In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum result I wrote a series of articles for The Duran discussing the political vacuum and sense of drift the wholly unexpected result of the referendum had created in Britain (see here and here).
I pointed out the dangerous sense of drift, with no-one within the country’s political leadership showing a clear idea of what to do in a situation which for all of them was completely unexpected.
The swift emergence of Theresa May as the new British Prime Minister appeared to signal an end to the drift. Her initial actions were encouraging, with a ruthless cabinet reshuffle that seemed to clear many of the holdovers from former Prime Minister Cameron’s time, conveying a feeling of firm government and a renewed sense of grip.
Unfortunately in the weeks which have followed it has become increasingly clear that Theresa May has no more idea of what to do on the subject of Brexit than anyone else. For weeks she hid behind the easy but actually meaningless slogan “Brexit means Brexit”. However she has never spelled out either what form she wants Brexit to take, or how she intends to achieve it.
The best that could be said of her is that she seemed to want to preserve Britain’s membership of the European Single Market, whilst opting out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and regaining control of Britain’s borders.
This is a completely illogical policy. Firstly membership of the European Single Market actually requires Britain to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It cannot be otherwise since it is the European Court of Justice which administers the acquis, the EU’s body of law which regulates the European Single Market.
Secondly, it is not at all obvious why the EU would agree to allow Britain continued access to the European Single Market whilst simultaneously permitting Britain to reimpose its own border controls. Here is what I wrote about it on 4th July 2016 – just a few weeks after the Brexit vote
“Whilst such a thing is theoretically possible I frankly doubt it will happen. The British want to stay within the European Single Market but essentially want to do so on their own terms – with unrestricted access for their businesses to the Single Market whilst opting out of the EU’s core principle of unrestricted movement of labour. Whilst such a thing is theoretically possible, I cannot see why the EU would concede it when doing so would merely encourage other EU states to demand the same. Ultimately hopes for these sort of arrangements rest on assumptions about British power and importance to the EU which have no basis. Given the bad example making such concessions to Britain would create, I cannot see why the EU would want to make them.”
Since I wrote those words it has become increasingly that the EU is not prepared to grant the British “unrestricted access for their businesses to the Single Market whilst opting out of the EU’s core principle of unrestricted movement of labour”.
The trouble is that instead of Theresa May clearly spelling this out, and presenting to the British parliament and the British people a coherent plan with a timetable for Brexit, she has drifted along, allowing different ministers in her government to argue amongst themselves, whilst creating a vacuum that anti-Brexit forces intent on overturning the Brexit result are now trying to fill.
The latter as I said in my article of 4th July 2016 is actually politically impossible
“If the British government or parliament or the elite in general try to set aside or ignore the vote, they would create for themselves a major crisis of legitimacy especially in England. Whilst this being the United Kingdom we are unlikely to see riots and tanks in the streets – as some are already warning – it would create a huge sense of grievance, which would very quickly crystallise into a major political movement that in England outside London could easily sweep all before it.”
Recent events, including the Supreme Court Judgment which is expected either later today or possibly tomorrow, have to some extent forced Theresa May’s hand. Apparently she has now agreed to present a plan for Brexit to the British Parliament before Article 50 is invoked, supposedly in March.
The trouble is that with no substantive negotiations with the EU going on, and with Theresa May still unable to articulate clearly what she wants, it is not clear what this plan will amount to.
I remain of the view that the situation calls for a coalition government bringing together all the main parties to establish a consensus on Brexit and to negotiate a way out of the present impasse with the EU. No-one in Britain is however talking of that option as the British political class, oblivious to the growing urgency, continues to play the party political games to which over the years it has grown accustomed.
This is not a situation that can continue for much longer. That it has continued for as long as it has is the result of Theresa May’s success in projecting an image of firmness her actual performance as Prime Minister does not warrant. With criticism of her beginning to grow as the continued drift becomes increasingly difficult to conceal, the risk of a major political and economic crisis in Britain is growing.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.