As talk between the UK government and the EU moves past phase one (the easy bit, which wasn’t particularly easy) onto discussions around the transitional phase (or implementation phase according to government semantics), people have begun to wonder how Theresa May will manage to keep both Remainers and Leavers in her party happy. I’ll go one further: it might be difficult to keep the two tribes of Brexiteers pleased at one and the same time as the process develops.
The first tribe of Brexiteers are the “Brexit at any cost” clan – which, just to confuse matters, are the least hardcore of the two. The chief of this tribe is Michael Gove. They think anything that gets Brexit done, as in, gets us to actually leave the EU, is fine. Agree to regulatory alignment or whatever, a transitional phase in which we obey all the rules, no big deal. The point is, once we’re out we can begin to diverge slowly over time until we get to a place where Britain dances completely to its own tune.
The second group within the Brexit family of the Conservative Party is the “hard Brexit or bust” tribe. The talisman for this bunch is Jacob Rees-Mogg. They think that any trade deal that doesn’t involve a lot of both having cake and the eating of it is best left on the table. Forget the idea of a transitional deal that smells like a ploy to keep us in the club a little longer in the hopes we change our minds and beg to be back in, even if it means accepting the Euro. Let’s just jump over the cliff. Everything that follows that is supposedly bad is, in their minds, good: a little chaos leading to the need to slash public services springs to mind.
This is actually a larger division, for now at least, than the one between nominal Remainers and Brexiteers. Most Tory Remainers accept there was a referendum that was lost by their side, so Brexit has to happen. This puts them, oddly, in a similar place to the Brexit at any cost tribe who just want to see it done, accepting it will all start with a somewhat soft Brexit. Basically, it comes down to whether you accept that a transitional deal is a necessity or not, and the soft Brexit to kick off Britain’s post-EU life is a worthy price to pay – or think such a thing would be horrible and we should just walk away without any deal whatsoever. This will be the division that matters when it comes time to vote on the deal.
As a result, we could see the two tribes of Brexiteer at war with one another later on next year. Each will claim to be the true guardians of Brexit, in all its beloved holiness. That could get particularly ugly, even by the standards of the debate seen thus far.