The European elections were meaningless. They can be read any way we want. Brexit won, but with a third of the vote, against anti-Brexit parties with much the same. Stir in a third of “others”, including Tories, Labour and nationalists, and soon all we get is noise. Britain still has a Tory government and a Labour opposition, both broken-backed. The vote was not for any ruling party. Just forget it.
Meanwhile, still lying steaming on the Commons floor are three monster turds, all with a 31 October sell-by date. One is a Brexit crash-out no deal. Another is a second referendum, possibly revoking Brexit. A third, stinking to high heaven, is Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement.
In the absence of any action, crashing out is now the legal default position. Even as a life-long Eurosceptic, I have seen nothing suggesting this would be remotely in the nation’s interest. The idea that crashing out “on WTO terms” will somehow win centrists or moderate Tories back to the fold is absurd. It would split the party in parliament and alienate a centre ground already toxic for Tories. Renegotiation is impossible, as there is no Brussels to negotiate with until the autumn, let alone one with the will to budge.
On the other hand a revocation referendum would be near impossible to get through parliament against a Tory government veto – short of some sort of Commons putsch. It would probably require a no-confidence vote and an election, which was hardly takes matters forward. A referendum, to be of any value, would be after, not before, a deal. This leaves May’s agreement. It is still on the table. It was never a final, only a transitional deal, but it was composed from the most rare and febrile Westminster substance, cross-party compromise. Remainers hated it as against their faith. Some Tories hated it because they were flat-earthers, others because they loathed May and wanted her job.
What has changed is the certainty of a new Tory prime minister. May’s sole legacy to them was her deal. It offered the country a perfectly honourable way forward out of the EU and into a new relationship with Europe. Any fool could pick holes in it, but it was a compromise agreed by Brussels, and would see us out before the 31 October deadline.
A new Tory leader can only start from there. Towering ahead is one of the greatest peacetime tasks to face any British leader, to pull a shattered parliament back from the brink. It means swallowing all bombast and pride and taking forward a compromise based on May’s deal. There is no alternative.
• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist