And here we go again. We were supposed to have moved passed the incessant squabbling and infighting amongst the Conservatives and finally agreed on a direction to try and steer Brexit towards. But no. We’re back where we were, with no clear plan moving forward, the government in crisis, the Conservative Party close to stamping on an existential landmine.
The Chequers agreement came to be because the Brexit Secretary and Foreign Secretary did not agree with it and resigned, promptly throwing any notion of it being a workable set of proposals to send to the EU, with mere months of meaningful negotiation time left before we careen off the edge of the cliff and into the abyss, out of the window. And then Michael Barnier walked into a room full of the world’s media and flatly said ‘no’. To all of them.
And the biggest problem is that we still don’t know what we want Brexit to be. More and more, there are calls for a referendum , the Independent has officially started a campaign calling for such, on the terms of the deal Theresa May strikes with the EU (if she manages to cobble one together), suggestions from EU nations and negotiators that we can cancel Brexit and stay in the EU, demands from hard-line Brexiteers that any and all ties to the EU are cut immediately with no concession or compromise whatsoever.
What is baffling to me is that no Brexiteer seemed to accept or didn’t want to accept, and worse lied to the public about how easy it was all going to be, that the EU would be extraordinarily cooperative and would bend over backwards to accommodate Britain. Liam Fox infamously said agreeing a trade deal with the EU would be ‘the easiest deal in history.’ Why? Why would they have been so accommodating? Their primary goal through this whole exercise will have been to try and discourage other member states from leaving so all their requirements for a deal come the 29th March next year would be purely for the benefit of the EU, not for Britain, and why shouldn’t they? It’s the British government that went flying into this process without any real plan of action or thought as to the impact.
The decision to trigger Article 50 was based on a result of a referendum that was called by a Prime Minister trying to use the public forum to quell a political split in his party. And in the end David Cameron was toppled by the same problem that had brought down two of his Conservative predecessors, Margret Thatcher and John Major. Thatcher’s increasing vitriol towards Brussels won her admirers on the back benches but alienated her Cabinet colleagues who ultimately showed her the door. Major could not hold his party together and was undermined ever after by the Maastricht rebels who made life so difficult that they destroyed his credibility and effectively gave Labour a clear shot at goal to end nearly 20 years of Tory power.
The Conservatives have tried for too long to keep the likes Jacob Rees-Mogg and the other Eurosceptics in the party. To bring an end to this perpetual intra-party conflict, they need to say to the Eurosceptics ‘This is the party line on Europe, if you don’t like it, leave’ And that could be as monumental to party politics in this country as Benjamin Disraeli’s public destruction of Sir Robert Peel.
The referendum campaign itself was an abysmal example of political campaigning on both sides of the argument. The various Leave campaigns lied (£350 million a week for the NHS ring a bell?) and spent over the limits imposed (both of the prominent leave campaigns have been reported to the police by the Electoral Commission). The Remain campaign focused too much on the negatives of leaving rather than the positives of staying and tried to claim that it would all happen immediately. It wouldn’t have and it didn’t. But it is now. And to strident Leave voters any news that indicated Brexit is a bad decision is now that most worrying of phrases to come to the fore, ‘fake news’. Don’t trust the media, they lie to you, only trust us. That whole deal sounds too much like something from 1984 for my liking. Next thing will be for Gary Lineker to be accused of a thought crime for daring to stray from the script.
The beyond stupid reason for calling the referendum, the rush to trigger Article 50 with no plan in place, the fact that it took the government over a year to even put a plan together, the unnerving fundamentalism of the Brexiteers, the very idea of collective responsibility being thrown out the window, the Conservatives going through a divorce with some of its own members being played out in full view of the public just paints the rest of Britain as rather silly for voting the way the nation did.