Simeon the Stylite argues that the government has fatally weakened its own Brexit remit.
Some time ago, Eddie Mair asked Amber Rudd how long the Brexit ‘remit’ would last. It is a powerful question and deserves to be remembered.
Both Vote Leave and Theresa May’s dutiful government have always considered their remit to have two key aspects — both leaving itself and the manner of leaving.
In turn, the manner of leaving has three crucial aspects:
- taking back control (borders, money, laws);
- achieving a ‘frictionless’ deal with the European Union;
- the unfettered ability to strike free trade deals with other countries.
For the government, Leave itself and the manner of leaving are now so conflated that they are virtually indivisible.
This can be seen in defying the ‘will of the people’ type rhetoric when it is directed at people arguing with aspects of Brexit — e.g. leaving the Customs Union.
For the most zealous Brexiteers, even the stand-still transition period is objectionable. Put simply, any type of Brexit that conflicts with the chosen brand, is not really Brexit at all.
It is not ‘ambitious’ or ‘creative.’ It is not a ‘proper’ Brexit at all. It is a ‘pointless’ Brexit — what was the point of the referendum?
This conflation of leaving with one particular manner of leaving (or it is not really leaving at all) has been an enormous strategic mistake by the government and many other Leave campaigners.
The problem is that now, more than 18 months after the referendum, it is clearly apparent that the promised Brexit is not achievable.
‘Taking back control’ has been compromised by the transition period and perhaps other concessions.
Control itself (as defined) effectively rules out a frictionless relationship with the European Union. Those promised trade deals are not at all straightforward.
The Leave position is now so inflexible that the government’s position is undermined on a daily basis. Why? Because the manner of leave desired is simply undeliverable.
And this is why the Brexit remit has all but run out. Not because of the vote itself, but because the government and others chose to interpret it in a way that is simply not possible.
This is not just a point for Remainers — it is equally important for Leavers (broad church that they are). Are any of the main Leave segments getting the Brexit they want?
Perhaps this point is not wholly apparent today. But it will be clear when (as seems likely) the European Union rejects Britain’s future relationship proposal.
What will the government do, then? Change course to a softer Brexit? But it has spent that last 18 months saying that is not really Brexit.
Leave without a deal? There is no mandate for this at all. As clearly evidenced by the lack of preparation for this outcome.
At this point, the Brexit remit has run out — most certainly the Brexit remit for this government and supporters of its Brexit approach.
What happens, then? A new Brexit mandate will be required either by electing a new government or through a second referendum.
The great irony is that the government’s Brexit approach — its conflation of leave and manner of leave — has jeopardised Brexit itself.
They would have done much better to have left it at ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and been flexible around the approach.🔷
(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected)