Theresa May made a speech laying out her ‘plan’ for Brexit negotiations yesterday. I say ‘plan’, because she has voiced the plan of a plan of a plan. She has set the United Kingdom on course for a very hard Brexit, but continued to peddle the Trumpian delusion that ‘it’s gonna be great’.
Like a boss leaning over your cubicle on Monday morning to delegate a huge new assignment, she has laid down red lines that make you groan inside; “at least a third cheaper than the current supplier”, waxed lyrical about her wildest fantasies; “and the corporate bathroom needs a refit, I was thinking a sauna would make an excellent addition”, and at the end of it all issued a personal ultimatum; “of course, if you aren’t up to the task, there are a hundred others who’d kill for this job”, as she glanced down at your meagre workspace and tutted.
Mrs May both categorically ruled out any membership of the single market, yet called for “the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states”.
May insisted that Britain could not agree to two core parts of the Customs Union so must leave it. Instead, she suggested that the wholly invented role of “associate member of the Customs Union”, where we just get all the lovely favourable bits, would be agreeable.
The PM offered both the House of Commons and Lords a vote on the final deal. Finally, some parliamentary democracy from this government, which I applaud. But it’s not a vote that either House could conceivably block, coming months away from automatic ejection to WTO trading rules and border strife in Ireland.
Finally, she issued the same threat to EU leaders as her chancellor at the weekend; if we don’t get what we want, draw your sabres. We will launch the pirate ships, because anything not flying the Union Jack will be fair game for the new unscrupulous, imperial Britain, yarr! The ‘news’ that Brexit was a vote against neoliberalism must not have reached Downing Street yet.
I think it is now clear that Theresa May only backed remain because her boss did, or she at least fully realises on which side of the Conservative party her bread is buttered. She has spelled out positions that had up until now merely been strongly implied or logically inferred. Their clarification is the worst fears of remainers come true. We will be completely abolishing any and all aspects of European Union membership. Those who voted leave on June 22nd with ideas of a Norway model, or a Switzerland model, or Lexit must accept that their will hasn’t been realised this time, and join the 48% in the swelling ranks of 2016’s defeated.
The real purpose
It will be the hardest of Brexits. But all of the costs, risks and sacrifices of that choice were resoundingly ignored. Worse, they were presented only as upsides and opportunities. Mrs May has cynically shirked her responsibility as national leader of impartially informing the public of the full details of the situation. That responsibility, one assumes, has been left to ‘experts’ and opposition parties, who can easily be branded as discredited, disrespecting the will of the people, or simply sore losers.
The purpose of this speech, however, was never to lay down detail. Theresa May has made is perfectly clear that she considers the negotiations a foreign policy undertaking, and as such results trump clarity. Operational security outweighs informing citizens. Some chose leave as a vote for increased transparency, accountability, and democracy? Cute.
The purpose was to identify the legitimate targets of blame well in advance of any failure to meet them. This is a strategy of leaders the world over, and throughout time. Tell people what they want to hear, promise the world, and be sure to pinpoint whose fault it will be when the world is inevitably undeliverable.
In this case it will be EU leaders’ fault, for spitefully punishing us. Or MPs’, for voting down an economically disastrous final agreement, or refusing to ratify future financial liberalisation and free trade agreements that are going to make TTIP look positively protectionist. It will be the fault of Supreme Court judges for insisting on parliamentary scrutiny, or remainers’ for not getting on board with the new national project. Above all, it will never be because leaving the EU is a terrible, perilous, self-destructive project.
Here’s the full cartoon. A little less subtle.