Theresa May must face down those who would take us over cliff edge

Tomorrow, at a country house in Buckinghamshire, the latest episode of the farce that passes as policymaking in the Tory party will be played out.

Theresa May is taking her cabinet to her rural retreat at Chequers to try and come up with a plan that avoids dragging the UK off the cliff edge of the most extreme Brexit possible.

Chequers dates back to the 16th century, so in some ways it is a fitting venue, given that some in the Tory party appear bent on dragging us as far back in time as possible.

And of course, waiting in the wings, are the hard-line Brexiteer plotters, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, sometimes dubbed “the honourable member for the 18th century”.

Rees-Mogg and his fellow travellers specialise in a misty-eyed, fantastical notion of Britain, summed up in the immediate post-referendum period as a desire to create what was dubbed “Empire 2.0”.

But the days of empire are long gone, and the whimsical, post-imperial delusions of the hard Brexiteers do not survive the first contact with the hard reality of what lies in store in the event of the no-deal scenario that some of them appear to crave.

The Tory squabbling over how to deliver a Brexit deal would be amusing were the consequences not so potentially disastrous for all of us.

Amid all the warnings of what lies in store, it is easy to lose sight of just how serious those consequences now threaten to be.

At the weekend, we heard warnings that the NHS in England were actively drawing up plans for a worst case scenario of a no-deal Brexit which threatened the availability of vital medicines in the UK.

Just think about that for a moment. The UK government is actively pursuing a course of action which has now led to high level warnings that they may not be able to procure the medicines needed to treat some of its sickest citizens.

If there is a more damning indictment of any government policy in recent memory I cannot think of one.

If the Scottish Government were to pursue such a course of action we would, rightly, be pilloried for it. But, such is the litany of chaos, confusion and contradiction spawned by the Tories’ Brexit shambles, that it passes as just another day, with just another warning.

Then yesterday we saw the report from the independent IPPR think tank that the cost of everyday goods for households is set to surge as a result of Brexit.

And Scotland is set to be among the hardest hit parts of the whole UK when it comes to those price hikes.

The IPPR predicts that an extreme Brexit, outside the European single market and customs union and instead relying on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules – which is what some of the Tory hard-liners want – would see food prices rise by an average of 5.3 per cent UK-wide, with transport costs soaring by 7.7 per cent.

At a time when family budgets are already squeezed, and with Tory austerity continuing to bite, those price rises could be enough to push some households to the brink.

I hope that common sense prevails and that what emerges from tomorrow’s Chequers summit is something which resembles a workable plan for the least damaging Brexit possible.

That would mean, at a minimum, staying in the Customs Union and in the Single Market, which is around eight times bigger than the UK market alone. That is overwhelmingly in the interests of Scotland and of the UK as a whole.

But nothing the Tories have done in the last two years suggests that rationality, common sense or the best interests of the country as a whole will prevail.

Instead, they have allowed the interests of ordinary people the length and breadth of the UK to be subjugated to the internal plotting, scheming and bloodletting within the Tory party itself.

That is an unforgiveable abdication of responsibility for which they deserve to pay a very, very heavy political price.

Theresa May appears boxed in by the Brexiteers and the DUP when it comes to finding the kind of solution which would solve the Irish border issue which lies at the heart of the deliberations.

However, with more and more senior business figures starting to break cover and make clear that they will be taking jobs and investment out of the UK in the event of a no-deal scenario, the time is fast approaching for the Prime Minister to face down those who would take us over the cliff edge.

But, given everything that has happened to date, no one should be expecting white smoke from the Chequers chimneys.

And if there is, it’s likely to be the Brexiteers shredding and burning any proposed deal.

This article originally appeared in the Daily Record.