As I was going into London yesterday morning, a familiar face entered the carriage at Twickenham. As we pulled into Waterloo, I got up and smiled at him. Vince Cable saw my Stronger In badge, smiled back, and we left going our own separate ways.
This morning Vince has published the start of a roadmap for how our Kingdom gets itself reunited. This is what the Lib Dems have been doing for a few days now, while the media is sucked into the stories of self-interest demonstrated by both Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Official Opposition.
For what it’s worth, I think Vince’s analysis is fundamentally sound. We need to understand the alienation felt by many of the 52%, and propose alternative ways forwards to reintegrate them, to ensure that our ruling classes don’t leave them any further behind.
Where I do, perhaps, disagree with Sir Vince is his thoughts around when the next General Election will be.
It’s easy for me to pat myself on the back and say that since Friday morning, despite all the news coverage, I was fairly sure we were looking at a Prime Minister May in the autumn. The Conservatives never, ever choose the favourite – although I don’t know whether the favourite has ever withdrawn before the contest before. And the leaked email yesterday, and the links to Murdoch and Dacre mean that Gove is clearly not his own man. Instead the threat may come from Crabb. We’ll see.
But let me plot out where we might then find ourselves.
It’s becoming clear that the other countries in the EU are uniting behind the line that the UK needs to trigger Article 50 before any serious negotiations start. It is also a strong likelihood that any move to trigger Article 50 would require Parliamentary backing. At the moment, that is far from assured. Figures I’ve seen seem to indicate that there are around 450 Remain MPs. The Tories may just unite behind their new PM to trigger this, but several may not, and a majority of only 12 needs only 7 to rebel – although, in reality, around 30 or 40 more rebels may be required to cope with the DUP, UKIP and Labour Leave elements. And if the measure will require the backing from the Lords as well – again it won’t be clear whether the Lords will take the view that they must protect EU membership or whether they bow to the referendum result.
So it is possible that PM May may not gain the required Parliamentary backing, In which case her only resort would be to go to the country in a general election to back her policy. So I think we are still looking at a spring General Election.
What happens then is anyone’s guess. Membership of the EU will become the primary dividing line in our politics. For Tories and some Labour MPs, it will be important to know whether they are Remain or Leave. And that’s the basis of a fundamental split in one, and maybe both parties. The Tories split over the Corn Laws in 1846 and on Tariff Reform in 1902 – both similarly divisive issues.
Whether we will leave the EU will then be entirely dependent upon the makeup of the new House of Commons. Boundary changes won’t have come into effect then – in fact, I’m not sure what the effect of calling a spring election will be on them. It’s possible that all sorts of electoral pacts may need to be made, with UKIP not standing against prominent Tory Leavers, and maybe also a pact on the left also.
We are in completely uncharted territory.