Charles Moore: 'Angela Merkel will now quietly decide destiny of the UK'
On the Leave side in Britain there is a real sense of anger at the way the whole negotiations are going, writes Charles Moore
The first thing to say is that, despite everything, the law of the land remains that the UK leaves the EU without a deal at 11pm on Friday this week. Given the alternatives, this would be much the best thing to do.
The second thing to say, however, is that this is highly unlikely. The combined effect of Mrs May's weak stubbornness, her crazy last-minute legitimation of Jeremy Corbyn, and the antics of Letwin-Bercow-Cooper-Boles-Benn - hereinafter referred to, for brevity, as "Letlose" - will probably see to that.
The declared purpose of Letlose was for parliament to "take control of the Brexit process". This cannot happen, because Brexit is a negotiation, and only governments, not parliaments, can negotiate.
So the actual effect of Letlose is to destroy the UK government's negotiating position with the EU. This is a disgraceful thing to do; but, in a funny way, it doesn't matter, because Mrs May has destroyed her own negotiating position anyway, by declaring, despite having said the opposite a hundred times, that no deal will not happen. She has no cards left to play.
All this means that parliament and the government have almost no role in what happens next - unless, as I say, they stick to what nearly 500 MPs voted for when they triggered Article 50, and let us leave without a deal. There is no point fretting about whether Mrs May's deal is better than staying in the customs union, since it is almost the same thing.
It provides, in the Political Declaration and by the backstop trap, what amounts to a customs union anyway. To steal Dr Johnson's phrase, it is like disputing the precedence between a louse and flea. The important point is that Letlose and Mrs May have now handed control of Brexit to the EU. So the EU sets the timing and the terms.
Therefore we can lift our eyes beyond Westminster. Rain stopped play there last Thursday afternoon. Let us pray that the roof goes on leaking for eight more days.
We should consider, instead, how the EU will now try to define the UK's fate during the extension whose length it will shortly decide. The EU is not, as some of my fellow Brexiteers think, a dictatorship, but an empire. Empires are not necessarily all bad. When they work, they can bring more peace, more order and better drains, as did both the Roman and the British. When they don't work, they impoverish, oppress and kill millions, as did the Soviet Union. On a scale out of 10, if the British empire is seven and the Soviet Union is one, the EU is three or four.
Their common problem is that they inevitably lack democratic legitimacy. So they perish. Empires have emperors. In this respect, the EU is a dual monarchy. Although it is also a bureaucracy - which is where, before lunch at least, Jean-Claude Juncker comes in - it really defers to whoever is Chancellor of Germany or President of France. Since the insane decision to create the euro, thus subjugating the zone to German economic preferences, the Germans have won.
As far as Brexit goes, then, we need briefly to consider Emmanuel Macron. He is an arrogant man, and unpleasant about Britain, but he is only a little emperor. One longs for him to exercise his residual power to refuse us any extension, but he won't. If he has a role in our drama, it is to be the hard cop.
The soft cop matters much more. WPC Merkel seems pleasant. If she were an empress in name as well as in fact, she might go down in history as Angela the Mild or Angela the Dull. This makes her more dangerous to the cause of Brexit than Mr Macron, because she will try to kill it with kindness.
Despite Mrs May's best efforts, she still fears no deal at a later date because it represents imperial failure. Mrs Merkel's kindness has already wreaked havoc in Europe - the feeble deal she offered David Cameron, her dire "rescue" of Greece, and her unilateral admission of a million mainly Muslim immigrants in one year.
Last Thursday, she flew to Dublin. She met people from the border counties. Like the benign empress bringing comfort to the most far-flung of her subjects, she sat down and sympathised with what she thought were their woes. As someone brought up in East Germany, she said, she knew what it was like to live with a wall dividing your country. She promised to prevent it in Ireland.
This historical comparison was insultingly mistaken. It implies that the North is - or might become - like communist East Germany, a dictatorship which severs a great people. It also implies that the imagined Brexit wall would be put up by the British. Empress Angela knows perfectly well this will not happen, because the only people wanting anything "hard" at the border are not the British and not the Republic, but the EU. In the event of no deal, Europe insists on a strict external frontier: it wants its tariffs. The Irish noticed none of this, because she was their great white mother from beyond the sea.
Mrs Merkel's visit had a more concealed purpose. She was saying gently to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: "We're with you, but are you really quite sure you want to go so hard on this backstop thing? Couldn't you make it a bit more provisional? If it brings about no deal, Ireland will be the biggest loser."
If there were some give on that front, the empress could then set her emissaries to work on a British government held captive during the extension period - flustered, if it stays long enough, by its inevitable hammering in the European elections. It would not surprise me if Daniel Hannan were the only Tory MEP left standing.
Enticing the UK by hints on the backstop, the EU could then pick its moment to work out how best to hold us down in the customs union and, if we remain as weak as we are now, demand a second referendum, too. Then, from the EU's point of view, the worst that can happen is that it neuters the UK: its best is that we decide to stay in after all, humiliated. Angela the Mild will avoid crowing, but her European Germany/German Europe (same thing) will have confirmed its reign, and she can happily hand over to her designated successor.
That is the way things are going. Can Britain do anything to stop it? Not, obviously, under Mrs May. Not under Mr Corbyn who, thanks to her begging him for help, now at last looks important. A bad Brexit, created by the Tories, is exactly what he wants.
There would have to be a new Conservative leader, who was a Leaver. He or she would have to exploit the long extension period to fight and win a general election, with the no-deal option as his proposed Brexit bottom line. He would blame Labour for the sell-out (though this would hardly be the full picture) and explicitly seek the numbers of MPs required to move his party, after more than two years of drift, to decision. For this he would need a purged central organisation which would let constituencies get rid of Remain candidates and pick Leave ones.
It does not sound likely, does it? The only reason to think that it might happen is the prospect of the alternative, which is annihilation.