What will May put first — the Conservative Party or the Union?

Today's British-Irish summit spotlights the prime minister's dilemma

Image: Scottish Government

‘One of the most important ever’ — That is how Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has described today’s gathering of the British Irish Council in Wales, which will to consider the outcome of the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union.

Sturgeon is right. What the meeting speaks to is that along with Brexit meaning Brexit, the biggest challenge for Theresa May is keeping the UK together as a geographical entity, and it is difficult to see how she can proceed.

In Scotland, during her first official trip there a week ago today she declared that Article 50 would not be activated until a UK wide approach had been agreed.

That will be impossible to achieve since the Scottish Government’s policy is simple – to remain in the EU whatever it takes.  David Davis, leading Brexit discussions for the UK Government meanwhile has warned that Scotland cannot have a veto over the negotiations.

The sense of impending doom for Scotland’s place in the UK is palpable and very real and can only really be resolved either through a screeching U-turn in SNP policy, or Scotland going it alone.

Faced with such circumstances, the UK Government cannot in all fairness resist calls for a vote north of the border on its future place in the UK, the EU and the world.

By Monday of this week it was Cardiff’s turn to host the new Prime Minister. In a nation that voted for Brexit, Ms May did at least find a First Minister who accepted that the UK would be leaving the EU. But Carwyn Jones does insist that Wales must retain access to the single market.

Just days later at Prime Minister’s Questions, the arch Eurosceptic Conservative, Sir Edward Leigh, called on the Prime Minister to make his day and commit to leaving the Single Market. Square pegs and round holes spring to mind.

And then there is Northern Ireland and what happens with the border with the rest of Ireland.

The argument that the UK can gain greater control over who comes in and goes out of the country under Brexit, without imposing checks on the Northern Ireland/Ireland border simply does not tally. It can be only be one or the other, and either way, someone is going to be left bitterly disappointed.

And so, today’s meeting of the British Irish Council is an important opportunity for all components of our islands to come up with a clear, coherent set of proposals for Brexit, the kind that the UK Government has so far failed to do.

The UK as we know it stands on the edge of destruction. Ms May’s honeymoon is likely to prove short-lived as she soon begins to disappointed vocal politicians all over the country.

It’s hard to see how any of this can be fudged. Something will have to give – the right wing of the Conservative Party or the UK as it is currently constituted.

Theresa May will need to decide what matters most to her and to her government.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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9 Responses to “What will May put first — the Conservative Party or the Union?”

  1. ben madigan

    scotland and N ireland want to remain in the EU and if that means leaving the UK, so be it. Unionists have a choice to make – which Union do they want to belong to?
    And if the conservative party opts to maintain the UK, if it even can, what about all those English and welsh people who voted to leave. How’s it going to cope with them? And how’s it going to cope with an EU that wants it to get going out as soon as possible? And probably will not look too kindly on a sppech along the lines of “Sorry, we’ve changed our mind”


  2. Richard MacKinnon

    The answer to the question in your headline is – The Union.
    There is a very important lesson to be learnt here. Tories will always put the interests of the UK before the interests of their party as you have seen over their twenty year internal struggle over EU membership. It is an admirable trait whether you are a Tory supporter or not and it is a lesson Labour have never learnt. Part of the problem Labour has at this time is because Labour MPs do the opposite; they have no real firm beliefs, only faux claims of party loyalty, that The Party comes before all else. Its vacuous and everyone can see right through it. Labour values = fighting like ferrets in a sack for power.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald

    Mr MacKinnon, you might, indeed, be right about Mrs May’s, and many of her party’s, choice, but that begs the question of ‘whose UK?’ I think that the UK that you and many Conservatives wish to maintain is an John Bull/UK/roast beef/cycling spinsters/warm beer/ privileges for those who have the right background/ financial interests of the City and landowners. It is a UK from which the majority of the population are excluded from real power and who are tolerated because they serve the powerful.
    If you were really honest with yourself, you would seek independence for England. Indeed, I think that all of those who live within the borders of England should begin to consider seriously, what kind of England they want. I sincerely wish them well in that task.
    As you will probably have inferred, I want Scotland to become an independent country and one which remains within the EU. Today’s meeting in Cardiff, is I think, perhaps, hope, will be the start of a sincere dialogue amongst England, both parts of Ireland, Scotland and Wales as to how best we can determine our futures in an amicable way.

  4. Richard MacKinnon

    “I want Scotland to become an independent country and one which remains within the EU”. You took part in the two referendums so why not accept the results?

  5. Alasdair Macdonald

    Of course, I recognise the results of both referenda.
    However, if the logic you are putting forward, Mr MacKinnon, were to be accepted, there would only ever have been one election. We have elections at intervals because circumstances change, people change their minds, people reflect on previous campaigns.
    So, I recognise that both referenda have given us decisions for now, but, as far as the 2014 referendum is concerned, circumstances have changed quite significantly, some people have died or left Scotland, others have become voters, the campaigns of the time have been analysed and discussed. So, there is a case for developing a new referendum campaign.
    I did not sign any petition to have the 2016 referendum rerun. A majority across the United Kingdom had voted to leave the EU, in a properly run election. I recognise that decision. We are in circumstances which few of us have experienced before. It is clear that there was little contingency planning about possible outcomes and things are evolving. There is uncertainty. Some time down the line we will have to have either a general election, another referendum in Scotland, a border poll in Ireland, a vote on the outcomes of the negotiations with the EU, or some combination of these, or a rearrangement of the UK constitution, referenda in England and Wales, etc. People who voted Leave might change their mind or some Remainers might feel things are better after all.
    Democracy allows us to change our minds or to seek to change electoral outcomes, but we do it peacefully, without coups and, as far as possible violence and rancour.

  6. Alasdair Macdonald

    Apologies – a ‘without’ was omitted before ‘violence’.

  7. Richard MacKinnon

    There is a difference between general elections and referendum. GEs come around every 5 years. We can change the party in power if they are no good. Referendum are different. If Scotland had voted Yes in 2014 Scotland would now be an independent country. It didnt. It voted No.

  8. Alasdair Macdonald

    Mr MacKinnon,
    Indeed, there is a difference in that one is usually about a single issue and the other deals with a wide range of issues. But, they both require voters to make a choice.
    GEs have only since 2010 been put on fixed terms, but this can be changed by a vote in Parliament. Indeed, given the post EU referendum uncertainty, the disarray in the Labour Party and pressure in Northern Ireland and Scotland following their ‘Remain’ majorities, such a change in the fixed term rule is possible.
    Scotland did, indeed, vote NO in 2014, and so is still part of the U.K. But, in the interim, we have had a GE in which the SNP won 56 of 59 seats with a whisker short of 50% of the vote. There has been a Scottish Parliamentary election, where, although the SNP lost its absolute majority, it actually won more constituencies and a greater share of the vote than in the 2011 election and, with the Greens, has an overall pro-independence majority in the Parliament. In the EU Referendum, Scotland voted 62% – 38% to remain, with every electoral area voting remain. Add in things like EVEL, the vote to renew Trident, the rejection of every amendment to the Scotland Bill, the rigging of the market against renewables, the delay in the frigate construction order and the promises of Better Together are revealed for the mendacity that they were.
    The vilification and humiliation of those with low incomes, supported by a section of Labour is at odds with the views of a majority in Scotland.
    So, circumstances have changed significantly in the past 22 months.
    Had Scotland voted YES as I (and I think I read somewhere that you, too) wished, then it is likely that Scotland would be independent now, but, I suspect that a significant number, possibly led by Lord Robertson, would have sought to delay or overturn that. I suspect that there will be similar attempts to overturn the EU decision. As I said, although a Remain supporter, I did not sign any petition for a rerun. I accept that we must explore options following the result. However, if there were A GE and there were a clear commitment by one or more parties to rerun the referendum, I would probably vote for one of them. Such reruns have happened in other EU states over, for example Maastricht.
    Democracy is about discourse and debate about change. There are checks and balances to seek to avoid frequent pendular change, but, if sufficient people want it, change there will be. Sadly, rancour will always be present in some on all sides, but, if it is in an absence of violence, then we can live, and have lived, with it.

  9. Alasdair Macdonald

    My final contribution: I was surprised to read that Anatole Kaletsky, with whose views I have not often accepted, made similar points to those in my first paragraph and, secondly, Mr Roger Scruton made some interesting points about differences concerning English Common Law and Scots Law and the cultural dichotomy arising. He might have been hinting that an amicable parting of the ways is in both our interests.

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