Finally, after months of fraught negotiations, the UK-EU negotiators have come up with a proposed deal. Written on the side, however, are instructions: light the blue touchpaper and stand well clear.
All hell is about to break loose. From the point of view of big business, the draft deal is not too bad, tying the British economy to Europe. But for Tory Brexiteers, in particular, the deal is toxic.
Mrs May has attempted to defend the interests of business. But this has come at the cost of opening up civil war in the Tory Party.
After a five-hour cabinet meeting, despite heated divisions, the Prime Minister was able to force through an agreement. Her ultimatum was effectively: either my deal, or no deal - and no Brexit.
Apparently 10 or 11 ministers opposed her in this meeting, but they eventually acquiesced. It was a “collective” agreement - at the point of a gun.
Decisive step…over a cliff edge
“This is a decisive step,” said May, “which enables us to move on and finalise the deal in the days ahead.”
But such soothing assurances should be taken with a bucket load of salt. There will be no “moving on”.
Things have already begun to unravel quickly. Two cabinet ministers have resigned: the pensions secretary Esther McVey and, more importantly, the minister responsible for negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU, Dominic Raab.
Raab had only been in the job a few months, following the resignation of David Davis, who stepped down as Brexit secretary after the announcement of the proposed Chequers deal in the summer.
These latest departures follow on from a series of high profile resignations over the past year, as the question of Brexit tears the Tory Party apart. It seems likely that others will follow, putting May’s future as party leader and prime minister in serious question.
The Tories: a sinking ship
This is the most serious government crisis in living memory. May’s government is tottering on the edge of a precipice. It is holed below the waterline, sinking fast. All attempts to plug the gaps seem ineffective. The water continues to flood in. Soon they will all be up to their necks.
Ironically, a few days after the Armistice commemorations, the German newspaper Der Spiegel put it well by stating that May had dodged a bullet in the cabinet. It would be more appropriate to say a hail of bullets.
The deal has antagonised all sides. Now May is fighting to save her own political skin. She has risked everything for the sake of the country, the so-called “national interest” - in other words, the interests of big business.
Brexit has been a mess from the beginning. Cameron gambled and lost. And now the ruling class are faced with the consequences. The Tory Party is going to be torn to shreds. Europe has poisoned the Tory Party and is in the process of destroying it.
For the bankers and capitalists, the thought of a no-deal Brexit was too daunting for words. It would be a calamity for their markets and profits. They are doing everything in their power to prevent this. They clearly twisted May’s arm to accept a “soft” Brexit - and she obeyed.
According to the draft agreement, leaving aside all the details, Britain would remain closely tied to Europe, either in a trade agreement or in a “backstop”. Britain would have to accept EU laws to provide a “level playing ground”. This customs arrangement could be extended indefinitely, if no further agreement is reached. This would be a Brexit in name only.
This has sent the Tory Brexiteers into a frenzy, who have threatened to depose her. As Tory MP, Conor Burns, stated:
“I have consistently said we don’t want to change the PM, we want to change the policy of the PM. However there comes a point where if the PM is insistent that she will not change the policy, then the only way to change the policy is to change the personnel.”
The same point was made by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who urged rebellion, comparing the situation to the fight against King John.
“There comes a point,” the arch-Brexiteer Tory MP said, “at which the policy and the individual become so intimately connected that it will be very hard to carry on supporting the person who is promoting this policy.”
Another Eurosceptic MP described Raab’s resignation as the “end game” for Mrs May’s leadership. “If the guy who was supposed to be leading it can’t support it,” he added, “then how can MPs or the country. It’s a horror show. There’s no way back. She has just got to go. This is an epic fail.”
General election on the cards
The writing is therefore on the wall for Theresa May. All a Tory leadership challenge would take is for the 1922 backbench committee to receive 48 letters calling for her to step down to trigger a ballot.
Such a vote could happen in days. It is therefore possible that May could be on the verge of being ousted. Even if the Tories find a new leader (possibly Boris Johnson or Rees-Mogg), the government is likely to fall as it would no longer have a majority.
A new Tory leader would have to negotiate with Europe and the DUP at the same time, with the reactionary Northern Irish party having little interest now in propping up a Tory government. And without DUP support, the government is finished.
The deadline for leaving the EU is 29 March. There is no time to renegotiate another deal. However, all this could be overtaken with a general election in the New Year.
If May is deposed and there is no majority, then Jeremy Corbyn, being the leader of the opposition party, will be asked to form a government. Without a majority for this, the only option will be a general election.
Even if May survives, which cannot be ruled out, after the Europeans have endorsed the deal, it will be placed before the House of Commons, which is likely before Christmas.
The deal has already attracted widespread opposition from all sides. Both wings of the Labour Party are against it. Seemingly both wings of the Tory Party are also against it. The nationalist parties are opposed, as are the Lib Dems and the DUP.
May’s negotiated deal therefore looks very unlikely to get through parliament. Meanwhile, there is no time to renegotiate a new deal and the EU is not interested in extending the 29 March deadline.
Clearly we are in uncharted waters. Things are only going to get more complicated from here.
Corbyn correctly should vote down May’s deal and try to force a general election. This is the only alternative.
With the deal thrown out by parliament, May’s authority would be zero. We can be pretty confident that this is the end game for her government.
This is an alarming position for big business to be in, without a deal so far agreed. They will try their hardest to put pressure on MPs and cobble together a “soft” Brexit. But that may have to wait until the outcome of a new general election.
A new chapter
The likelihood of a general election, and the election of a Corbyn Labour government, opens up a new chapter and new challenges in Britain.
The deepening crisis of British capitalism will continue regardless of the exact outcome. The only way forward for a Corbyn government is the implementation of bold socialist policies in the interests of the working class.
This is the only way we can “take back control”, in the fight for a socialist Britain and a socialist Europe.