When you go to the ballot box, think first of Brexit – The Guardian
But first, a word about those rapidly approaching rocks. Over the past few weeks, I have talked to quite a few European leaders. Shockingly, they all say that Britain’s Brexit talks with the remaining 27 members of the EU will most probably break down: a 90% probability, reckons one very significant European figure; 60%, wagers another.
This could occur over the next few months – before a new German government is in place – over the question of how much Britain should pay the EU for its outstanding commitments. At that moment, we will need a Commons that says: “Hold on, Prime Minister – ‘no deal’ is worse than a bad deal, so get back to the negotiating table.”
Even if the talks don’t break down, our best chance of influencing them is through parliamentary scrutiny and pressure. Certainly, we can’t rely on this prime minister to get the best deal. Theresa May says it’s the Brexit election, the most important in her lifetime (so much for you, Margaret Thatcher) but completely fails to tell us what Brexit will look like. She alienates our EU negotiating partners with her pathetic, sub-crypto-Churchillian rhetoric of standing up to “aggressive” Europeans, thus squandering any goodwill accrued with her initially constructive approach.
Since we can’t rely on the tin lady, we need a parliament that will stand up for national interests
She misses no opportunity to miss an opportunity. For example, why didn’t she immediately join with other European leaders in a collective statement of disgust at Donald Trump taking the US out of the Paris climate change agreement? She presents herself as a new iron lady but turns out to be made of tin.
Since we can’t rely on the tin lady, we need a parliament that will stand up for the national interest. Yes, there are major policy differences between the parties, and in a normal election those could be decisive. But this is not a normal election.
How, then, to vote strategically? There are two schools of voting guidance available online. The progressive alliance school, including the More United website and the Guardian’s own tactical voting guide, looks for the most progressive alternative candidate to the Conservative, constituency by constituency. The Best for Britain website, founded by Gina Miller, who shot to fame by winning the high court judgment that parliament had to vote on triggering article 50, and the In Facts site both offer detailed advice based on candidates’ positions on European issue. Just enter your postcode, and they’ll suggest who to go for in your constituency to create the best chance of avoiding an extreme and destructive Brexit.
Wherever the pro-European Liberal Democrats or Greens have a chance of winning, back them. The Lib Dem demand for a second referendum on the result of the Brexit negotiations is unlikely to be realised, but it’s important to have it out there. Scotland and Northern Ireland are separate stories, with the Celtic nationalist parties – the Scottish National party (SNP), Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, and the much weaker Plaid Cymru in Wales – all being strongly pro-European.
Theresa May on the campaign trail at Langton rugby club. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images
In Facts has a negative list of nine Labour Brexiteers, and also a positive list of 64 pro-European Labour MPs who have been actively working against a destructive Brexit. There follows a grey list of Labour MPs who backed remain, but have since gone along with Jeremy Corbyn’s fence-straddling “the people have spoken” position.
Unlike all the other sites, In Facts advises voting for 14 decidedly pro-European Conservative candidates in seats where more pro-European parties, such as the Lib Dems, don’t have a chance. It also backs two Conservative remainers, where the choice is between them and Ukip. Obviously, the progressive alliance groups won’t go this far, but even Best for Britain can’t bring itself to support the Tory candidate in Chelmsford. Oh, come on: hours to the election, and you still can’t bring yourself to back Vicky Ford, a strongly pro-European former MEP in a constituency where nobody else has a chance?
Yet clearly these are the most difficult calls. If the election result puts Labour in a position where it can govern, in a coalition or minority government, with the support of Lib Dems and SNP, the good news is that we will have Labour’s excellent Keir Starmer handling the Brexit negotiations, and pro-European parties behind him.
If, however, a strategic vote for pro-European Tory candidates were to result in the Conservatives returning with a narrow majority, that could be the worst result of all. For the tin lady would then be a hostage to her hardline Eurosceptic “bastards” – to use John Major’s well-known technical term. And Corbyn would probably remain Labour leader without a serious chance of winning the next election.
Yet if one judges that the Tories are going to make it back into government, and with a solid working majority, then it becomes really important to have outspoken pro-European Tory MPs like Ken Clarke, Nicholas Soames (grandson of pro-European Tory Winston Churchill), Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve to stiffen the sinews of their many remain colleagues who are uncritically going along with May’s disastrous Brexit course. If and when it comes to a breakdown in the talks with our European partners, or at least to a fork in the road, these grey ranks of Tory releavers (remain voters now for leaving) will need help to rediscover a currently missing part of their anatomies: the backbone.
I’m glad I don’t face such a difficult choice in my constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, where a Lib Dem has a strong chance of deposing the sitting one-term Tory. But if I did, I think I would hold my nose and vote for the pro-European Tory.
This election is like no other. Put country before party. Vote strategically, to prevent Britain crashing on to the Brexit rocks.