NOT seeing something coming has not been a significant issue so far in a Brexit saga that has, to date, dragged on for more than two-and-a-half years.

The overall situation has panned out largely as many people could have predicted at the time of the Brexit vote.

We have had the deeply divided UK Government’s protracted and often shambolic negotiations with the European Union. The economy has been damaged significantly already as many, many businesses and consumers have reacted naturally to the reality that any of the exit options will have a major negative impact on them, and reined in investment and spending amid the diabolical Brexit uncertainty. And we sit, at the 11th hour, with the no-deal spectre looming scarily.

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A fortnight ago, this column welcomed what seemed like a key defeat for the Conservative Government, when MPs voted to force Prime Minister Theresa May to return to Parliament with a new Brexit plan within three days if her draft withdrawal agreement with the EU was rejected by MPs. This deal was last week voted down in Parliament by a huge margin.


The forced return to Parliament was hailed here as a key, and rare, point of progress on the Brexit front: one hope being that maybe, just maybe, it might ultimately save the UK from itself by avoiding Brexit altogether. This seemed logical. After all, it had taken around two-and-a-half years to secure a Brexit deal which, as well as being unpopular with MPs, would cause huge further damage to the UK because it involves leaving the single market and ends free movement of people.

So what would Mrs May do? Would she, with the clock ticking fast and loudly and businesses justifiably more worried and annoyed by the second, put back the timing of Brexit as a first step? Might this open the door to a second referendum, one which some opinion polls have signalled could provide a very different result?

After all, surely she was in something of a corner, with the requirement, created by the cross-party vote two weeks ago, to return with an alternative way forward?

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The thing that such analysis perhaps did not take sufficient account of, with hindsight, was the brass neck of Mrs May and other Brexit-minded Tories.

They show no embarrassment as they continue their determined effort to have Brexit, whatever the cost. They take defeat after defeat in their stride, banging on about the “will of the people” and so forth.

However, even an awareness of this bloody-mindedness would surely not have prepared many people for what was about to occur.

What became clear in the days following the voting down of Mrs May’s draft withdrawal agreement with the EU was that the Prime Minister was not for turning. And we are not talking only about not being interested in a u-turn here. We are taking about a determination to plough on, headlong, in exactly the direction of travel that has proved so entirely fruitless up until now.

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Everyone expecting to see a Plan B was looking for the wrong thing. What we saw was Plan A, with some barely perceptible tweaks, such as the presumably publicity-seeking waiver of the £65 fee for settled status for people from other EU countries. The lack of any significant movement and utter refusal to even consider any alternatives to Mrs May’s preferred deal was astounding, even by the spectacularly brass-necked standards of this UK Government.

Can you imagine a big company boss having a strategy rejected by her or his board and then coming back with the same thing a few days later?

Such a leader would, you would imagine, not be in their position for much longer.

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston summed it up well as events unfolded on Monday, tweeting: “It’s like last week’s vote never happened. Plan B is Plan A.” It sure was. It was incredible but yet perhaps we should all have seen it coming given the Brexit track record of Mrs May, the UK Government, and the noisy and troublesome band of arch-Brexiters in the Conservative Party.

The Institute of Directors was more low-key in its response, while sensibly flagging the possible need to put back the Brexit date, in a response entitled, ‘The stasis continues’.

Citing the abolition of the settled-status fee, Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry declared: “This positive step cannot...act as smoke and mirrors hiding the lack of a clear plan to steer us away from a chaotic no-deal Brexit on March 29 that would be so damaging for many in the UK’s small business community.”

As businesses and households take fright, the Tory arch-Brexiters keep the humdingers coming.

International trade secretary Liam Fox told BBC’s Today programme that delaying or cancelling Brexit would be worse than leaving the EU with no deal. How so exactly?

Surely he has read about the Bank of England’s forecast that a no-deal departure could trigger a UK recession even deeper than that brought on by the global financial crisis around a decade ago?

We have seen former prime minister David Cameron, who ushered in the whole Brexit fiasco with an entirely unnecessary referendum, on television, discussing the current state of affairs. It is almost as if some people believe he has some key to ending the nightmare he has brought upon us.

We are living in a very strange world. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Stephen Barclay declared yesterday that he was taking a warning from plane-maker Airbus – about its UK factories being under threat in the event of a disorderly Brexit – “very seriously”. You would hope so – Airbus employs more than 14,000 people in the UK and calculates that it supports in excess of 110,000 jobs through its supply chain.

And Airbus chief executive Tom Enders was certainly not joking when he declared, entirely justifiably, that it was a “disgrace” that businesses were still unable to plan properly, more than two years after the Brexit referendum. What is more, he was not kidding when he warned people not to believe “Brexiters’ madness” which asserted that, just because Airbus had major UK plants, it would not move and would always be here.

In spite of Mr Barclay’s words, all the signs are that the UK Government is not taking the consequences of its Brexit odyssey anywhere near seriously enough.