Paul is right that Europe would have continued to torment the Conservative Party and the Right, but I think the majority of the country, including most Leave voters, would not have supported a second referendum on membership in the near future; perhaps a referendum on further constitutional changes, as the Irish, French and others have, but not on actual membership. Nor would the SNP or even Corbynite Labour have toyed with supporting one.
I suspect Europe will continue to torment the Conservative Party even in years to come now we have left because the UK, or what remains of it, will always need to engage with the EU in trade and many other matters and so the debate between those who want pragmatic engagement and compromise and those who don't will persist. All the other plausible political alternatives are completely comfortable with close engagement and their unity and realism on the issue could prove very attractive electorally, including to many engaged in business who would otherwise naturally support the Conservatives.
Although I have my doubts, Iain may be right about the medium term, which usually suggests in 5-10 years time. The question is whether enough of the country is prepared to go along with the very bumpy ride in the next few years. True, a General Election doesn't have to be held till 2024 but MPs and hence the Government could become very panicky if things go badly wrong during that time and they become overwhelmed with the challenges on various fronts, which include the political challenges from Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as economic and other challenges affecting every part of the country. They may have to spend so much time firefighting that it becomes very difficult to promote a positive alternative agenda and future. The context for this is that opinion polls routinely show that over half the country is still against Brexit, and some portion of those who favoured it in principle will not support a No-Deal outcome. Moreover, the rising younger generations are very opposed and they will be badly affected by disruption. I also wonder whether 2020 and Covid have exhausted most people's reserves of patience and endurance. They are hoping for a better 2021 with the coming of effective vaccines and will not respond well to serious disruption and economic insecurity introduced by No-Deal.
As someone who works for a department of Cambridge University, I can confirm it has no plans to offer its courses online only next year unless the Government forces universities to remain closed. It will simply offer lectures online in the autumn term (and possibly for the rest of the academic year) if the Government continues to insist on the 2-metre distancing rule because it is simply not possible to fit all the students into the lecture halls with that in place; but if the Government relaxes that requirement, it will hold them in person. However, lecturers need to be able to plan because it takes time to produce and record good-quality lectures, especially when they are for now having to do so at home without access to professional audiovisual services. But most teaching at Cambridge is done in groups of one or two students with a tutor or in small classes and they will continue in person as long as they conform to the Government's social-distancing rules. Indeed, the individual supervision/tutorial system is one of the biggest benefits and distinguishing features of education at Cambridge and Oxford and a major draw for talented students across the world, even though it is only made possible because the universities' and their colleges' endowments subsidise the extra costs of maintaining it. And lab work for scientists and medics will also continue in person in the same way. So students will still be able to have a rich learning and social experience in person at Cambridge - and also, I assume, at most other universities - and will get value for money for the fees paid. If it is not as rich an experience as under normal circumstances, especially in relation to extracurricular activities like drama, music and sport, then that is simply because none of our lives can be as rich as before while the Government insists on us all following its rules about social distancing.
There is a separate and wider debate to be had about the future and financial sustainability of the current model of higher education and perhaps this crisis will accelerate it, just as it is accelerating so many other developments and issues that had been brewing in recent years.
Whether there are more resignations to come I do not know, but I strongly suspect Mrs May will continue to remain Prime Minister unless she lost a vote of no confidence among Conservative MPs because I think she has too strong a sense of public duty to leave the country with a leadership vacuum at this critical time. I watched her this morning and felt that she came over as quite assured and clear in her mind, even though I agree that the Chequers Deal is far from perfect. Given that the EU would never agree to a deal entirely on the UK's terms for both legal and political reasons, it was inevitable that some on the Right would feel betrayed by the necessary compromises and that UKIP might receive a bounce in the polls. But that does not mean that Mrs May is pursuing entirely the wrong course of action at this point - there are leading Brexiteers who do support her - or that a revived UKIP would pose a significant long-term threat to the Conservative Party, which has endured and eventually come through many a crisis in its long history.
Perhaps we shall end up with a No-Deal scenario but, however good the planning in the next 8 months, this would cause a lot of problems, perhaps even chaos. Most of the business and international financial communities would not look favourably on it and whoever was in Government would probably almost daily face headlines about threats to the pound and to jobs as sterling assets were sold and many businesses activated worst-case scenario plans which might protect them but only at the expense of the country. This would test even a Government led by an enthusiastic Brexiteer and it is difficult to imagine what kinds of assurances they could give over how the sunlit uplands were to be achieved. Then there are all the other potential problems connected with aviation, drug regulation, policing, etc. which a No-Deal outcome might engender and for which there may not be time to make and implement proper alternative plans in the coming months.
If Brexit is to be a long-term success, it must be seen and felt to be a success by the majority of the population, however they voted. It is still the case that a majority of voters under 50 favoured remaining in the EU (and voted Labour in the GE last year), as did majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and, while I think they would mostly accept the fact of leaving if it goes reasonably smoothly, they cannot be assumed to sit back quietly if it brings chaos instead. Nor I imagine would a good proportion of Leave voters (certainly not those whom I know personally). Future General Elections could easily bring in governments or coalitions committed, if not to overturning the result of the referendum, then at least to seeking an even closer relationship with the EU if that was felt to be the only way of solving the problems. Of course a messy Brexit would damage parts of the EU as well but, while that might make them more open to compromise, there is no guarantee that they would feel the need to change course significantly if more important issues were felt to be at stake. They might decide to let the UK see how long it could tough things out, just as happened with Greece.
I think it is too soon to write off Mrs May or the negotiations or to assume that the Irish and the EU will not budge an inch - they do not want the talks to break down and seem to have been generally pleased with progress recently.
People here and elsewhere attack Mrs May all the time over the negotiations but Mr Davis has been the one in charge of them for 18 months. If they have not proceeded to plan, his judgment and strategy are at least as much at fault and he was a prominent Leaver who will have endorsed all the UK’s concessions.
While the WTO might cater for trade, there are lots of other important things to be agreed with the EU, such as aviation, medicines, intelligence sharing, technical regulation, so there has to be some sort of negotiated arrangement for leaving if chaos is not to ensue.
I really can’t see the Party taking two months out at this stage to elect a new leader would go down at all well with most of the electorate, business and finance, and our international partners. And I doubt any new leader would do any better given the current makeup of Parliament and the current situation generally.
The one practical option which would keep the DUP on board would be for a status akin to EEA or EFTA, if not full membership. While some may feel it betrays the spirit of the referendum, I suspect most of the Government, Parliament and the electorate would at this point feel that that is a better option than a disorderly withdrawal, which is more likely to doom Brexit in the end because it will only win continued majority support if deemed to work well for most people.
Difficult to comment before we know whether whatever wording has been agreed satisfies the Irish Government and whether a decision is taken to move talks to the next phase. Also what arrangements would then be agreed for handling regulation between the UK and the EU. I Very much doubt the EU would object to our having higher standards of regulation in areas like finance, food, workers’ rights, the environment, etc.; their concern seems to be about a race to the bottom.
But the DUP is not in coalition. As long as the Government can pass its budgets and Queen’s Speeches and survive votes of confidence, it does not have to satisfy the DUP at all costs if it should determine that the interests of the country as a whole matter more than those of Northern Ireland alone. And I imagine the DUP would at worst abstain in such votes because it would not want a Labour Government.
I think you talk a lot of sense in your posts but I am afraid that I disagree that this is a viable option. Not only do I strongly doubt the existence of any support in Northern Ireland for full independence but the restrictions on the ROI’s freedom of action in relation to the UK after Brexit resulting from its continued membership of the EU would similarly apply to an independent Northern Ireland remaining within the EU.
Your second paragraph makes good points, though. Some argue that, because trade across the Irish border is largely of a local nature or else is mainly agricultural and predictable in nature, e.g, the supply of milk and dairy products, so it is silly to get worked up about managing the border after Brexit. But current practice is not necessarily a guide to future practice and there could be plenty of people willing to take advantage of an open border if it meant people and goods could move across it illegally with ease. We might be willing to tolerate a degree of smuggling but the EU might not, perhaps because it could set awkward legal precedents for dealing with its borders with other countries.
Assuming that Mrs May steps down before the next election, I think Conservative MPs and many in the Party will deem it essential that the next leader has considerable ministerial and Cabinet experience. That is because the next leader would immediately become Prime Minister and would have to fight a General Election within a couple of years. In opposition one can take a risk with someone without such experience because they have time to grow into the job. But a new Prime Minister would need to hit the ground running and inspire confidence immediately in their Cabinet colleagues and MPs. For that reason I think Mr Mogg would be a non-starter. I see him much more plausibly as a future Speaker. Michael Gove might win out, however, although I am not sure how much of a vote-winner he would be. Colleagues of mine who aren’t remotely left wing say that many parents with children at state schools still deeply resent what his policies did to their schools.
I think Mrs May handled this well, with restraint but making clear that what was done was wrong. Because it concerned a very unpleasant British group, I think she was entitled to make a public comment rather than simply private representations. But I am getting sick and tired of the orgy of condemnation and virtue-signalling on the part of so many politicians and public figures and the waste of valuable Commons time yesterday on MPs making themselves feel better by condemning President Trump. The Muslim community is presumably aware by now that such behaviour is not tolerated in this country and no one can doubt our efforts to tackle Islamic extremism. President Trump and his base seem to me to thrive on causing outrage among opponents and the most effective response on the part of the media and public figures would be to ignore his tweets as far as possible.
Countries will always compete for business and countries within the EU compete for business with each other. It is true that the UK could face significant disadvantages in attracting business investment after Brexit depending on the nature of its trading arrangements with the EU. But this comment exaggerates wildly and, if what it predicted did come to pass, the likely outcome would be the UK rejoining the EU on the same terms as everyone else.