I hear from a friend in Australia that everyone she knows of British origin is pleased at the outcome of our Referendum – hmm. Is that because they moved away from the UK to get away from that awful Europe thing across the Channel? And wow, the Brits have voted to get away from it too?
Well, OK, if that’s how you view little Britain. But just remember, British Australians, that the vote went 52% to 48% so there are a lot of Brits wondering how it’s all going to work out. And we may be an island off the coast of Europe, but, Europe is our neighbour, our destiny, and it’s been part of our political life for the past 43 years; we are Europeans, or so I thought. But apparently we have rejected this. Anyway enough of my lamenting our fate and (mis)fortune. What is actually happening?
Last Wednesday I celebrated my 42 wedding anniversary by pottering around Brighton. We stopped for a coffee in the grounds of Brighton Pavilion and there I saw a prominent member of the local Labour party being interviewed by a media type. At that moment the Cabinet was having an away-day on Brexit. Was that person being interviewed about that quite important event? I wasn’t in ear-shot so I could be wrong but this member of the Labour party is at the epi-centre of the furore surrounding the internal politics of Labour. As important as it is (and I do accept that the soul of the Labour party is important) I wonder if he mentioned the Conservative party and its lack of a policy, any policy, any clue about Brexit? Hmm? This is also important. But as I’ve been saying for some time now, the Labour party is totally in thrall to its internal processes – which grind on. More about those mid-September. Meanwhile at PMQs yesterday Corbyn apparently asked Theresa questions about housing.
So what is the Conservative party policy towards Brexit?
Theresa May has been seen doing stuff. She visited many of the EU leaders in August and she’s saying Brexit means Brexit – that means the Referendum vote will not be debated or voted on in Parliament. The EU leaders, btw, won’t have any talks with the UK, formal or otherwise, until we actually initiate Article 50. So, what exactly is this Article? Apparently it’s 250 words long and says not a lot as no country was ever expected to use it. We are to notify the European Council that we intend to leave, negotiate our withdrawal and establish the legality of a future relationship with the EU. Gosh, the lawyers must be rubbing their hands. The only stipulation is that after initiation we have two years to conclude the deal or we’ll be pushed out with no binding agreements, at all, legal or otherwise. And as there seems to be no clue (see below) as to what is to be our negotiating position we are delaying this initiation as long as we possibly can, which is annoying the EU leaders no end.
This week she’s been to the G20 summit in China and while she certainly has a professional manner she’s still been described as a rabbit caught in the headlights of Brexit. Obama has told her that she’ll wait in the queue for any trade agreement and the Japanese have sent a 15-page letter to the DExEU setting out some home truths. This letter amongst other things expressly states that the Japanese have invested a huge tranche of money here in the UK, and if the UK wants that to continue they better have some answers about what exactly Brexit means fairly quickly, or else. It also says that companies cannot survive without flexible immigration – gosh that’s a bucket of cold something or other to the Leavers. And indeed, what May is saying is that ‘no we won’t have an Australian points-based immigration system’ and no, the NHS won’t get £100m a week once we leave. Poor voters who voted for Brexit – they were so duped and lied to.
Apparently what we are aiming for is a ‘unique model’ allowing us to limit immigration but also to have a ‘positive outcome’ for trade. Well, great, if you can get that. Because one thing that the UK lacks at the moment are international trade negotiators as trade agreements have been agreed in Brussels for over 40 years now, and what Ministers and civil servants lack is experience in negotiating trade agreements, of any model, let alone one that limits migrants. Tricky times and a great opportunity for consultants to manoeuvre their way into these areas – trying not to be cynical here.
What we do have to go on is the performance of David Davis the Secretary of State for the Department of Exiting the EU. He got up in Parliament on Monday and I understand it was a commanding performance. Apparently his 180 newly-appointed staff are, amongst other things, analysing how Brexit might affect 50 different business sectors. He sees Brexit as a “ huge and exciting opportunit[y] that will flow from a new place for Britain in the world. There will be new freedoms, new opportunities, new horizons for this great country.”
The thing is an ‘opportunity’ is a wonderful word; it’s a chance, a possibility, a thing that might happen. It’s a once and future word, it’s something that hasn’t happened yet, but may do, somehow, sometime, some place, somewhere, most probably, if at all, in London. Because these opportunities will have nothing to do with any of the voters in Hull and Sutherland and the majority who voted for Leave.
And yesterday (Wednesday) May was also suitably vague “It is not about the Norway model or the Swiss model or any other country’s model – it is about developing our own British model.” Well, good luck with that. And furthermore she would not give “a running commentary on every twist and turn of the negotiation”.
Fair enough, and maybe that’s OK for now, but as the media pundit said afterwards, some of her Tory backbenchers are going to get a tad anxious about the lack of information on how Brexit will pan out. Because this really does give an indication that no-one, including very high up people in our government, knows what we’re doing or where we’re going.
This will be a very long drawn out affair – and anybody saying that our economy is doing well at the moment, and that Brexit has not affected anything is being spuriously and bogusly optimistic. Of course it’s OK, now – but for how long? No-one knows. Especially our politicians. Never ever think that they’re our betters – they are so not.
I expect you’ve all heard that famous expression ‘Fog in the Channel, Europe cut off.’ (Meaning we don’t think of ourselves as European). Well, believe me readers outside the UK, the fog has well and truly settled over the UK, and particularly so in Westminster.
Penny Kocher 8th September 2016
P.S. I read many articles to arrive at this summary, which I’ve decided not to reference within this post as it would make it look almost pink with all the links that could be attached. But click here for the Guardian’s weekly briefing on Brexit, which gives a good overview of events.