Well, does Brexit now mean Brexit? Does the Prime Minister’s Cabinet agreement on a negotiating position – more than two years after the British people voted to leave the European Union – amount to a craven capitulation or a triumph of pragmatism in the face of the EU’s intransigence?
The test must surely be to examine the proposal against what Theresa May has repeatedly told us, namely we shall be leaving the EU’s single market and customs union, we shall be controlling our own borders and we shall be free from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. In other words, by regaining full sovereignty the UK will take back control.
The press statement that summarised the Prime Minister’s proposal, which will form the basis of a White Paper, has been examined by barrister Martin Howe, QC, a respected specialist in European law and adviser to Lawyers for Britain – and it has been found seriously wanting.
His 18-page advice can be found at their website and is well worth a read but the telling phrase is this: “These proposals [therefore] lead directly to a worst-of-all-worlds ‘Black Hole’ Brexit where the UK is stuck permanently as a vassal state in the EU’s legal and regulatory tar pit, still has to obey EU laws and ECJ rulings across vast areas, cannot develop an effective international trade policy or adapt our economy to take advantage of the freedom of Brexit, and has lost its vote and treaty veto rights as an EU member state.”
To achieve unanimity around her proposal, the Prime Minister connived against her colleagues who have repeatedly given her the benefit of the doubt only to find that decisions taken in good faith on issues such as the single market and customs union are consistently reopened to be debated again.
Consider this: Mrs May flew to Germany to reveal her proposal to Chancellor Angela Merkel before she had presented it to her own Cabinet in an attempt to obtain pre-approval. It is generally held that the EU was also given wind of what she was proposing and was asked not to dismiss it out of hand before any negotiations.
The Cabinet members were then given the 120-page document to read individually only two hours before their meeting started and had their phones and watches taken off them so they could not communicate details of the contents or the meeting. Meanwhile, civil servants behind the plan were leaking details of the proceedings as if they were commenting gleefully on Eurovision Song Contest entries.
That a Prime Minister should seek to cut a deal behind the backs of her own Cabinet betrays that she is not negotiating for the best deal from the EU but on the contrary, is negotiating together with the EU against Brexiteers in the Cabinet who represent the 17.4 million that voted Leave. If that is not treachery I don’t know what is. What we are heading for is not a soft Brexit, as its supporters are portraying it, but a soft Remain that will in time become a hard Remain – for it will undoubtedly result in further concessions. The Prime Minister’s Chequers agreement is only her opening gambit and, by the example of her performance thus far, must mean further concessions along the way.
To consider what May has done let us look at it from a Scottish context. Imagine Scotland voted to leave the UK in a second independence referendum, but in the negotiations for a new relationship with the UK the SNP Cabinet is divided because some fear a soft Indyref will tie Scotland forever to decisions by UK institutions such as Westminster, the Bank of England and UK Supreme Court.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon quietly jets down to London, meets the UK Prime Minister of the day and reveals the plans she will present to her Scottish Cabinet before they are able to read it and agree to it. Sturgeon, with the promise of no more than murmurings from the UK that it is only a good starting-point, comes home and threatens the collapse of the government and an early election if she doesn’t get her way.
That is what May has done, and it is nothing short of treacherous to the decision that was taken on 23 June, 2016 by the British people – and it is not even the final settlement. No matter how sweet-sounding its initial reaction, the EU will bargain for more.
One has to conclude that if May had shown as much cunning and sharp practice towards the EU and Michel Barnier as she has shown to her Cabinet members then she would have undoubtedly have won greater support and loyalty from those who have put their faith in her, only to be betrayed.
As is the way of politics I doubt we have heard the last of this shameful episode in the Conservative Party’s history. Too many are looking to their ministerial careers, their superannuated pensions, their limousine lifestyle and ambitions.
David Davis was meant to be the minister for exiting the European Union but has become the doormat for the Prime Minister’s kitten heels. On Friday she trod all over him, again. Boris Johnson fires off smart-ass one-liners like torpedoes, but they have ultimately turned back and sunk him, for he is finished as an alternative to May if he can’t do a Heseltine and storm out. Meanwhile, Liam Fox is on a mission to irrelevance; who will want to discuss trade deals in any serious fashion with him now?
Michael Gove was apparently the first Leaver in Cabinet to support May’s plan; if true then he has excelled himself as the most duplicitous of all; having stabbed Boris Johnson in the back during the Tory leadership election on the basis he would not have delivered Brexit, he has now knifed the Brexit movement completely.
Left isolated, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey have capitulated with their colleagues. Only a number of backbenchers, certainly too few if Labour backs May’s proposal, are wisening up to what it means.
A Survation poll, carried out since the announcement, suddenly puts Labour ahead with the Tories dropping three points. It is only the beginning. The Cabinet may be united for the moment, but are all holding hands as they jump off an electoral cliff into that dark tarry black hole they are being warned about.
• Brian Monteith is a director of Global Britain