Now May must justify her Brexit strategy
The EU’S negotiating position is simple: make a demand, sit on the demand, wait for Britain to move in its direction. This has worked so far. Britain has made a number of concessions in its pursuit of a smooth divorce followed by a bespoke trade deal, and there may well be a good case for doing so. But who is explaining it? While many MPS are focused on saving their jobs, or trying to get their rivals sacked, precious airtime is being ceded to those who think Brexit was a bad idea to begin with. The Government has to regain control of the narrative.
Take the issue of money. Michel Barnier said yesterday, for the umpteenth time, that the EU was waiting for Britain to say how much it intends to pay. Many voters would cry: “Nothing!” There is no legal case for it and Britain voted to leave, in part, to save money. To the impatient voter, their Government’s behaviour must look strange: letting it be known that more and more money is on the table, ranging into the tens of billions. In fact, there is a good argument for such a strategy. The Government wants to tie cash to access, to use the EU’S desperate need for our money as leverage to get a free trade deal that blends the Single Market with control over immigration. Number 10 thinks such an outcome would be worth paying for. Maybe, but it is still a compromise. A compromise that will take a long time to strike, that will require many contortions and which the Government simply is not explaining to the public.
Maybe it is time to bring on the Brexiteers. Some Eurosceptic MPS are reportedly warming towards offering cash for access and there is plenty of talent within the Cabinet that ought to be deployed to sell the policy. Unfortunately, they are either under fire or tied up with controversy, some of which defies sense. For instance, what Boris Johnson said about Nazanin Zaghari-ratcliffe – mistakenly suggesting that she had been teaching journalism when she was arrested in Iran – was regrettable, but the domestic response has been disproportionate. It has been forgotten that the party principally at fault is the Iranian dictatorship, and yet poor Mrs Zaghari-ratcliffe finds her fate tied up in a British proxy war over Brexit that pits Mr Johnson not only against Tehran but also the forces of Remain. Has anyone thought about the effects of going after the Foreign Secretary in this way?
Single-mindedness is the strongest characteristic of militant Remain. Triggering Article 50 can be reversed says Lord Kerr, the former diplomat who helped draft it. Gordon Brown thinks the EU might make a game-changing offer to the UK that persuades British voters that leaving is the worst option. But if the EU is so desperate for us to stay, why heap insults on Britain? And if the people are so fickle, why does one poll show that support for Mrs May is growing? Sympathy for an embattled Prime Minister and terror of Jeremy Corbyn are important factors, but the public still stands behind the essential raison d’être of this Government – to take Britain out of the EU.
On the table are recovering lost sovereignty, keeping access to the Single Market, controlling our borders, being free to write trade deals outside Europe, redirecting tax money from Brussels to Britain and a bonfire of regulations. Mrs May has done a good job of insisting that Brexit means Brexit, but the time has now come to explain what Brexit could mean if done well – in order to justify the compromises that the Government seems willing to make.