Sod all this cheery coming together lark. I admire Ian Dunt for trying it, but ultimately I do not think it is going to work, not least – as Richard Elwes elegantly points out – so many Remain people rightly feel what happened prior to the referendum was a swindle. Brexit is ultimately taking your pick among a bunch of unpalatable options – either a sort of Soft Brexit (might not wreck the economy, but has basically no political gain) or Hard Brexit (the opposite). There is some middle ground where the actual decisions are fudged through transitional deals (that may anyway last years), or through years of slog to the promised land. Fun, but try running those past Farage or IDS.
All of that is ultimately the heart of Britain’s current Brexit pickle. Theresa May cannot actually really lay out what sort of Brexit she wants as any variant of it has a load of opponents, even among Brexiteers. And all of that three months ahead of when Article 50 is meant to be triggered.
As I see it there is not a sodding hope that May is going to put forward anything that is actually achievable in the Article 50 process in the plan the Tories have promised to Keir Starmer. May has to essentially propose some sort of have-your-cake-and-eat-it Brexit plan as to put forward anything else is going to prompt howls of anguish that she may not be able to control (go too hard and some pragmatists in her party and UK business scream, or go too soft and Davis or Fox resign and the hard right of the Tories are furious).
So off May goes to Brussels aiming for something that anyone with any vague understanding of how the governments of the rest of the EU (and indeed the EU institutions) are thinking know will go down like a cup of cold sick. May – lacking connections and rapport, and having failed to actually work out if the Article 50 notification can unilaterally be withdrawn – ends up facing a major crisis pretty quickly. How that ultimately plays out is anyone’s guess – it might need a new election (and some sort of party realignment) while the Article 50 clock is ticking, or it might suddenly prompt more open fears from among UK business than so far expressed about what their prospects are in the circumstance that Britain is not ultimately going to be able to do much to help them.
Trying to avert that crunch is a waste of time. There is no way between now and the end of March to possibly work out all of the multitude of Brexit complexities that ought to have been answered before the referendum, to work out how Brexit is going to actually practically and indelibly alter the lives of every person resident in the UK, and to find workable ways to soften the multitude of problems that leaving the EU will cause. It’s taken the UK 6 years to work out how to build a third runway at Heathrow, and now it’s embarking on Brexit having spent 6 of the 9 months since the referendum coming up with precisely nothing of any value. A bit of reconciliation between Remain people and some liberal leavers is not going to solve this now.
So let’s have the crisis. Let’s be done with the notion that all is fine in UK politics and that things can carry on as normal. And let’s hope the fallout is more political than it is economic, as the latter hurts everyday lives more and is probably harder to put right. But if May triggers Article 50 in March there is going to be a crisis, and maybe it’s better we have it and be done with it. Then things can start to recover.
(A few caveats – this ignores the Supreme Court case that may knock the government’s timetable off track, and assumes Labour is incapable of kicking up a fuss in the House of Commons. It also assumes that the EU side holds and that France does not elect Le Pen. Also note I have written a load of other things about varieties of Brexit, and am intentionally short in how I cover the varieties of Brexit here)Jon