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Rudd for May

What a sorry state this country, this sceptic isle, is in.

The disunited kingdom is ruled by an incompetent government led by a floundering prime minister, to whom the only alternatives are whoever emerges from a pack of dogmatic right-wing Tory extremists determined to impose their will, come what may, or Jeremy Corbyn, for whom appropriate adjectives shrink into tautological redundancy.

Does anyone in Westminster know what they are doing? Do any of our elected politicians have the foggiest notion of what they hope to achieve, other than achieving personal power or satisfying a lust for revenge?

Do we electors, presently standing by bemused as the spectacle of Britain’s epochal quandary unfolds, now know what we want, in light of the bruising Brexit experience of the past two years? I think not, other than to agree that the whole Brexit business should go away. Voters may yet be given the chance to have their say. A second referendum is now increasingly likely but by no means certain. But can we be confident that voters would be capable of delivering a clear-cut verdict this time? And exactly what verdict would we be asked to deliver? Whatever the choices that might be included in a new ballot paper, the exercise itself would be regarded by half the country as a form of betrayal – a word that has not been given such wide exposure since Mr Chamberlain returned from Munich.

Questions, and yet questions, but no answers: neither from the right nor the left, certainly not from the centre which anyway no longer functionally exists.

There is only one sensible, credible solution.

Call the whole thing off.

Abandon for the time being any attempt to leave the EU and start again. The negotiations are hopelessly deadlocked and parliament is helplessly divided. What is the point of struggling on, which Mrs May is turning into an art form.

Restarting the process would have to be done by a new leader. Mrs May in this scenario must tender her resignation, staying in office until her successor as Tory leader is named. That leader should be one who is confident enough to call a general election, in which the party campaign manifestos set out their plan for withdrawal from the European Union, and in the most precise terms, or justify staying in. That would leave the voters ultimately to decide the matter, this time based on an informed choice rather than a hap-hazard guess.

Mrs May will not voluntarily resign, of course, but her cabinet could force her out by threatening, en masse, to resign themselves. In any event – and all the events leading to her political demise would be extreme – the choice should no longer be hers. If she hangs on she will lose a parliamentary vote on her EU deal, whatever ‘clarifications’ she might extract on the Irish border question. In that event there would be little point in her trying to carry on as usual; she would not be just a lame duck but a dead one.

My best-of-a-bad-bunch choice of her successor would be Amber Rudd, one of the few sensible centrists in the May cabinet, and a woman of presence.

She is a Remainer, it is true, and is therefore tainted in the eyes of many in her party, but I am confident that she would be capable of listening with an open-mind to colleagues and voters alike, especially given a clean slate rather than a poisoned chalice.

The mad Brexiteer group in cabinet would find her unacceptable, of course, but too bad. Let them by all means resign their posts and put up a candidate to run against her – a spectacle which I suspect would expose the lot of them for the self-aggrandising, opportunistic but laughably inept plotters they undoubtedly are. (Who calls for a vote of confidence in a prime minister, and in the middle of a national crisis too, without first doing the arithmetic?)
The Brexit gang have never bothered to offer a realistic alternative plan to end the present impasse because they can’t agree among themselves on the right approach. Besides, they have been too busy vying with each other for the leadership, stabbing each other rather than their intended victim. Their one accomplishment, if it can be called that, is to have dominated the Brexit agenda right from the start.

Mrs May ought to have sent them packing months ago, even at the risk of her job. That is what prime ministers are supposed to do, and once did as a matter of course. She may not be the consummate negotiator the Brexit situation demands, even if against all the evidence she thinks she is, but the Tory Right has made her job all the more difficult, and mostly for reasons unrelated to the resolution of the problem.

It is time for the Tory dog – a new dog – to wag the tail rather than the other way round.

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