Archive for the ‘British politics’ Category

Why Change UK may turn out to be neither democratic nor a force for change

Lea Ypi explains why Change UK – The Independent Group appears to be aligning itself to a very different tradition of thinking about the relationship between citizens and representatives.

Modern democracy, wrote one of the great political scientists of the past century, is inconceivable – save in terms of party government. If that is true, when democracy is in crisis, a new political party might in principle offer opportunities for a way out. The newly created Change UK/Independent Group sees itself as a fresh political force breaking the way old politics works. It wants to occupy a space in the centre that traditional party divides are accused of having left void. It urges people to make change happen.

Except Change UK is not your standard political party. It has no manifesto, no popular base, no memory of struggles, victories and defeats. Instead of being a movement in search of political representation, it is a group of elected representatives in search of a movement. Instead of being the many represented by a few, it is the few urging the many to get involved.

Elections are arguably one of the most important moments in which a political group consolidates its principles and identity. It is how a new political force gathers the popular support that legitimises its demands for change. But Change UK is not that interested in elections either. If members were interested in popular mobilisation – campaigning to persuade fellow-citizens for the need to change, deliberating with supporters over principles – they would seize the first opportunity to confront their adversaries in by-election campaigns. Instead, they argue, fighting a by-election would “crush the birth of democracy”.

Change UK may not have a manifesto but it must at least have a vision of democracy. Except, on closer inspection, it turns out to be not very democratic. The birth of democracy, to return to their favourite formulation, is associated to rule by the many. In the Greek polis, the many ruled themselves by making direct decisions in the Athenian assembly. In modern societies, the many are too many and too diverse to speak directly for themselves. They speak through representatives in parliament. The extent to which the relation is democratic depends on the degree of proximity between representatives and represented. When that relationship is not subject to ongoing scrutiny it is not clear who the representatives speak for. Or what they speak about.

The more democratic a representative relation is, the more likely it is that the voice of the represented is heard in parliament (and not just on election day). Maintaining a close relation between professional politicians and the people who elect them is the only way to ensure that the voice of the many is continuously heard. For radical democrats, the purpose of democratic politics was to ensure that powerful people with more money, knowledge, and means to access public office were kept in check by the masses; that the few were constantly scrutinised by the many. To this effect they advocated a number of measures: mass membership in political organisations, imperative mandate, mandatory reselection, mechanisms of deselection of MPs, rotation in office, and so on. This is what democratic theorists call “the delegate” model of representation.

The Labour Party’s recent moves to expand membership along with proposals to change the relationship between members and MPs are part of this tradition. MPs are seen as only one of the links in the chain of democratic participation, they are by no means the most important one. Every MP and every decision made by them must remain accountable to party members at every step of the way.

Labour party leaders are often accused of authoritarianism. But if Labour really had been in the business of silencing criticism and undermining democracy, it should have discouraged rather than encouraged the delegate model of representation. The current Labour Party may have many flaws but a lack of democratic commitment is not one of them.

The same cannot be said about Change UK. The expressed refusal to fight by-elections and the arguments given to motivate that refusal signal its alignment to a very different tradition of thinking about the relationship between citizens and representatives. Members of Change UK insist that there is no reason to subject their views to democratic scrutiny since their values have not changed. But even if that were true, MPs are not selected only for the values they embrace but also for how they interpret those values in public life, and for the policy proposals they generate on that basis. A cursory look at CHUK’s statement of values in connection to particular public policies reveals sharp differences between those policies and the manifesto of the Labour party on the basis of which its former Labour members were elected. The only argument in their defence is given by a view of representation where MPs retain independence from their constituents: what is often called the trustees’ model of representation.

Historically, the emergence of the trustees’ model is associated to an explicitly anti-democratic attempt to isolate politicians from the power of the many. Its origins are in the explicitly moderate (we might say ‘centrist’ thought) of authors like Sieyes, Constant or Madison. The trustee model seeks to conceive of the representative relation as one in which political institutions are authorised by the masses but isolated from them. The argument is essentially an elitist, technocratic one: since modern life is about division of labour, only those with accumulated knowledge, expertise, and the right degree of wealth or skill are in the best position to make decisions about common affairs. The point of political authority is to guarantee the minimal amount of security that enables particular individuals to pursue their private affairs. The institutions that work best are, as in CHUK’s statement of values, those where “well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress”. Disagreements of principle are reducible to disagreements of policy.

On the trustees’ model of political representation, once representatives are selected, their link with the represented is essentially a fiduciary one, like the link between a bank manager and the people who put money in a bank account. Once money is in the bank, you trust the bank managers to do their job. Once elections are over, you trust politicians to represent the people. While that model is much more pervasive in the electoral systems and political institutions of Western liberal democracies, the divide between professional politicians and ordinary people on which it is premised is arguably at the heart of what citizens resent the most in contemporary liberal politics.

To revive democracy, one has to depart from the trustee model of representation and consolidate the radical democratic one. Change is needed and change is coming. But it won’t come from a group of politicians whose democratic antipathies go so deep that they resent confrontation with ordinary citizens at every level, including in by-elections, the most basic level of representative accountability.


Note: a shorter version of the above was first published in the New Statesman.

About the Author

Lea Ypi (@lea_ypi) is Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science and co-author of The Meaning of Partisanship.


All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Meet the anti-Farages

LONDON — You’ve met the Faragists. Now meet their would-be nemesis.

After an Easter break from Brexit, the U.K.’s unscheduled European election was back in full swing this week with the campaign launch of a new, fiercely pro-EU political force, Change UK.

The party, founded originally as The Independent Group of 11 rebel Labour and Conservative MPs only nine weeks ago, is fielding a full list of 70 candidates and has every chance of sending at least a few MEPs to Brussels. The party list includes a former Conservative Cabinet minister, an ex-deputy prime minister of Poland, and the sister of former foreign secretary and leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson.

The party is light on detailed policy, but in an election that is likely to become a straw poll on Brexit, it is pitching itself as the nemesis of Nigel Farage’s new vehicle, the Brexit Party. It could yet do well, delivering a new group of British MEPs likely to align with centrist forces like Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche party in the European Parliament.

Ex-Labour MP Chuka Umunna, its most prominent figurehead, is happy to be labelled “the anti-Farage.”

“Listen, I’ve [been labelled] ‘the British this,’ ‘the black that.’ Why can’t we just be who we are?” — Chuka Umunna, former Labour MP

“I’d be happy to debate him, more than happy,” Umunna told POLITICO following a televised campaign launch in Bristol, southwest England, on Tuesday. “The Labour Party don’t take him on properly … and the Conservative Party has been hijacked by Farage and his agenda. So who is actually standing up for the majority of the British mainstream who abhor that kind of intolerant, right-wing, un-British politics?”

Crowded field

Change UK’s first problem is that there are already several U.K. parties that would raise their hands to that question.

Although interim leader Heidi Allen branded the party “the Remain alliance” at Tuesday’s launch, in truth that alliance is fragmented. The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru in Wales are all campaigning on broadly the same pro-second referendum Brexit policy as Change UK and are hitting similar single-digit figures in early polling.

The influential and well-funded People’s Vote campaign — also pushing a second Brexit referendum — meanwhile, is maintaining its cross-party status and not openly backing any one party.

Chuka Umunna, Independent MP of the new pro-EU political party, Change UK speaks at the launch of their European election campaign in Bristol on April 23, 2019 | Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Farage’s Brexit Party, by contrast, appears to have done better at uniting pro-Leave forces under his banner, scoring as high as 27 points in one YouGov poll (although POLITICO’s aggregate of recent polling puts the party on 19 percent).

But the list of candidates Change UK has pulled together for the European election contains clues as to why the party chose to stand apart.

Among the hopefuls are Stephen Dorrell, a former Conservative heath secretary who served in John Major’s Cabinet, and a Conservative MEP — Richard Ashworth — who have made the switch. Interim leader Allen is also ex-Tory as are two of the party’s MPs, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry.

With the Conservative Party agitating for a new leader to replace Theresa May, and hard Brexiteers like Boris Johnson currently topping leadership polls of party members, Change UK’s MPs and officials have half an eye on a further wave of defections from the Tories. Former Labour activists are also standing for the party. Cleaving too close to an existing party at this election would risk alienating future defectors.

Umunna himself, despite his Labour background, says the party draws not only “the social democratic center left” and “liberal” but also “one-nation traditions” usually associated with conservatism.

Labour, with its more equivocal support for a second referendum, is currently polling well and could still emerge the most popular party in the European election. Change UK hope to win support from the party’s two-thirds pro-Remain voters, on Tuesday branding Jeremy Corbyn as a “lifelong Brexiteer” who will, when the chips are down, back the U.K. leaving the EU.

“This is a moment of change … we’re not ruling anything in or out. We’ll make a decision once we have MEPs” — Chuka Umunna, former Labour MP

The Tories, deeply divided over May’s Brexit deal, are facing their worst result in years, with POLITICO’s aggregate of recent polls putting them on 17 percent — 6 points lower than the last European Parliament election, itself a poor result.

Britain’s En Marche?

Change UK’s attempt to bring candidates together from parties on both the center right and center left has led to comparisons with the early days of Macron’s En Marche — albeit on a less ambitious scale.

Umunna — once somewhat prematurely dubbed Britain’s Obama — is cautious of the Macron comparison but also conscious that in an age of rival populisms, mainstream, established politicians like him need to evolve to survive.

“Listen, I’ve [been labelled] ‘the British this,’ ‘the black that.’ Why can’t we just be who we are?” he said. “I actually think center-ground politicians have been too shy of standing up for who we are in an authentic way that is true to ourselves. Authenticity in politics has come to be defined by how extreme you are … You don’t need to be a Nigel Farage, a Jacob Rees-Mogg or, dare I say it, Jeremy Corbyn to be authentic.”

Umunna opted not to run for the European Parliament himself, because it would have meant resigning as an MP. But if the party does send MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg, an early defining choice will be which, if any, bloc to sit with in the European Parliament. The decision will wait until after the election, say Change UK’s senior figures, but Macron’s party, which is hoping to become the rallying point for a new centrist bloc, looks a natural ally.

Former Tory MP Heidi Allen has been appointed interim leader of Change UK | Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images

“This is a moment of change … we’re not ruling anything in or out. We’ll make a decision once we have MEPs,” Umunna said.

The party’s launch was beset with teething problems though, from accusations of vague messaging and weak branding, to the resignation, hours after Tuesday’s event, of one its MEP candidates, Ali Sadjady. That followed an Independent story on tweets he had written about Romanian migrants and pickpocketing.

New policy announcements on health care, foreign policy and climate change have been promised in the days ahead. But the party’s chances of bouncing back from early setbacks will rest on whether the U.K.’s millions of Remain-identifying voters come to consider them a natural home.

One of the party’s candidates with a good chance of being elected in May is former BBC journalist Gavin Esler, who is top of the party list for strongly Remain-voting London.

Gavin Esler at the launch of The Independent Group European election campaign at We The Curious on April 23, 2019 in Bristol, England | Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

An assured TV performer, his campaign launch speech in Bristol pushed many populist buttons. “Our political system is a joke. It’s a worldwide joke. They are laughing at us … it’s broken,” he told his audience of activists.

“I grew up among honest, working, decent people, some of whom voted for Brexit. but when I see on television pretend men of the people, the Farages and the Rees-Moggs, selling the same old snake oil, I am seething,” he added. “I’m sick of it. They claim to speak to the British people. They do not. They stole our patriotism and I want it back.”

Will Esler, if elected to the European Parliament, try to emulate Farage’s success at delivering barnstorming, social media-friendly speeches — but from the British Europhile point of view? “Maybe I’ll get Nigel Farage to hold the camera,” he said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

UK’s unpredictable European election — and its impact on Brussels

Change UK launched its European Parliament election campaign Tuesday. Assuming the ballot goes ahead in the country, it will be the party’s first electoral test since 11 Tory and Labour MPs left their respective parties to form The Independent Group on the opposition benches in parliament.

The event follows the campaign launch of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party earlier this month — with an immediate impact in the polls. One YouGov poll put the Brexit Party at 27 percent, while another conducted by ComRes around the same dates had the party on 17 percent.

Impressive for a brand new party, but we should take the numbers with a pinch of salt. The differences between the two polls cannot be explained by methodological differences in the polling alone, and they point to the high uncertainty we face when it comes to measuring the voting intentions of U.K. electors in a contest for MEPs who may hold their seats for just a few months.

POLITICO’s Poll of Polls aggregates the results from multiple opinion polls (in the U.K. and across the other 27 EU countries) to give a more consistent indication of party support. Our analysis puts Farage’s party on 19 percent, behind Labour on 26 percent and just ahead of the Tories on 17 percent. Labour’s current position is about 1 percentage point higher than the result it achieved in the 2014 European election, while the Tories are about 6 percentage points lower.

The Brexit Party looks to be capitalizing on the collapse in support for UKIP, which won the last European election with nearly 27 percent, but is now down to 7 percent.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has jumped to the top of the polls since its launch | Matt Cardy via Getty Images

As for the parties backing a second Brexit referendum: Change UK is at 7 percent; the Lib Dems are on 9 percent; the Greens on 8 percent; and the Scottish National Party on 4 percent. If Remainers view Labour’s campaign stance on Brexit as not definitive enough though, any or all of these parties could benefit significantly.

Whatever the result, the U.K.’s participation in the election — again, assuming it happens, which at present Prime Minister Theresa May says she is working to avoid — will have a significant impact on the makeup of the European Parliament.

In preparation for Brexit, the EU27 reallocated 27 of the 73 U.K. seats among the other member countries and reduced the total number of seats in the Parliament from 751 to 705. With the U.K. back on board, countries that had expected to benefit from the rebalancing, such as France and Spain, will not receive those extra seats.

We can use POLITICO’s daily updated seat calculation, based on polls across the EU, to project what difference the U.K. participation will make. Without the U.K. in the mix, the seat projection is relatively stable. The right-of-center European People’s Party is well ahead with around 178 seats and a lead of about 45 seats over the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), combined with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche, look likely to pick up close to 100 seats. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), currently home to the U.K.’s Tories, can expect around 53 MEPs.

French President Emmanuel Macron | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

If the U.K. does take part, then Labour and the Tories would, according to the current aggregated polling, pick up 20 and 12 seats respectively, with those seats most likely going to S&D and ECR. Change UK and the Brexit Party have not yet said which political grouping they would join.

That boost to the S&D is slightly blunted by the indirect impact of the U.K.’s participation though — in the form of those reallocated U.K. seats. With the U.K. on board, Frans Timmermans’ S&D group has a net gain of 14 seats compared to the U.K. not taking part. That’s because the reallocation would give them extra seats in other countries, according to the projection.

So having the U.K. in the mix puts the S&D closer to the EPP, but even then it looks like they will fall well short of dislodging the center-right group from the top slot.

Change UK unveils candidates for European election

BRISTOL, England — A former Conservative Cabinet minister, an ex-BBC journalist and Boris Johnson’s sister are among 70 MEP candidates for the U.K.’s new pro-EU party.

Rachel Johnson, a newspaper columnist who has previously supported both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, was unveiled as a candidate for Change UK/The Independent Group, to stand in the European Parliament election currently scheduled in the U.K. for May 23.

Other candidates include Gavin Esler, a former presenter of BBC Newsnight, Stephen Dorrell, who served as health secretary in John Major’s government between 1995 and 1997, and Jan-Vincent Rostowski, a British-born former Polish finance minister.

At a campaign launch in Bristol, southwest England, the party’s interim leader Heidi Allen said the full candidates list, which will be released later on Tuesday, included teachers, nurses, “leading professionals” and former armed forces personnel.

Allen said the party, which has declined to join forces with other pro-EU parties the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, represents “the new Remain alliance.”

“These elections are a chance to send the clearest possible message, we demand a people’s vote and the right to campaign to remain in the European Union,” she said.

Esler said he has three aims: “Stop Brexit. Fix Britain. And move on to reform the EU.”

Is Brexit a constitutional crisis, or a political one? The answer matters

Even now, with Brexit consuming Parliament, the question of whether we are suffering a constitutional or a political crisis is important, write Anand Menon and Alan Wager. A general election might be enough to push a deal through the Commons, but it would not necessarily fix the greater problem: the damaged political legitimacy of Parliament.

What constitutes a political crisis? And when, and how, does a crisis of politics evolve into a crisis of the constitution? This might sound like an argument over semantics. Yet for political scientists, the distinction is an important one. This is because it can tell us what might happen next: a political crisis is solvable by politicians as gridlock – slowly – works its way through to a resolution. A constitutional crisis, on the other hand, suggests something more fundamental: a deeper contradiction in the system requiring an altogether different solution. One is (more or less) temporary, the other (potentially) permanent.

The case for Brexit as a temporary bug in the Westminster system can be made via counterfactuals. If the general election had not been held in 2017, Theresa May would be operating with a slim majority rather than as head of minority government. If different decisions on the direction of Brexit had been made at various forks in the road – particularly following the loss of this governing majority – then it is at least plausible to think the present situation might look very different. Reaching out in June 2017 to secure broader support for a softer Brexit than she had laid out before her ill-fated popular poll might have made all the difference. The point is that these are questions of statecraft, not a system failure.

Indeed, retrospective analysis of the legislative politics of the last two years shows that the minority government has, on the whole, managed to fumble along – up to now – as well as one might reasonably have expected. The last period of minority government in the 1970s led to an equivalent number of defeats and many of the same political tactics: pulling votes at the last minute, mass abstentions from the government and the politicisation of the whip’s office.

However, you have to reach further back, to 1924, for anywhere near comparable defeats as those suffered by May on her Brexit deal. But again, these defeats were the result of political parties realigning and the party system coming to terms with the rise of the Labour Party. They were a matter of the party system, not the political system.

There is also a problem in assessing the functioning of Westminster through its capacity to manage the issue of Europe. The last period of comparable governing turbulence to now was during John Major’s premiership. Then, as now, the issue of Europe and tight parliamentary arithmetic disrupted the normal flow of relations between government and parliament.

The difference now is that the EU issue has underlined and heightened a political cleavage in the electorate based on social values. The new post-Brexit politics is something that the Independent Group, and undoubtedly any future project headed by Nigel Farage, hope represents a political sea change.

Yet they may be disappointed. The result of the Brexit brouhaha might yet be a recreated political coalition on the centre-left that looks a lot like the pre-coalition Liberal Democrats, and the latest iteration of British Euroscepticism on the right. This would begin to look a lot more like the ebb and flow of conventional British politics than a dramatic reformulation. And the surest bet in British politics is that, when politicians attempt to redefine the political system, the electoral system reasserts itself.

It is when we look more closely at the rhetoric and actions of MPs that things become more worrying. Unworkable and unsustainable contradictions are the symptoms of a constitutional crisis. A breakdown of collective cabinet responsibility, which leads to cabinet ministers saying one thing to the House of Commons and then doing another. A Prime Minister who, at crunch time, decides to pit the office of Prime Minister against the Parliament from which she derives her political power. A Parliament made up of MPs who are unable to reconcile a desire to act as both delegate and representative.

Theresa May’s speech on 20 March appeared to be moving the politics of Brexit on from crisis management to a political blame game. The Prime Minister’s theme of anti-politics outraged MPs, but these rhetorical themes of collective failure and systematic breakdown are shared – one way or another – by Jeremy Corbyn, Chuka Umunna and Nigel Farage.

The realities of complex modern democracy sit uneasily alongside the idea of simple solutions. This friction creates a different type of constitutional crisis: a long-term undermining of political legitimacy among voters. And what all the polling shows is that the one thing that seems to unite voters is a sense that politicians are failing. Moreover, and for what it’s worth, surprisingly resistant to this blame game on the Brexit impasse so far is the EU: voters blame the government, followed by parliament, with the EU a distant third.

Perhaps the key determinant of whether the current crisis is political or constitutional is whether it can be resolved through an electoral event. If so, it is ephemeral. And a general election could, in theory, break the deadlock. A small swing towards the Labour Party could lead to a different minority government and another referendum. A Conservative leader advocating a different deal or no deal at all may get the numbers they need. However, any general election or referendum campaign is likely to be driven by recrimination. The danger is that we could, in trying to resolve a temporary political deadlock, talk ourselves into some longer term damage.


Note: The above is taken from a longer report on Article 50 two years on. It was first published on LSE Brexit. Image: Wellcome Collection via Europeana (CC BY 4.0 licence)

About the Authors

Anand Menon is Professor at King’s College, London and Director of UK in a Changing Europe.



Alan Wager is Researcher at UK in a Changing Europe.




Liam Fox warns EU will get ‘disruptive and resentful’ British MEPs

Liam Fox, Britain’s trade secretary, said the EU will end up with 50 “disruptive and resentful” British members of the European Parliament if the U.K. takes part in next month’s EU election.

Speaking to The Telegraph on a trade trip to Iraq, the prominent Brexiteer noted that the new European Parliament “will have an effect on the formation of the next [European] Commission.”

“The last thing our European partners want are 50 disruptive and resentful UK MEPs,” he added.

The U.K. is obliged to take part in the European Parliament election if it does not pass the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU by May 22. Prime Minister Theresa May appealed to MPs to do so after getting an extension of the Brexit deadline to October 31 from other EU leaders earlier this month.

If it takes part in the EU election, Britain will have 73 seats in the European Parliament. It was not clear how Fox arrived at his total of 50 “disruptive and resentful” British MEPs.

In his interview with The Telegraph, Fox said that his country’s “basic democratic credentials” were under threat due to the U.K. parliament’s refusal to sign off on the Brexit deal.

Inside the Brexiteer mind

LONDON — What are the Brexiteers up to?

After 40 years of complaining about the European Union they finally have a deal which would take Britain out of the bloc, but are refusing to sign it.

Their strategy is in tatters, a no-deal Brexit all but dead — at least for the next six months — and their most high-profile leaders are divided over the best way forward. Their beloved Brexit was supposed to happen on March 29 — and then again on April 12 — and the U.K. is now not scheduled to leave the EU until October 31.

Yet the Brexiteers still refuse to change course.

On Monday, Boris Johnson reassured readers of the Daily Telegraph that a “proper” Brexit is still inevitable. “Some day soon we are going to get out,” he wrote. “We will eventually respect the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the European Union.”

Boris Johnson says that Brexit, though delayed, will still eventually go through | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

He did not say how.

Nothing in Brussels or Westminster has changed since the prime minister’s last failed attempt to force her deal through parliament on March 29 — even with Johnson’s reluctant support. There’s no sign of a deal with Labour, or any other way of forming a majority for the Withdrawal Agreement.

Brexiteers don’t have the numbers to leave without a deal and the EU has shown no willingness to change the terms of the divorce. The only option as of today that guarantees Britain leaves the political structures of the European Union is to sign Theresa May’s deal.

The influential Brexiteer columnist Iain Martin used his slot in the Times last week to urge Euroskeptic MPs to back the deal. “It should be obvious to any Leaver with their brain switched on that you might not get your perfect outcome but you can still get to leave the EU,” he wrote.

“We cannot ‘lose’ Brexit because we voted for it” — Stewart Jackson, former chief of staff to ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the hard-line Brexiteer caucus in parliament, the European Research Group, said of Martin’s column: “I think this analysis is correct.”

The deal is not to Rees-Mogg’s liking, principally because of the Irish backstop, but it remains better than no Brexit, he said. Whatever the drawbacks of May’s deal, it takes Britain out of the EU, ends freedom of movement and guarantees that the U.K. will no longer be part of the common fisheries and agriculture policies.

The Irish backstop is the price to be paid for all that. It is uncomfortable for MPs because it leaves part of the U.K. — Northern Ireland — anchored in the EU’s customs union and bound by single market rules that will not apply to the rest of the U.K.

Yet if Brexiteers accept this price, much of what they campaigned for remains perfectly achievable for the rest of the country (the country in question being Great Britain, not Northern Ireland): from an independent trade policy to a loose “Canada-style” free-trade deal with the EU.

So why won’t the Brexiteers follow Rees-Mogg’s lead and “take the win”?

Because, to them, it’s not a win.

Conservative MP and staunch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg | Georgia O’Callaghan via Getty Images

Rejecting the Withdrawal Agreement — even if it means Britain remains in the EU — is preferable because it keeps alive the real goal of leaving Brussels’ control entirely. It’s a short-term defeat to keep the long-term dream alive.

Brexit, eventually

Former Brexit Minister David Jones, one of the Tory MPs who has refused to support the prime minister, said he is confident Brexit could not be stopped forever.

“A reasonably long extension of the Article 50 period, though unwelcome, is preferable to entering the transitional arrangement set out in the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said. “It enables us to elect a new party leader and then hold an election seeking a mandate for an early withdrawal, if necessary, on World Trade Organization terms. It is not the big problem that the EU thinks it is.”

Stewart Jackson, former chief of staff to ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis, agreed. “It’s not a deal — it’s a binding international treaty with no unilateral exit mechanism or end date, which colonizes a part of the U.K. to a foreign sovereign entity.”

To Brexiteers like Jackson and Jones, there is little risk to rejecting May’s Brexit deal — because it is not Brexit.

Some are drawing lessons from Ireland’s struggle for independence from the U.K.

To them, the longer-term goal of a clean break from the EU is best achieved not by agreeing to the deal, but by holding firm for more fundamental change which will be driven by the country’s fury with the political establishment for failing to honor the result of the referendum.

“We cannot ‘lose’ Brexit because we voted for it,” said Jackson. “It doesn’t matter how long it will take, it’s more important than the Tory Party. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, the impact will be too corrosive to our democracy.”

Irish lessons

Some are drawing lessons from Ireland’s struggle for independence from the U.K.

In 1921, Ireland descended into civil war when the revolutionary leader Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish treaty, which left Ireland in the British Empire.

It was a necessary evil, Collins said, to allow Ireland to break free. “In my opinion it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve it,” he declared.

For the hard-liners, led by Éamon de Valera, it was not freedom at all. De Valera and the anti-treaty forces fought — and lost — a bloody year-long civil war against the new government.

In 1926, De Valera split from the anti-treaty Sinn Féin to form the republican Fianna Fáil party in order to enter politics in Dublin — eventually becoming Irish prime minister. But Ireland would not officially become a republic until 1948 — 32 years after the 1916 Easter Rising against the British.

Christopher Montgomery, former Vote Leave director, isn’t a fan of the analogy and said his colleagues are right to hold their ground.

Montgomery, a former chief of staff for Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, said May is no Michael Collins.

“Collins, de Valera, [W. T.] Cosgrave wanted maximal disengagement from the superstate they were in [and] wanted out of,” Montgomery said. “They differed on how, not what. Whereas May, at best, wants the least disengagement she can get away with.”

He added: “The point is that what they did was the radical break with what had gone before” — the preceding 40 years of agitation for Home Rule.

In other words, May is not even trying to achieve a decisive break from the EU, in Montgomery’s view — a view shared by many Brexiteers.

To the hard-liners, May is trying to maintain Britain’s place in the EU’s wider political empire. In this view, the 2016 referendum was not Britain’s uprising — that is yet to come.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated Christopher Montgomery’s former title.

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