Bill Carmichael: Brexit infighters risk our exit from the EU

IF an alien from the planet Zog landed his spaceship in the UK right now he would be baffled at the fractious nature of our political landscape '“ particularly the toxic infighting engulfing the Conservative party.

Conventional political wisdom, even I suspect on the planet Zog, is that all voters really care about is the economy – jobs, wages, interest rates and inflation. Get these right and the votes will follow at election time.

And given that the economic fundamentals in the UK remain so steadfastly robust – in defiance of all the hysterical doom mongering from Project Fear – you would imagine members of the ruling party would be hugging each other in glee, rather than trying to rip each other’s throats out.

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With all the excitement over Brexit, some pieces of news slide by without getting very much attention at all.

Theresa May, speaking in 10 Downing Street after winning a confidence vote.

For example, this week the Office for National Statistics revealed that wages are rising at their fastest level than for nearly a decade and that average weekly earnings increased by 3.3 per cent in the year to October – the highest figure since 2008. The figures can speed past in a blur, but the simple fact is that working people have more money to spend in their pockets.

The next piece of good news, from the same authoritative source, was about employment and demonstrated that the incredible “jobs miracle” under Theresa May’s Government is continuing apace. In the three months to October, employment rose by 79,000 to reach 32.5 million – the highest since records began in 1971.

The overall unemployment rate is 4.1 per cent. Compare that to France (almost 9 per cent), Italy (10.6 per cent) and Spain (14.8 per cent). Youth unemployment is considerably higher. Unelected and unaccountable EU bureaucrats have sacrificed the aspirations and livelihoods of entire generations of young citizens on the altar of the doomed Euro project.

High unemployment and ever increasing taxes are precisely why so many French people are prepared to don the gilets jaunes to force their government to change course.

Compared to France and much of the moribund EU, the UK is basking in the sunlit uplands – high employment, growing wages, steady economic growth and manageable inflation. In normal circumstances the ruling party would be reaping the benefits of these benign economic signals – but of course these are not normal circumstances.

Brexit has poisoned the political well – all the more reason for us to sort it out as soon as possible.

This week’s challenge by Tory MPs to Mrs May’s leadership failed, although with more than a third of her MPs voting against her she is without doubt badly wounded. It failed at least partly because of the lack of a credible alternative leader. Boris Johnson, charismatic and occasionally brilliant though he is, carries too much baggage.

Michael Gove doesn’t seem to want it, Amber Rudd is handicapped by a wafer-thin majority in her Hastings constituency, and when I mention the Home Secretary’s name to Conservative supporters the most common reaction is “Sajid who?”

Either way, the Conservative rebels have shot their bolt – under the leadership election rules Mrs May is safe from another challenge for 12 months.

So the only mechanism the rebels have to topple Mrs May is to bring down the Government – a hugely risky and frankly irresponsible course of action.

It could risk, for example, us ending up with no Brexit at all – a disastrous result for our democracy and for trust in the political class. Do we really want Remainer plotters such as Tony Blair to steal Brexit from under the noses of the people?

Equally dangerous are the chances of a general election resulting in a Labour or Labour/SNP coalition government. Do we really want Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to get their hands on our security and economy? The thought makes one shudder.

Mrs May is now trying to get some further reassurances from EU leaders – preferably legally enforceable ones – that we would be able to get out of the Northern Ireland “backstop” which forms part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

I wish her well, and if she succeeds it may make the deal acceptable to many of her colleagues. But even if she doesn’t, the Conservative mutineers will have some tough questions to ask themselves.