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Backroom bunko: Theresa May.

Let’s get this straight:

Theresa May proved she did not understand her own ‘Chequers plan’ for a future relationship between the UK and the European Union on Sunday (July 15). Andrew Marr demonstrated to her that it would prevent the UK from making trade deals with other nations because it would tie us into a ‘common rulebook’ with the European Union.

She compounded this misunderstanding in the House of Commons yesterday (July 16) when she caved in to four Trade Bill amendments by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s far-right-wing European Research Group (ERG). The change in the most controversial of these would effectively rip up the so-called ‘common rulebook’ and demand that, if the UK collects duties and VAT on goods for the EU – and at EU rates, then the EU should reciprocate, collecting UK duties and VAT at UK rates.

The ERG amendment was intended to wreck Mrs May’s plan for a customs compromise with the EU27, in the belief that Brussels would reject the measure – but Mrs May then argued that the EU had only ruled out collecting UK duties and tariffs at its border, and it would be necessary to have other reciprocal financial systems with the EU to refund businesses in the event that there were differing customs arrangements. She said the amendments were “consistent” with the Brexit White Paper – even though they weren’t.

If it looks like fudge and tastes like fudge, it probably is fudge. That is what the 14-strong group of Conservative Remain-supporting MPs decided after learning of Downing Street’s decision to support the four ERG amendments – whipping Tory MPs to vote against the government’s own proposals.

This group had already been betrayed by Mrs May over the EU Withdrawal Bill, so it is unsurprising that its members voted against the ERG amendments as supported by the prime minister yesterday.

But – and this is where it gets really bizarre – the amendments passed anyway, with the support of three current Labour MPs and former Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins, and due to the absence of Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable and that party’s former leader Tim Farron.

Labour MPs who turn down a chance to defeat the Conservatives are, of course, traitors to their party and their voters – and the Liberal Democrats have once again shown their Tory-supporting colours by betraying their own anti-Brexit position.

Mr Farron was giving a speech in Sherborne about how he reconciles his evangelical Christian beliefs with being a Liberal Democrat politician, and Mr Cable was at a meeting off the Parliamentary estate. The Liberal Democrats said both were absent because nobody had expected the vote to be so close – except it had been all over the news for days.

Labour MPs Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer have no excuse at all. I await a decision on their punishment from the Labour whips’ office.

The whole farrago means that the government won its votes with nothing more than luck.

And Theresa May knows it – that is why she has proposed bringing forward the Parliamentary summer recess to Thursday (July 19) – five days early. There currently seems little hope that any Brexit deal currently on the table could command the support of a majority of MPs, and this makes a ‘no confidence’ vote in Mrs May’s leadership more likely.

Going to recess on Thursday would cut the time available to call a confidence vote, and then Mrs May would have the long summer recess in which to try to talk her MPs into giving her yet another chance.

This is not principled politics – it is backroom bunko.

If Mrs May does any deal with her rebellious MPs, it will be to give them something they want in order to push a bad deal on the people of the UK that will make us all much worse-off.

But remember: There will be no referendum on whether Brexit should go ahead. Mrs May has been adamant about that. Clearly she sees an advantage in it for herself.

And in Theresa May’s world, she is all that matters. The rest of the UK can rot. And that’s no way to run a country.

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