Though that’s not the worst that could happen to Theresa May and her threadbare government over the next days and weeks.
It’s unlikely that the current House of Commons will have a majority for a “No Deal” Brexit, but then it is not required too. The Article 50 clock is ticking and when the time is up it is up. Brexit without a deal doesn’t require an affirmative vote in Parliament, it is the default position.
A full-blown crisis would then ensue of course, but that wouldn’t stop Brexit.
In a rational state a general election would then be called to elect a government with the confidence of the people to deal with the crisis. But that too is not automatically possible.
Under the fixed-term parliament act – brought in by David Cameron, the author of the Brexit referendum – the next election is in 2022 – unless 2/3 of the parliament vote for one. On the principle that turkeys seldom vote for Christmas that number seems unattainable.
There is another way an election can happen – if the House passes a vote of no-confidence in the government, and (a crucial caveat) the Queen is not persuaded that a new prime minister who can command a majority in the existing House can be found – she may dissolve parliament and call new elections.
Such a no-confidence motion could pass – so tight is the parliamentary arithmetic it might only take a couple of taxis full of Tory supporting MPs to be late for the vote and, hey, its lost.
Or the Democratic Unionist Party – the collection of Creationists cranks, homophobes, Catholic-haters, sectarians, and bigots on which Mrs May clings to power every other day of the week – could withdraw their support and bring the House down.
Mind you they are mindful that to do so might put Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn – literally the antithesis (they’d say the anti-Christ) of everything they stand for into Downing St. But Samson brought the House down upon himself and so might they.
It is kismet on a truly remarkable scale.
Centuries of British imperial domination of Ireland partially ended nearly a hundred years ago with the victory of the Irish republican war of independence. But not completely. Desperate for the strategic advantage (in those days) of one of Ireland’s famous Four Green Fields to call their own, to save imperial face (Ireland had struck after all the first great blow to the British Empire which at its height held a third of the world in its bondage) and to avoid having to fight the mainly Scottish Settlers it had planted there centuries before and who were threatening to resist Irish Independence, the British withdrew to a wholly artificial creation they called “Northern Ireland.”
It wasn’t as it happened all of the north – that would have risked one day a Catholic majority – it wasn’t even all of Ulster (which is often used wrongly as the name of the “Province” which remains in Britain) it was a carefully gerrymandered entity in which it was thought the Protestant pro-British majority would endure forever. Though just to be on the safe side the Catholics within it were made explicitly second class citizens, without civil and voting rights, policed by a blatantly sectarian auxiliary force – the B-Specials who would become a byword for brutality.
Unforeseen by the British and their allies the 1960s wave of civil rights and the struggles of Black people in America swept across the Atlantic and broke on the Irish coast in 1968 with great civil rights marches under the slogan “One man One Vote“. When the peaceful marches were put down with savage indeed civil-war levels of violence the scene was set for decades of all-out war between Irish Republicans and the British Occupiers assisted by their “Northern Irish” comprador. It would be a war like none other as civil wars usually are.
Unforeseen too was that the gerrymandering would ultimately unravel. As a result of the Irish Catholic birth rate (as someone from that stock I have five children, which would have been regarded as merely average in Ireland back then) and the steady outflow of middle-class educated Northern Irish Protestants seeking a more relaxed life for their own families elsewhere, the sectarian balance which was supposed to “Keep Ulster British” forever now has almost half of its citizens from Catholic backgrounds who overwhelmingly look to Dublin (and the US in fact) rather than London.
The DUP may keep the British government in power but they now represent less than 30% of the voters of Northern Ireland.
Worse, in the Brexit referendum the majority of all voters voted to remain in the European Union opening up an existential crisis in the province with now a clear majority preferring to leave Britain if the price of staying is to leave the EU.
Mrs May’s party to give it its Sunday name is the Conservative and Unionist Party. It now faces Hobson’s choice. Give up the Union by agreeing with EU demands that the border between Brexit Britain and the EU must be down the middle of the Irish Sea, or give up Brexit by remaining in the Customs Union and the Single Market leaving BRINO or Brexit in Name Only.
Until today I was unsure how the Conservatives would break. But like a veteran Kremlinologist who could tell who was up and who was down in the old Soviet Union by watching the body language on the reviewing stand. I, who spent nearly 30 years on the British Parliament benches, was watching the mood music and the body language as closely as I was listening to the words. By the end I was in no doubt. It was the end of the Tory-DUP unholy alliance. The beginning of the end of “Northern Ireland”. And maybe the end of Theresa May too.