15 November 2018
Last night, May’s Cabinet nominally approved the 585 page document on withdrawal from the EU. It is no surprise that subsequently her Ministers have begun to bolt, as her scheme fails to deliver what the country voted for, specifically:
May is in many respects an admirable woman: she has a palpable sense of duty and remarkable tenacity. But either her inclinations as a reluctant leader of a process to which she fundamentally objected, or her failings as a negotiator mean that she has been rolled up by Barnier and his thousand Lilliputian threads. We can’t be certain that she won’t pull her unfortunate scheme off, but it’s more likely that failure will have its own reward.
On the other hand, those of a leave cast of mind will benefit from a few moments of ruthless honesty. Let’s face it: Brexit is failing. Why is that? Let’s go back to basics: the EU is a political project, whose purpose we must admire - peace in Europe. Many Remainers take such inspiration from this objective that it blinds them to all else. Never mind that the EU’s methods – political, economic and social entanglement - have become controversial all round. That doesn’t take away from their effectiveness: not just the bread and butter of integrated supply-chains, but “freedom to live, work and love”. And Leavers haven’t done enough to honour the idealistic objective while taking exception to the downside of the methods: mangled accounting, reckless decision-making and a fundamental democratic deficit.
They’ve also let the economic argument get hijacked by the UK’s manufacturers. On this subject, no-one takes the Treasury seriously but it’s harder to overlook earache from honest-to-goodness employers. It’s turned out tricky to make the argument that industry’s natural preference for the status quo doesn’t justify tying down the rest of us: “fuck business” was never going to win prizes in debate club, let alone charm school. Professor Patrick Minford, Martin Howe QC and Shanker Singham have done their bit at the intellectual end of the game (click on each for examples), but too many of their arguments have blushed unseen. Brexiteers should have done better.
Twenty-eight months ago, my countrymen voted against the EU’s methods. May has made a bish of fulfilling their intentions: she has failed to rise above the entanglements and thrown in with a manufacturers’ ramp. This last is all the more astonishing given the evidence of an economy in fine fettle, already making its adjustments. May is delivering the consequences of delinquent strategy, leaving us with five alternatives.
If a new Government emerges, survives and can steel itself to a change of stance (and if not, what’s the point?) it would face three problems:
But first we must navigate the next few days, the hinge upon which Brexit is to turn. Earlier today, I filed my tax return online. This is never what you’d call fun, but HMRC has developed a pretty user-friendly interface. Well done them, and a signal of what can be achieved once you set your mind to it. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I still want to believe that it is not beyond our national talents to make a decent fist of Brexit. Heaven knows, the hour is late.