Bill Carmichael: The stark choice facing Conservative rebels over Brexit

THREE thumping defeats for Theresa May in the House of Commons this week '“ and still she battles on.

Will Theresa May survive next week's Brexit vote?

Amid the most intense and brutal Parliamentary infighting seen in many a year, Mrs May breaks off the struggle to endure a gruelling flight to the G20 meeting in Argentina before returning and heading straight back into the Westminster bear pit once again.

Agree with her or not, she really is a quite remarkable woman, with reserves of stamina and fortitude that put most of us to shame.

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And perhaps the upside of those defeats, damaging as they were, is that it has brought a little bit of clarity to the muddy waters of the Battle for Brexit.

Let me explain. Until now, the Brexiteer rebels on the Conservative back benches have argued that Mrs May’s withdrawal deal from the EU is so poor that we would be better off leaving without any deal at all and trading under WTO rules.

This is not without dangers, or course, as amplified on a regular basis by the likes of the CBI and the Bank of England governor Mark Carney, although I am not sure anyone takes much notice of them any more.

As every one of the doom-mongers’ forecasts so far has been proved to be wrong, they really need to give a compelling reason why we should trust them this time around – and that hasn’t happened.

But things may have shifted significantly this week thanks to an amendment put forward by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve in the Commons.

The gist of the amendment – just one of the hat-trick of defeats inflicted on the Government – is that if Mrs May’s withdrawal deal is rejected by the Commons next Tuesday, MPs as a whole, rather than the Cabinet, will effectively decide what happens next.

As most MPs are staunch Remainers, this means the chance of a “no deal” has receded drastically – they simply won’t let that happen.

Instead Remainer MPs, and unelected, unaccountable peers, will push for a second referendum – and no doubt a third, fourth and fifth until the people deliver the “right” result deemed acceptable by the establishment elite.

Alternatively they will demand that we abandon Article 50 altogether and stay in the EU by default – perhaps at the cost of increased contributions, the end of our rebate and handing over our armed forces to the new EU army.

Both options would, of course, be a dismissive slap in the face for the 17.4 million people who voted to Leave in 2016 – the biggest exercise in participatory democracy this country has ever seen.

You may recall the Government leaflet, delivered to every household in the country in the run up to the 2016 vote, which made a solemn and unbreakable promise: “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.”

It would also ignore the views of more than 84 per cent of voters who supported pro-Brexit parties in the 2017 General Election.

Not to put too fine a point on it – Remainers are plotting to steal Brexit from under the noses of the British people.

If they are allowed to get away with this, it will be an unmitigated disaster for our country. It would inflict irreparable damage to our democracy and destroy whatever vestiges of trust people retain in the political process.

And as the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, warned in the pages of The Yorkshire Post this week, once you start undermining trust in democracy – as we would do by holding a second referendum – the result risks potential “civil unrest and violence”.

If you need a reminder of what happens when the public lose faith in their political leaders and feel they have been cheated, just take a look at France – riots, barricades on the boulevards, roadblocks on the motorways and city centres ablaze. Do we really want to go down that route?

So it seems to me the choice facing the Conservative and DUP Brexiteer rebels is narrowing and becoming clearer.

It is no longer a choice between Mrs May’s flawed deal and a clean “no deal”. Instead the decision is increasingly 
stark – either Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit at all.

I suspect the logic of this argument will peel off a few Tory waverers over the next few days, but the odds are still stacked against Mrs May.