Mrs. May wins the title for blinkered stubbornness, some call it guts and determination. From the start she drew hard red lines to please the extreme Brexiteers in her party. They are strong and determined but a minority. Their inspiration seems to be a mix of nostalgia for Britain’s days of Empire and the wish to take Thatcherism further – low taxes, low welfare, few rights for workers or women or protection of the environment.
May never tried to see if there was a majority for staying in the Customs Union and Single Market. If the UK had done this, there would have been no problem on the Irish border and it would have been easier for trade. The Brexiteers oppose this because they say they want to negotiate trade deals without this constraint. But the EU itself is half our trade and it has 40 trade deals with 70 countries and is negotiating with China. At the moment the UK benefits from these. The only big market left for the Brexiteers is the US and that means chlorinated chicken and hormone-filled beef which would cut UK farmers off from other places, as well as damage our food. The Brexiteers are living in a fantasy world and Mrs May has been indulging them.
It is also clear that the Brexiteers do not care about the danger of controls on the Irish border to peace. The madness here is that the DUP who are leading the opposition to the backstop, opposed the Good Friday Agreement and do not represent the majority of people in Northern Ireland who voted for Remain.
What will happen now? The House of Commons will vote against a no deal Brexit and for more time. But there is still no agreement on a positive plan. The obvious thing to do is give all MPs a free vote and take indicative votes on all the options. But time is running out and the EU will not agree more time unless we know why we want it.
With the House of Commons so divided, the best option is surely a second referendum now that people understand the options. This would almost certainly vote for Remain and the whole thing would go away. People say this would divide the country but this would be no more than existing divisions. We have this problem because a small majority voted for Brexit for a mixture of motives. The right solution is to let them vote again now they know what Brexit means. The vote would be between May’s deal and Remain. And the result would be binding.