Thursday 28 March 2019

'The course of Brexit was set in the hours and days after the 2016 referendum'

Tom McTague, Politico's chief U.K. correspondent, achieves here in a very well-researched essay that very rare thing, journalism which is the second not the first draft of history. Future historians will find it very useful, providing they find it at all, bobbing along on the oceans of copy produced about Brexit. 

He argues that the very grave problem the UK is in with Brexit is the inevitable result of bad decisions taken before and in the immediate aftermath of the referendum and over the following few months.

They were: David Cameron’s refusal to let civil servants prepare a plan for Brexit; his decision to resign; Theresa May's promise on July 27 2016, at the request of Enda Kenny,  not to allow customs to be collected at the border in Ireland; her agreeing to use the Article 50 process and accept 'sequencing' (in other words, allow the discussions on the divorce payment to precede trade talks); her drawing incompatible red lines; and finally her triggering Article 50 for no good reason and without any plan. 

He says:
'Had London been prepared for Brexit on June 24, 2016, the negotiations might have played out differently.

'“The British government should have offered something very, very quickly,” said one high-ranking official of a large EU country. “If the U.K. had said: ‘Here’s the plan,’ we might have accepted it.”

'“The British strength was being one member state, being able to define its national interest quickly and making its move quickly,” the official said. “It did not do that.”

'....The seeds of the crisis Britain faced today were planted by Cameron, said Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan. “He called the referendum too early, ran a crappy campaign and then walked out, leaving a vacuum.”'

From that flowed the Chequers plan. David Davis and Boris Johnson after signing up to it resigned over it, which in George Osborne's view killed its chances. Then came its humiliating rejection by the EU at Salzburg. Now Theresa May tries, so far in vain, to win the support of the House of Commons for a deal that Brexiteers like even less.

There were other mistakes too in the aftermath of the referendum - especially the election of a Remainer to achieve Brexit who privately considered leaving without a deal as a calamity. We should have prepared for leaving with no deal and refused to use the Article 50 process, but that would have required courage, which Theresa May lacks, rather than stubbornness which she possesses. It would have required a Brexiteer Prime Minister  who believed that Brexit was a great opportunity rather than an exercise in damage limitation.

What is certain is that Europe will embitter politics in Britain for a generation whatever happens. But it will be interesting to see who ends up owning the eventual outcome, Brexiteers or Remainers. Brexiteers are convinced that Brexit was betrayed, that they were stabbed in the back. 

Will most people in Britain agree? If so what will the consequences be? 

Peter Hitchens fears the emergence of a British Donald Trump.

There could be worse things.


  1. There were other mistakes too in the aftermath of the referendum

    Are you sure they were mistakes? Are you sure Cameron and May and their cohorts weren't deliberately consciously and actively ensuring that Brexit would be unworkable and would therefore not go ahead.

    Given that Cameron and May are passionately committed to the EU isn't my theory a more logical explanation of the way things have played out? That Theresa May has never had the slightest intention of allowing Brexit to happen?

    And isn't it fairly certain that the Tory Party, by choosing a Remainer to implement Brexit, was in a very deliberate manner making sure that Brexit was not going to happen?

    No-one in the British establishment ever had the slightest intention of respecting the result of the referendum vote. Not for one minute did they even contemplate respecting the vote.

    From the point of view of the British establishment everything has gone better than they could have dared to hope. Brexit is dead in the water. And the British people still have no idea how it happened.

    1. There was and is a conspiracy against Brexit but most of the story is about incompetence, stupidity and cowardice. The stupidity of Mrs May in agreeing to no border in Ireland is unforgivable. David Cameron should have made sure a plan existed for Brexit. That he did not was an appalling dereliction of duty.

    2. Incompetence, stupidity, cowardice but mostly the intense difficulty of unravelling this Gordian knot