party Board, and they have the power to accelerate or delay the timetable as they see fit. The ’22 has already acted swiftly in holding the confidence ballot today, apparently to the dismay of some MPs who hoped they would have more time, which shows they are willing and able. What’s more, the Conservative Party has recently centralised all of its membership databases, so it would be quicker than last time (2005) to hold a ballot of members, too – potentially including some use of online voting, as in the London Mayoral selection contest.

2. “The new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate a withdrawal agreement…so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50”

The blunt fact is that her negotiation – and now her renegotiation of her negotiation – is dead. It’s dubious as to whether she is really in any position to tell others what they can or cannot achieve, given her analysis of the process has foundered so badly.

On the question of “extending or rescinding Article 50”, this peculiar threat goes back to a question we have asked repeatedly of the Government, but which has yet to be answered. May has promised she would do no such thing, and that the UK “will leave…on 29th March 2019”. No other Conservative minister or potential leader has said they would do any such thing either – and it is hard to see any leadership candidate being elected on such a promise. And yet those around her – and now the Prime Minister herself – keep predicting that an alternative Conservative government “would” delay or cancel Brexit. If they wouldn’t do it themselves, and the alternatives say they wouldn’t either, whom is it that they are claiming would?

3. “A leadership election would not change…the parliamentary arithmetic”

This is obviously true, in its most basic sense. But it is not a reason to keep the Prime Minister in office. She has lost, fatally, under that parliamentary arithmetic – that is why she was not even able to put her proposals to a vote in the House of Commons yesterday. There is no sign of her being able to remedy that failure, or to present a convincing case of how she might try to do so. Yes, a different Prime Minister would face the same arithmetic, but they would at least have the opportunity to seek to manage it differently, from a fresh start.

If this is Downing Street’s best case for May to hold on, it is not a very convincing one. It was also notable, watching her at that podium, that there wasn’t really much of an attempt to make a positive argument for continuing her premiership – the unifying theme of the three arguments above is merely that the alternative wouldn’t work, so we might as well carry on as we are. That seems unlikely to light a fire in many hearts.

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158 is not the magic number

Godot is within sight, the boy is crying “wolf” at the top of his voice – and Wesminster is assuming that a ballot of confidence in Theresa May’s leadership will be declared today.  Graham Brady has reportedly received at least 48 letters demanding one.

Sir Graham being Sir Graham, he is keeping mum, exactly as he should, and it is still possible that the reports are wrong.  This being so, we will simply report that, if they aren’t, the confidence ballot is likely to take place later this week or early next.  If the Prime Minister isn’t successful in it, there is time for the Parliamentary stage of a leadership election to take place next week – indeed, more than enough, since the Commons doesn’t rise until next Thursday, December 20.  The membership stage would take place after Christmas.

We write about May being successful (or not successful) rather than winning (or losing) because of an important point.  It is being claimed that “158 is the magic number” – since 157.7 is what one is left with if one divides the 315 MPs in receipt of the Conservative whip in half.

But imagine for a moment that 159 votes express confidence in her leadership, if a ballot takes place, and 156 do not.  Could she then carry on as Party leader?  We believe not.  The ballot would not have found sufficient consensus for her leadership.  We cite a precedent.  204 votes were cast for Margaret Thatcher during the 1990 Conservative leadership contest, and 168 were not – 152 Tory MPs opted for Michael Heseltine and 16 abstained.  She won a clear majority of those voting.  But she was forced out none the less.

In reply, you may quote the 1995 leadership contest, in which over a third of Conservative MPs didn’t back John Major – a substantial proportion.  But he stayed on.  We would counter-object that there is a difference between a third and, say, just under half.

At which point, others might join the conversation, pointing out that the rules of Tory leadership contests have changed since 1995, let alone 1990.  Which reinforces our point: deciding what does and doesn’t count as success in a Conservative leadership contest is an art, not a science.  As much depends on expectation – not to mention who spins loudest and longest – as figures.  Personality, mood, psyops and that glorious Burkean word, circumstances: all play their part in deciding the drama.  There is no magic number.

Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and other Cabinet members with leadership aspirations will tremble at the possibility of the Prime Minister winning any ballot, but not winning well.  That would set up a conflict between loyalty and ambition from which they might not emerge undamaged.

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Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Lidington is no Horatius

Then out spake spake brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate. Or this afternoon, out spake David Lidington, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The Prime Minister was in Berlin, where she was reported to be having difficulty getting out of her car. Labour MPs were in Westminster, where they were having difficulty conveying how cross they were with the Prime Minister for pulling the meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Yvette Cooper warned of  the danger of having “no vote on the deal and no vote on no deal”.  Nicky Morgan, from the Conservative benches, wanted “a categorical assurance that there will be no trickery by the Government”.

In the words of Hilary Benn, “What we learned yesterday was that today’s assurances can disappear tomorrow like a puff of wind.” Angela Eagle said the Prime Minister “has completely shredded her credibility”.

Angela Smith agreed that “the Government’s credibility is in shreds”, and added that “what we’re facing now is not a meaningful vote but a blackmail strategy”.

Thangam Debbonaire said “the Government is trying to hold a no deal Brexit gun to the country’s head”.

These trifling criticisms were fielded by Robin Walker, a junior Brexit minister, who said the meaningful vote would happen at latest on 21st January, but declined to be any more specific.

Jeremy Corbyn then opened for Labour in the emergency debate on the Government’s management of the meaningful vote.

He said Theresa May had “demeaned her office”, and accused her of “running away”. But Corbyn himself ran away from calling a vote of no confidence.

He too, it appears, is not all that keen on meaningful votes. When he accused the Prime Minister of “weak leadership”, one felt he knew of what he spoke.

Lidington rose to reply. He pointed out that in the last two months, the Prime Minister has spent “more than 22 hours at this Despatch Box”. He said that 21st January is “a deadline and not a target”, and added that “we need to push on with this sooner rather than later”.

But unlike Horatius, Lidington did not kill anyone. That is one reason why MPs like Lidington. He is not a killer.

And he treats his opponents with respect. “It’s a fair question,” as he told Benn. Lidington is admired for his decency and moderation.

All that roused Lidington to a flash of passion was the “fantasy” that one can have all the benefits of EU membership without its obligations. That thought annoyed him.

After he had spoken, the criticisms of the Prime Minister continued. Sir William Cash said she has “reached the point of no return” and “may well have to resign”. Morgan canvassed the idea of a government of national unity.

Horatius saved Rome. It does not look as if Lidington can save May.

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Chicken May

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2018-12-11-at-06.50.25 Chicken May ToryDiary Tory Manifesto 2017 Theresa May MP Steve Barclay MP Parliament Norway Michael Gove MP Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP House of Commons (general) Highlights Greg Hands MP Greg Clark MP European Court of Justice Europe EU David Lidington MP David Gauke MP Conservatives Brexit

What now is Theresa May’s plan, this morning after the day before?  The simplest explanations are often the most convincing.  In her case, this is: she no longer has one.  Her ambitions for country, party and self have shrunk to seeing each day out.  The most primal of human instincts has taken over, more urgent even than the drives to sex and food: simply to survive. Clinging to office fills her horizon.  She shuffles on into a void.  The will to power has left her a ghost.  Perhaps that is all that can be said.

But there are two other potential answers, assuming that she is not brooding on a general election or preparing to resign – a move that would be out of character for a woman who appears to equate being Prime Minister, whatever the circumstances, with doing her duty.  These explanations are worth probing because, with the future of country, Party and Brexit at stake, Conservative MPs, activists and others must work every faculty to read the signs of the times accurately, and then act promptly.

The first is that she has already decided to postpone Brexit, seek a second referendum, or both.  This take has it that she knows very well that her deal will not be substantially improved by the EU; that it therefore cannot pass through Parliament; that the Remain-friendly Commons will shortly bid for control of its proceedings and timetable – and that she will then, a confidence vote from her Parliamentary Party notwithstanding, give way.  No deal is better than a bad deal has been supplanted by any deal is better than no deal.

Like an empty boat being pushed by the tide, she will drift along with the five-sixths or so of MPs who see a no deal Brexit as the ultimate political evil.  Perhaps the Commons will somehow pull for Norway Plus instead; more likely, it won’t.  It was worth watching which Cabinet heads nodded on her own front bench yesterday when she reiterated the Government’s present stance on a second referendum – and which didn’t.  Greg Clark’s didn’t so much as twitch.  David Lidington and David Gauke are also reported to be ready for a U-turn.

As for that policy – opposition to another referendum – how sure is it?  Indeed, what faith can we place in any commitment that May makes on Brexit, or indeed on anything else?  She promised that she wouldn’t call an election last year; that her Brexit policy would be based on “a comprehensive system of mutual recognition”; that migration would be controlled during transition; that transition wouldn’t be extended; that she would oppose new regulatory barriers in the Irish sea. Ministers were told last year that the backstop had no legal effect.

Politics is a rough old trade, and bending the truth is, as elsewhere in life, part of it.  But even by the standards of Westminster, the Prime Minister’s breaches are brazen.  Leave aside as debatable those manifesto commitments on the Customs Union, the ECJ and the Single Market, and look at the events of recent days.  May said that the EU would not offer us a better deal if the present draft is rejected.  Now she suggests that it can be improved after all, not ruling out changes to the Withdrawal Agreement itself yesterday.

Stephen Barclay and Gove were sent out – the latter only yesterday morning – to assure the public that the meaningful vote would go ahead.  As late as 11am yesterday morning, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was insisting that this was so, even as Cabinet Ministers were briefing that it wasn’t.  Small details like these have big consequences.  Near the core of May’s problem in selling her deal to MPs is that too many of them have simply lost trust in her.  Some no longer believe assurances even when they are truthful – say, on future divergence.

The second interpretation of the Prime Minister’s thinking is completely different.  We advance it with some hesitation, because it may represent less a scheme crafted deliberately than one stumbled upon by accident.  The sum of her statement yesterday was that the meaningful vote is postponed.  She gave no indication whatsoever of when it will be brought back.  In reply to Justine Greening, she suggested that the Government is obliged to hold it by January 21.  Later that day, that was flatly contradicted by the Commons authorities.

Under their interpretation, May’s real deadline is March 28, since the Commons must ratify any amended deal reached with the EU no later than that date.  This could open up an opportunity for the Prime Minister to play a risky game of chicken with our EU interlocuters, the Commons and the Party.  For the later the meaningful vote takes place, the more sharply a no deal Brexit will loom.  This might open up an option: don’t rush for a settlement pre-Christmas, but spin out the talks instead.

It is possible to think May now believes that, under that pressure, the EU will fold next year, and offer a time limit or a unilateral exit from the backstop.  Or that she is concluding the Commons would collapse, even if the EU did not – that, with March 28 and no deal immiment, Labour would buckle and abstain, together with other opposition parties.  Or that even if Jeremy Corbyn did not, some Labour MPs would.  Meanwhile, Conservative opponents could be steered into the abstention column, and Tory abstainers into the aye lobby.

Now, this scenario makes many assumptions: that the Prime Minister will still be in place; that there is no Cabinet revolt; that the Commons has not, by the New Year, wrested control from the Government altogether; that MPs do not (if May seeks to spin out her dealings with the EU) revolt, propose the postponement of Article 50 and perhaps a second referendum, and then see her back down; that the Prime Minister has not been censured, or the Government no confidenced.

But one can also see how the truth could be found here – that May is not so much a headless chicken herself, or seeking to chicken out of Brexit but, rather, now sees before her this game of chicken unfolding as next year unfolds.  It would have one immeasurable plus from her point of view.  It would if successful be a win.  Her deal would have triumphed.  She would have crushed her internal opponents – hard Brexiteers, Norwegians, second referendum supporters: the lot.  The stage would be set for her to go on and on and on towards 2022.

So, back to the present. The wolf has cried 48 letters many times.  It may be that, unlike the animal in the fable, it never comes: that waiting for those letters is like waiting for Godot.  The next 24 hours or so may represent the last chance before the New Year for Tory MPs to act.  Some may do so, convinced that the Prime Minister is beyond rescue.  Others may waver still, terrified of the effect of a leadership challenge on what’s left of the negotiation, or unconvinced by May’s potential replacements.

Our bottom line is that the referendum result must be delivered.  If pro-Brexit MPs believe May is now set on a chicken game, they may stay their hand.  If they conclude that she is set on abandoning Brexit, they won’t and shouldn’t.  On Sunday, we recommended that Tory MPs should send in letters if no substantial change to the backstop emerges this week.  Perhaps the most reliable guide should be what could be called the Greg Hands test – namely, to send in those letters if real preparations for no deal aren’t announced before the weekend.

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Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: May provokes derisive laughter and has exhausted the House’s patience

The laughter began as the Prime Minister got half-way through her third sentence.  “I’ve listened very carefully to what has been said in this Chamber,” she said, and a roar of derision went up from the Opposition benches.

It was the sort of applause some ridiculous figure in a pantomime might receive. And the unhappy fact was that the Prime Minister did look ridiculous.

Having led the way forward to the meaningful vote wlth every appearance of confidence, and sent her ministers out this morning to assure the world that the Government was still marching forwards, here she was announcing that she was instead leading the way back to Brussels, in search of further “assurances”.

Sir Oliver Letwin (Con, West Dorset) praised “the dignity and perseverance” she has shown, and many sympathetic looks were directed at her amid the mockery she endured.

But the truth was that her position was utterly undignified, for she had realised at the eleventh hour that she could not persevere, because the Commons will not accept her deal.

So she had to exercise that most difficult and inadvisable manoeuvre, a retreat in full view of the enemy, with a hail of misslles raining down on her from every direction.

She tried one of her favourite double negatives, to which she has so often resorted in recent weeks: “There is no deal available that does not include the backstop.” And she insisted the challenge of the Northern Ireland border must be met “not with rhetoric” – a plain hit at the more flowery speakers among the Eurosceptics on her own benches – “but with real and workable solutions”.

But her own solution has just been shown to be unworkable. Theresa May did not have a leg to stand on, and the House could see she did not have a leg to stand on, and the more she tried to insist she did have a leg to stand on, the more she sounded like a straight actor who is currently appearing in a Christmas pantomime, in order to become the butt of everyone else’s jokes.

The Chief Whip, Julian Smith, entered the Chamber a few minutes late, looking like a mourner at a funeral who has encountered unexpected delays on the way to the church.

There was a tremor in the Prime Minister’s voice as she spoke one of her favourite clichés, “I am clear”, but she kept bravely on. One suspects  it is kindness, as shown by that very perfect gentle knight Sir Oliver, which would come closest to reducing her to tears.

Bravely but unconvincingly she insisted that hers is “the very best deal that is actually negotiable with the EU” – the quintessence of the Establishment view, but the Establishment is losing control.

“Does the House want to deliver Brexit?” she demanded. “No!” the Scots Nats shouted.

And quite a lot of MPs on both sides of the House agree with the Nats. Numerous pleas were made for a second referendum as a means of wriggling out of Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn said “the Government has lost control of events and is in complete disarray”. Things have come to a pretty pass when one finds oneself agreeing with him.

He told her that if she is just going to bring back “the same botched deal” then “she must give way”.

The Speaker, John Bercow, inflicted the torment on her of a lecture about manners. He said that to kill off the debate after no fewer than 164 MPs had spoken was “deeply discourteous”, and lectured her about how she should proceed.

The Prime Minister looked like a deeply upset yet inwardly recalcitrant schoolgirl, who feels herself unjustly accused of  breaking the school rules. The Chief Whip lent over and said something to her. It appeared he was rejecting the Speaker’s advice.

Vince Cable, for the Liberal Democrats, said that “after the fiasco today the Government has really lost all authority”, and his party would support a No Confidence motion.

Nigel Dodds, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Unionists, looking white with anger, observed that “this is an impossible position”, and asked: “Does she not get it by now?”

There was altogether a feeling, even among MPs less averse to compromise than Dodds, that May has exhausted everyone’s patience.

The veteran Labour Eurosceptic Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), traditionally known as the Beast of Bolsover, pointed out with a snarl that Brussels will see she is “very weak” and will humiliate her, in order to set a terrifying example to other countries which might feel tempted to leave the EU.

David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, asked whether she was going to get “legally enforceable” guarantees about the backstop. He did not get a reply, for legally enforceable guarantees are virtually impossible to obtain from the EU.

Jess Phillips (Lab, Birmingham Yardley) mocked Conservative Eurosceptics “who like to go around calling themselves Aslan”, and contended that whatever May might obtain in Brussels will “make absolutely no difference to these people”. And on that, one suspects, Phillips is right. It is hard to see how May can now satisfy anyone.

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MEANINGFUL VOTE PULLED. 11.15: Prime Minister’s spokesman – yes it’s on. 11.30: Cabinet members – no, it’s off…

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2018-12-10-at-12.28.44 MEANINGFUL VOTE PULLED. 11.15: Prime Minister’s spokesman – yes it’s on. 11.30: Cabinet members – no, it’s off… ToryDiary   Tomorrow’s “meaningful vote” has indeed been pulled.  There will be three statements in the Commons this afternoon: Theresa May’s on Brexit, Andrea Leadsom’s on Commons business and Stephen Barclay on Article 50.

Faced with a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, the Prime Minister has opted for the latter.  In our view, she had no choice – having gradually boxed herself in.  We read the decision as a desperate bid to fend off 48 letters.  Now let’s see if it works.

At any rate, Theresa May must now go to Brussels on Thursday and plead for concessions – without having put the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration to the vote.  Good luck with that one, coming from her at this stage.

Only this morning, Michael Gove said that the vote would go ahead.  As did Barclay yesterday.  Necessary as it was, the decision will do nothing to bolster trust in the Government – which is already on the floor.  This may not be the endgame for May, but it certainly feels like it.

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“Johnson is Aslan.” Discuss.

A Conservative MP was quoted yesterday as saying: “the era of the Ice Queen is over. The thaw is coming.”

Since Boris Johnson finds himself cast as Aslan, could readers please provide suggestions below for the following:

  • Mr Tumnus.
  • Edmund.
  • Mrs Beaver.
  • Lucy.
  • The Ice Queen’s dwarf.

P.S: One of the Prime Minister’s supporters is having trouble with C.S.Lewis’s famous title, misspeaking it to this site as “The Liar, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

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Opining for the fjords

“It’s time to study the map that leads from Norway to Canada,” we wrote in October – having already given the scheme “conceived by George Yarrow, written by Rupert Darwall, produced by George Trefgarne and now choreographed by Nick Boles” a fair wind last summer.  This site trawled through the pluses and minuses of the plan as best it could, urging Downing Street to drop its defunct Chequers Plan and study Norway-to-Canada as an alternative.

The plan has since run on to the rocks – and this Norwegian group divided – for three main reasons.  First, most Brexiteer MPs have been cool about the scheme at best and cold at worst.  Second, and more importantly, the Government set out to strangle it at birth: it is unlikely that Erna Solberg will have consistently poured icy water on the plan without Downing Street’s approval.  Finally, and more significantly still, the EU has discouraged it, since their preferred models are either Norway-plus-the-backstop or Canada-plus-the-backstop.

Rather than drop the scheme, Boles has taken the only practicable route now available to him – namely, making a virtue of necessity, and swallowing Norway-plus-the-backstop, teaming up recently with Stephen Kinnock to promote it.  While we can see a case for Norway to Canada (or “Norway for Now”, as its supporters then called it) and some pluses from permanent EEA membership, we can’t see an upside from Norway-plus-the-backstop (or “Norway Plus”, as its backers now label it, though “Norway Minus” would be a better label, since the possibility of a permanent customs union arrangement is a negative, not a positive).

Its supporters sometimes argue that the backstop may fall away in time.  But since it therefore may not, the scheme is left in the same condition as Theresa May’s proposed deal in this regard.  In other crucial respects, it is inferior to it, since the Prime Minister’s plan would end freedom of movement and payments to EU budgets.  Norway Plus would deliver the latter – though some money would pass from the UK to the EU27 – but not the former.

On borders, the EEA Agreement allows for “safeguard measures” – the so-called “emergency brake” – and “limitations justified on grounds of public policy”.  We are not in a position to apply the former, given the fall in EU migration, and it would be a stretch to work the latter, which could be used to limit work permits, into fully-fledged control of borders.  On money, we’d presumably have to pay “EFTA grants” to the poorer EU states.  That might well cost less than payments into the EU budget – but these would still be payments none the less.

Debating these points leads inevitably to a bigger one.  Supporters of all the Norway variants tend to argue that the UK is leaving the EU, not the EEA – and that we can therefore simply take up our EEA rights.  Legally, they may be correct.  But we suspect that the determinant of whether we could take up the Norwegian plans in any form would be politics, not law.  And our columnist Henry Newman has a point when he suggests that the EEA states, whether EU members or not, believe that the UK is too big to be treated like Norway.

The long and short of it is that we would probably, under any kind of EEA and EFTA arrangement, have to draw up our own special deal – a separate UK “pillar”.  Negotiating it would throw up distinct problems.  Henry writes that the EU won’t want us to have Norway’ services deal, and that “others don’t want us out of the Fisheries Policy & CAP, nor under the EFTA Court & Surveillance Authority (rather than the European Court of Justice). While they are at it we will probably end up asked to pay more money.  Add these together and they could quickly take away any advantages of Norway Plus and move it towards non-voting EU membership in all but name.”

To be clear: on paper, pure EEA membership has some positives.  We would be outside the EU’s jurisdiction on fisheries, farming, criminal justice, foreign affairs, defence and immigration.  The scale of the EU acquis would be smaller.  Our role in shaping it wouldn’t end: while it is true that we would technically become a rule-taker, is an exaggeration to claim that, in practical terms, we would end up as a vassal state.

But Norway Plus is not undistilled EEA membership.  And the latter is unlikely to be on offer in any event.  None the less, the Boles proposal has one big advantage over that other option currently being pushed in the Commons – postponing and then reversing Brexit via a second referendum.  Norway in any form equals leaving the EU – technically, anyway.  It could not truthfully be claimed that Norway Plus would dishonour the referendum instruction, though it can certainly be argued that while it sticks to the letter it is wide of the spirit.

That may matter if – or perhaps we should say when – May’s deal goes down.  Remove from its opponents the minority of MPs who would tolerate or welcome no deal, and what remains looks like a potential majority for either a second referendum or for Norway Plus.  Given a choice between the two, we would plump for the latter.  But we firmly believe the Government can avoid having to make it, by opting instead for the managed no deal that a mass of Cabinet Ministers and leadership candidates are now preparing to push for.

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