by David Vance
This coming week will see a defining moment in the UK’s planned departure (or not) from the EU. After more than two years cabinet ministers should be nearing the conclusion of their country retreat at Chequers. It’s there that the prime minister hopes to find resolution in her team on a more detailed offer to the rest of the EU – easing, if not removing, all the contradictions in the Tories’ positions.
Tellingly, we read that “Theresa May has vowed to defy cabinet plotters, telling aides that she will not be bullied out of office by ministers or hardline Brexiteers opposed to her EU plans. The prime minister has decided to stand and fight if Tory MPs force a vote to oust her — declaring that she is content to “win by one vote”.
Why does she refer to those who seek for her Party to deliver what 17.4million people voted for as ‘hardline”? Is this further evidence of what Conservative MP Anna Soubry recently stated in a public letter to her constituents, namely that the Prime Minister wants a “soft Brexit”? Worth remembering that a “soft Brexit” is all about a purely nominal exit from the EU whilst remaining in a close relationship with it and paralleling its institutions and potentially obeying its laws and following its rules. In short, Remain.
Throughout this entire process, questions have been raised about Theresa May’s commitment to a meaningful Brexit. Alarm bells should have been ringing when she appointed Ollie Robbins to being her “personal Brexit adviser”. Robbins is the guy who came up with the idea of the UK creating “a customs partnership” with the EU. The plan would have seen the UK collect import tariffs on behalf of Brussels, while being free to set its own duties for goods bound for the UK. An outcry from cabinet members saw a retreat on this ludicrous suggestion but the very fact that is was suggested tells us all we need to know about Mr Robbins. He is a technocrat who is desperate to do a deal with the EU and is prepared to dilute the form of Brexit in order to achieve this. If that is the state of his mind, and he advises May, then I believe we need to prepare for a desperate attempt at Chequers to push through a further weakening of the UK position in order to get a deal.
That then raises the issues what will the alleged “Brexiteers” sitting around the cabinet table do when they are bullied by May and her Remain focused henchmen? They will be told that divisions amongst them will hasten a possible general election which could then auger in a Corbyn government, something no sane person would want. They will be told that painful compromises are necessary in order to get the EU to offer a deal. So what will Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Penny Mordaunt, David Davis and Liam Fox do when the moment comes?
For the past two years, we have witnessed a weak Prime Minister piroutte to the tune called by the EU. Instead of asserting British strength and confidence she has seemed desperate to keep us in what she calls “a deep and meaningful relationship with the EU” – something the British people explicityl rejected back in June 2016. Come this Friday, she can no longer dodge and neither can those who posture as Brexiteers. D Day approaches.
I fear the worst!