EVEN by the standards of our politically volatile times, it is remarkable.
The Brexit Party launched just over a week ago. Yet it is now leading in the UK polls for the European elections and is favourite to win them.
Its meteoric rise is testament to both public anger at the delays to Britain leaving the European Union and to Nigel Farage’s skill as a campaigner.
But would the Brexit Party winning the European Parliament elections actually change anything?
There are three ways in which it would have an impact.
First, it will make some MPs more wary of a second referendum. Support for this has grown in Parliament in recent months, in part because more MPs have become confident that Remain would come out on top.
But if the Brexit Party wins the European elections, it will show that another referendum would be anything but a cakewalk for Remain. This might make some of these MPs more inclined to compromise.
One group whom a Farage victory won’t make more inclined to compromise are the Brexiteer holdouts against May’s deal. They’ll argue that his success proves that the public supports No Deal.
But I suspect that what it would show more than anything else is voters’ frustration that Brexit hasn’t happened yet.
It is the delay — that these MPs must take their share of the blame for — which is so infuriating the public.
Success for the Brexit Party will come at the expense of the Tories more than any other party.
Debate will quickly shift to how the Tories can win these voters back, and that will boost the chances of the Brexiteer leadership contenders. Indeed, the return of Farage has already led to Tory
MPs taking a second look at Boris Johnson. The other great question is, what effect will a win for the Brexit Party have on Labour?
The cross-party Brexit talks will resume next week, but those close to them hold out little hope of success.
The sense is that they will, in the words of one source, “drag on for a while” but it is “unlikely they will reach agreement”.
But if the Brexit Party is taking votes from Labour in its traditional heartlands, it will strengthen the hand of those in the party who just want to get a Brexit deal done so the issue is off the stocks before the next election.
Some in government admit that this is unlikely to happen, as doing a deal with Theresa May on Brexit would cause bitter divisions in Labour’s ranks.
They do hold out hope, though, that it might lead to more Labour MPs being prepared to back the deal — a mere five Labour MPs voted for the withdrawal agreement last month.
But with the DUP and hardcore Brexiteers determined not to back the deal, it would require 30 or more Labour MPs to come over — which is a hard ask — for the deal to pass.
Perhaps the most significant consequence of a Brexit Party triumph is that it would finish off Farage’s old party, Ukip.
Ukip’s flirtation with Tommy Robinson street thuggery and YouTube stars who make light of rape has been a disaster for the party.
The electorate will simply have no truck with such extremist nonsense and so Ukip won’t be the beneficiaries of the public’s anger at the Brexit delays.
Queen’s speech exposes shambles
IF any government needed a reboot, it is this one. But the problem for Theresa May is that doing that requires a Queen’s Speech, and that could bring down her government.
Ministers worry that any Queen’s Speech would have to include within it the Brexit deal. After all, that would be the biggest piece of legislation going through Parliament in the coming session.
But if it did, the Queen’s Speech may well be voted down. Labour and Tory Brexit rebels could get together to defeat the Government.
As one source at the heart of government points out: “If you haven’t got the votes for the deal, why would you have the votes to pass the Queen’s Speech?”
A Queen’s Speech would also require the Government to do another deal with the DUP – the current agreement only lasts for this session of Parliament.
Given the way the two party leaderships have fallen out over Brexit, this won’t be easy.
One Cabinet minister tells me that the Tory/DUP relationship needs “completely resetting” and that it will be a “pretty fraught negotiation”. But if the Government doesn’t do a Queen’s Speech, it will become embarrassingly obvious that it is in office but NOT IN POWER.
The Commons won’t have any government legislation to discuss. Rather, it will have to fill its time with pointless general debates.
As one secretary of state frets: “What legislation do we have to keep bringing forward?”
The Tories need to show that despite the Brexit impasse, they do have ideas on domestic policy – and that is going to require a Queen’s Speech.
No green light for Amber yet
DON’T hold your breath for any Tory leadership dream tickets.
A growing number of Cabinet ministers think that any contest is now six months away and therefore don’t want to commit to backing a candidate now.
One minister close to the efforts to broker a dream ticket tells me: “Everything could look very different in October, so what’s the point in signing up now?”
So all those waiting to see if Amber Rudd teams up with Boris Johnson or Michael Gove are going to have to keep on waiting.
Party chairman in Pakistan
WITH the Tories in existential crisis, where was the party chairman? Pakistan.
Ministers were incredulous at the fact that with the party trying to prevent catastrophic losses in both local and European elections, and grassroots activists threatening a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, Brandon Lewis was off to Pakistan.
Allies of the chairman point out that he was only there for 24 hours and that the trip was part of a Tory effort to strengthen community ties.
It’s right that the Tories should want to speak to British Pakistanis more.
But Lewis would surely be better off doing that here rather than leaving the country with his party in crisis.
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Britain must embrace space race
BREXIT Britain should reach for the stars. We need to put rocket boosters under our space programme.
As research from the think tank Policy Exchange’s new Space Policy Unit highlights, the UK spends considerably less on space than every other permanent member of the UN Security Council.
With space’s strategic importance only going to grow in the coming years, this needs to change if the UK is not to be left behind.
The good news is we have the technical expertise we need in this country.
We now just need the Government to get behind a space programme and ensure that the UK doesn’t get left at the starting line in this new and more important race.