Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: May's agreeing to backstop was proof she didn't 'get' what DUP are all about

Decisions over Brexit by successive Conservative Prime Ministers leave Nelson McCausland scratching his head

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during the debate on the government no-confidence motion in the House of Commons yesterday
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during the debate on the government no-confidence motion in the House of Commons yesterday
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

During much of the 20th century, the two dominant political parties in Great Britain were the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. It seemed, to many people, that this would always be the case, with two fairly cohesive and stable parties, but all that has changed and we are now in uncharted waters.

Of course, we should have remembered that, in the 19th century, it was the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party that dominated the political landscape. That was until the Liberal Party was torn asunder over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland.

Many Liberals broke away to become Liberal Unionists. Eventually, they were absorbed into the Conservative and Unionist Party.

The decision by William Gladstone to support Home Rule divided the mighty Liberal Party in a way he never intended. Today, in a similar way, a handful of key decisions are destabilising the two main political parties, with the potential to divide, or destroy, one or both.

There is more uncertainty about the political future than there has been in a very long time, and there is a possibility that we will see a radical reshaping of British politics.

When David Cameron called a referendum on membership of the European Union, he hoped that this would settle the issue in the way that he wanted. He assumed, arrogantly and erroneously, that the country would naturally back his call to remain in the EU.

However, he had misread the mood across the United Kingdom, especially the strength of opposition to the European project of greater integration.

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As confirmed globalists, politicians like Cameron and George Osborne were simply unable to understand how passionately Brexiteers felt about the EU. They were not going to allow themselves to be bullied by the promoters of Project Fear, and 17.4 million people voted Leave.

Cameron was totally unprepared for the defeat, and the morning after the referendum, shocked, humiliated and emotional, he announced his resignation.

Yesterday, Cameron said that he did not regret calling the referendum, but as I watched the interview I wasn’t convinced.

Theresa May was elected as his successor and, after a poor performance in the General Election in June 2017, ended up as a Prime Minister who was totally reliant on 10 DUP votes to stay in power.

That is why I could not understand her decision to sign up to the EU backstop.

It first appeared in the draft withdrawal agreement in November 2017, and for me it was a head-scratching moment.

Did she not understand what she was agreeing to? Did she not realise that this would be anathema to the DUP, on whom she relied, and anathema to many of her own MPs?

Cameron did not understand the people, and May and her advisers did not understand the DUP.

That is a significant part of the background to the current impasse at Westminster.

Meanwhile, Labour is also in disarray over Brexit. The divisions within the party have received less scrutiny than the divisions within the Conservatives, but they will certainly be exposed in the wake of the rejection of May’s deal.

Many traditional working-class Labour voters, especially in the north of England, are strongly Eurosceptic and voted Leave, whereas most Labour MPs backed Remain. That divide has been complicated by the growing dominance of the Momentum movement within Labour.

Under the previous and largely ineffectual leader, Ed Milliband, the party adopted a radical rule change whereby voting within the party was extended to registered supporters, who eventually signed up in their thousands to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

At the time, I wondered whether I had missed something, or whether they were really throwing the door wide open for far-Left entryism.

In fact, I hadn’t missed anything. That was another head-scratching moment, and it has placed the far-Left Momentum movement in the ascendancy.

Those newer and often younger members are generally Remainers, and that is why Corbyn spends as much time as possible equivocating about the EU.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties are in a sorry state, riven by divisions and containing many Remainers determined to become Reversers and subvert the will of the 17.4 million people who voted Leave.

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