Big meeting of the cabinet to discuss what Brexit means at Chequers this week. Obviously it means Brexit, but given no one seems able to actually define what “means” means, “Brexit means Brexit” has become a political Mobius strip. How May plans to escape from it is no clearer from what her spokespeople have said this week.
“Several cabinet members made it clear that we are leaving the EU but not leaving Europe, with a decisive view that the model we are seeking is one unique to the United Kingdom and not an off-the-shelf solution. This must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services.”
The Guardian headlined an article on this subject “Restricting immigration will be at heart of Brexit deal”, but having read and re-read everything from Number 10 over the last 24 hours, I’m not so sure. It should be noted that the quote I pulled above is yet more gobbledy gook on the subject of what Brexit might look like. I suppose we should be glad that Downing Street is making it clear there are no plans to dislodge the island of Britain from the European continental shelf and attempt to drag it into the middle of the Atlantic, but beyond that this is really more of the same thing we’ve had all summer. Essentially, they want to be in the single market while doing away with freedom of movement, when everyone knows this isn’t possible. And all anyone is told when they point this out is that the EU will give the UK whatever it wants eventually because we’re big and important and Britain and all that.
Something’s got to give at some point – it is unavoidable. The question is whether May knows this and is trying to get round this uncomfortable fact or she’s being drinking from the same well as Liam Fox and thinks everything will inevitably work out for the best, somehow.
No one in government seems willing to let the British people know that a bespoke deal will probably take around ten years to complete at least. What happens during that decade? Are we still in the EU or not throughout this period? It’s really unclear. And if we’re out of the EU after two years and we still don’t have any trade deals, what happens then?
Perhaps the Brexiteers are actually right. Since we’re dealing with a completely novel situation here, who knows. It would give me some heart that they knew what they were doing if they sounded more like they knew what they were talking about.
I should really stop trying to figure out what May is thinking. It’s hard though, when the entire future of the country is at stake.
Nick: it is very dispiriting. Rationally, I would like to think that May is giving her three Brexiteers full latitude to work out what Brexit is and then be responsible when reality collides with their fractured fantasies.
But it looks increasingly that she really is signed up to the fantasy. TTIP and even CETA, have proved highly contentious, the Canadian deal still has opposition in many quarters around the EU and is still a long way from ratification.
Any arrangement other than fully signing up to the Single Market, will be a deal that is scrutinised and haggled line by line. Whatever deal emerges would face opposition groups in many EU countries, just as we see for TTIP and CETA. Some states may decide that a referendum is required (as the Netherlands did for an agreement with Ukraine). Each country would be entitled to ask what they can expect in return from the UK, particularly if the UK’s objective is to demote citizens of some states to second class status. It would be political suicide for politicians in Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary etc. to countenance this.
The trouble is that there is very little rational here, the Brexit vote was achieved through whipping up irrational fear of immigrants, particularly from outside the EU. I doubt Johnson, Davis nor Fox had given much thought to practicalities of going through with Brexit. Davis has been reported as guaranteeing that the Irish border will remain open, yet it is not in his gift to determine Irish policy on transit in and out of the country. Post Brexit the border would be an EU border and therefore in a very different category to internal borders. He appears to be announcing an outcome to a negotiation that has not even started.
It is indeed very difficult to believe that there is any plan beyond day-dream wish lists.
Gerry McGarry says
The plan was in Boris’s folder.
Edward Harkins says
Much further confusion is being caused by what seems to be an endless round of assurances from Theresa May and colleagues about ‘what will not change’. Included in these assurances are funding for Erasmus participants, farmers, local councils on infrastructure and regeneration. How will all this be, and at what costs to other activities? Mind you, one assurance that has not been made is on *that* extra hundreds of millions of pounds that Brexit is to bring the NHS.