May needs vision to deliver Brexit the people voted for
Theresa May needs to get out of the Brexit-fudging echo chamber of her weak kneed, status quo friendly colleagues, and show real leadership to deliver the Brexit the people so clearly voted for
The Great British Public want Brexit. This is now an indisputable characteristic of UK politics and one which is not likely to go away any time soon. The process began with the EU Referendum, which saw ‘Leave’ receive the biggest political mandate in UK history.
This decision was reinforced in the 2017 General Election where over 80% of us voted for parties pledging to quit the Single Market and the Customs Union in their manifesto.
Then, at this year’s local elections, Theresa May’s flatlining premiership was propped up by voters outside London granting her one last chance to get Brexit right.
On top of all this, pollsters have consistently revealed that ‘getting on with Brexit’ is now the view held by a significant majority of us. Just last month only 31% said they’d vote to re-join the EU if a second Referendum were held.
The message could not be clearer: at every conceivable opportunity the British electorate have politely, yet assertively, insisted we Leave the EU, its economic institutions, and regain our global outlook.
However, our Prime Minister has still not got the message. News last week of plans to prolong the Transition Period until 2023, 7 years after the initial vote, is perhaps the perfect illustration of May’s inability to implement a clean departure.
A Prime Minster who saw the true value of Brexit, who was infused with confidence about just how much this country can achieve, would be chomping at the bit to break free from Brussels, not keep us bound to it for a further 4 years.
The Government’s agenda should be centred on global trading opportunities, setting free our small and medium-sized enterprises, fostering innovation fit for the 21st Century, restructuring our agricultural policy, and regaining our voice in international forums.
Instead, May has allowed Brexit to become defined as a sluggish process of separation; with its success being exclusively measured on whether she can secure a trade deal with the EU or not.
This has led to a procession of dross seeping out of Number 10 over the past 2 years, in a futile attempt to broker common ground with vindictive Eurocrats.
Last year’s talk of ‘regulatory alignment’, the more recent ‘customs partnership’, and the ‘customs backstop’ fiasco, are all suggestions which may very well improve the nature of May’s working relationship with Michel Barnier, but would hamstring our global future before we’ve even embarked on it.
Worries that May is more concerned about fostering goodwill with European negotiators than taking us out of the EXIT door have been further vindicated in recent days: Ministers are being actively prevented from divulging any information on ‘No Deal’ preparations due to fears it may ‘wind up’ the EU. This is an almost unbelievable move, but is increasingly what we have come to expect.
This is all counter-intuitive, as any trade expert would testify, and undermines the obvious principle that the Government must show a readiness to walk away if a ‘good’ deal is not put clearly on the table. But no, they are unwilling to even contemplate playing such a strong hand for fear of aggravating those on the other side of this table. A ridiculous state of affairs.
Whilst many were initially wooed by the pro-Brexit, ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ rhetoric with which May began her tenure, the mask has gradually slipped, exposing her clear aversion to the very concept of Leaving the EU.
By surrounding herself with Europhile advisers, and stuffing her ‘inner Brexit war Cabinet’ with Remainers, May has manufactured an echo-chamber of defeatism. Instead of focusing on the prize she has been instructed to deliver by the electorate, she soaks up the dreary gloom of Olly Robbins, Philip Hammond, and Greg Clark -- figures who venerate the status-quo and dread the prospect of independence.
The opportunity has been afforded to these individuals to place procedural obstacles in the way of departure. By holding the Prime Minister’s ear, they can politically conflate subsidiary issues to matters of central prominence.
One need only look at the Business Secretary, Greg Clark’s scaremongering about life outside the Customs Union and outlandish claims of lost jobs to realise this fact.
For him, the perceived ‘hard-work’ required to upgrade our customs facilities, and adapt to our new relationship with the EU, warrants us staying locked behind the EU’s Common External Tariff. This mind-set is echoed by Olly Robbins and his bizarre obsession with creating a ‘customs partnership’.
Rather than work to achieve the Government’s stated policy of Leaving the Customs Union, they would rather change the policy itself. Likewise, Hammond’s hesitance to commit serious funds to ‘No Deal’ preparations (no doubt hoping against hope something somehow will stop Brexit) has been allowed to shape the course of negotiations so far – forcing Theresa May to chase a deal - whatever the terms. In effect, the cart is being allowed to drag the horse towards a destination we did not vote for.
The decision to Get Britain Out of the EU needs conviction to implement it. The uncontested victory of Theresa May in the Tory’s 2016 leadership contest did not provide this.
Despite the platitudes, someone who innately believes Britain should be in the EU, is ill-fitted to the task of taking us out. It is time for vision, Prime Minister.
Robert Bates is a Research Executive at grassroots, cross-party campaign Get Britain Out
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