Brexit means Brexit — and we’re going to make a *mess* of it
The Tory government are making such an incredible hash of Brexit that you might wonder if their secret plan is to just go through the motions for now and then call it all off later down the line. But I think that would be giving them far too much credit.
The latest installment of cabinet disarray comes as Chancellor Philip Hammond announced last week of a transitional arrangement following Brexit that would keep — in all but names — single market and customs union membership along with freedom of movement for up to 3 further years. Seemingly a sensible — arguably necessary — step to prevent a cliff-edge no-deal in March 2019, other cabinet colleagues had different ideas.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis stated instead that freedom of movement would in fact end in March 2019. At the same time, Liam Fox, Trade Secretary, said that he had “not been party to discussions” on a transitional arrangement and that he was opposed to keeping free movement. On the contrary, Home Secretary Amber Rudd echoed the Chancellor’s stance. A few days later comes an announcement from No.10 stating “it would be wrong to suggest free movement will continue as it is now”.
So what is it? Are we having a transitional period? Will free movement continue or not? Does the EU get a say? Are we having our cake and eating it?
It would seem the government are trying to fool us people, and probably even themselves, into believing that free movement will end in March 2019 once a transitional deal begins. As implied by the Chancellor, this is plainly at odds with the reality of a status quo transitional deal, which by nature would have to ensue free movement or at least its equivalent if under a different name.
This latest row comes just days after a spat over the post-Brexit possibility of US imported chlorine chicken, which Michael Gove categorically ruled out while Liam Fox argued was not a problem. This just weeks after a spate of childish cabinet leaks designed to undermine the Chancellor, arguably the only minister with his head still screwed on.
The government are adopting a recklessly inward-looking approach to the country’s most complex negotiations in peacetime history. Every minister seems to be pushing their own agenda, completely at odds with one another.
Some are more interested in capitalising on Theresa May’s weakness in order to push forward their own leadership bids. Others are pursuing a hard Tory Brexit at whatever the cost. Meanwhile in the real world, the EU sees the government for the laughing stock it has become, while at home business uncertainty is rising and consumer confidence falling.
Then on Thursday came the — frankly bizarre — announcement of the commissioning of a report into the social and economic benefits and costs of immigration, to be released in September 2018. Hang on a minute. Why is such a report being commissioned only now? Why was this not done a year ago? Or even before the referendum?
The government argues that it wants the report to guide a facts and evidence based new immigration system. What will the government do when the facts and evidence say immigration on balance is a good thing? We know that the immigration argument is founded purely on irrational prejudice and chauvinism. What’s more, we know that the government has categorically failed to use the many tools at its disposal which would enable it to internally restrict and control immigration, even from the EU.
The mess the government is making was exposed further with the embarrassing revelation last week that the Home Office has “not yet consulted any external experts” on the issue of the Irish border, one of the biggest challenges that Brexit poses. The currently open border, which spans 400km and has over 200 road crossings, will require some form of customs checks and passport controls if the UK is to leave the customs union and single market.
Again, so far all the government has offered is the empty promise that the border will remain “frictionless”. Already a possible solution in the form of a sea border has been ruled out, not surprisingly given the government’s reliance on the DUP, heavyweight Irish unionists. And to complicate matters further, the very suggestion of a land border threatens to re-open the can of worms that the Good Friday Agreement has so firmly closed.
The truth of the matter is that the government really is out of its depths. It is not so much that the government is unprepared or lacks a plan, it is more that there is no obvious plan to prepare in the first place.
How can the government plan for a cherry-picked Brexit that won’t be deliverable? The compromises required for such a Brexit would expose the false prospectus on which Leave was sold to the electorate. And any such end deal would fall far short of our current position. Let’s face it: from here, every Brexit option is a bad one. No option will please everyone and every option will hurt someone.
Perhaps I’m being pessimistic, perhaps I’m too caught up in my own echo chamber, but in my opinion Brexit has shown itself to be such a catastrophe that the whole shebang should just be called off, regardless of whether— to some — it once did look like a good idea on paper. For now though, calling it all off is not on the cards. This government has shown no signs of faltering on their crusade to see Brexit through.
But if the government are indeed going to see this farce through, then it will not and can not sustain its current position. It cannot continue with its cabinet contradiction and in-fighting, its arrogant ignorance over the big Brexit hurdles, and its pursuit of ideological fantasy over practical reality.
The government must get real, get a grip and adopt a much more sensible and pragmatic approach. Otherwise it will not be the ‘success’ of Brexit that will be at stake, but the very inevitability of it.