What next for Brexit?

Keir Starmer, Mal­colm Rif kind and more,

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page -

Mal­colm Rifkind No John­son, no Davis: now the cabi­net will be stronger

I am, per­haps, more re­laxed than I should be over

Boris John­son’s and David Davis’s de­par­tures. The res­ig­na­tions of the for­eign and Brexit sec­re­taries are caus­ing a short-term cri­sis, but a very large ma­jor­ity of Con­ser­va­tive MPs do not sup­port them.

Davis’s res­ig­na­tion is more prin­ci­pled. He of­fered it at a time when his Brexit col­leagues ap­peared to have reached a sep­a­rate de­ci­sion. As the per­son re­quired to take for­ward the ne­go­ti­a­tion it is un­der­stand­able that he de­cided to call it a day. John­son’s be­hav­iour has been dis­grace­ful. Hav­ing in­sulted the prime min­is­ter at Che­quers he then found, over din­ner that evening, un­con­vinc­ing rea­sons for con­tin­u­ing in her cabi­net. Now he lamely fol­lows in Davis’s wake.

On this oc­ca­sion he might think that Michael Gove has again stabbed him in the back by sup­port­ing the prime min­is­ter and not his fel­low Brex­i­teers af­ter the Che­quers sum­mit. How­ever, he should remember Churchill’s wise ad­vice that politi­cians should not com­mit suicide be­cause they might live to re­gret it.

In the longer term the most im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment today is not John­son’s or Davis’s de­par­ture, but Do­minic Raab’s ar­rival. Raab was a pow­er­ful and con­vinced ad­vo­cate of de­part­ing from the EU. But he has a pas­sion for work, in­tel­li­gence and an at­ten­tion to de­tail. The EU ne­go­tia­tor, Michel Barnier, will be deal­ing with a fel­low pro­fes­sional rather than a rel­a­tive light­weight.

But there is one fur­ther point. If Raab suc­ceeds in his mis­sion, we will have a highly cred­i­ble new po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor to the prime min­is­ter. John Ma­jor came from be­hind to claim the crown from Mar­garet Thatcher; this may be the day we see his­tory re­peat­ing it­self. Mal­colm Rifkind, a former Con­ser­va­tive MP, was for­eign sec­re­tary un­der John Ma­jor

Michael Fabri­cant I’m an ar­dent Brex­i­teer – this is a good com­pro­mise

So, have we Brex­i­teers got ev­ery­thing we wanted in the Che­quers deal? In short, no. Not if Brex­i­teers ex­pected the clean­est of breaks from Europe. But it prob­a­bly was never go­ing to be that way if we wanted to con­tinue to trade seam­lessly with the EU.

The de­par­ture of Boris John­son from the cabi­net is one I re­gret. He added life and colour. He prefers the broad picture, the prin­ci­ples, rather than the minu­tiae. The prob­lem for him and oth­ers is that the deal be­ing pro­posed is a nec­es­sar­ily com­plex one. For, like ev­ery­thing in life, noth­ing is black and white. And while it won’t sat­isfy the Trap­pist monk wing of Brex­i­teers who be­lieve in the com­plete pu­rity and ab­so­lute­ness of Brexit, it will sat­isfy many who still want some sort of con­tin­u­ing re­la­tion­ship with the con­ti­nent.

But the deal raises many ques­tions that have yet to be answered.The “com­mon rule­book” be­tween Bri­tain and the EU will en­sure a com­mit­ment to the main­te­nance of high stan­dards of con­sumer and em­ploy­ment rights, as well as pro­tec­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment. But will the rule­book stop us from mak­ing trade agree­ments with the US and else­where?

The EU is un­likely to re­ject May’s pro­pos­als out of hand. But what fur­ther com­pro­mises must be made for the EU to agree to these terms? At what point would we have to walk away? What are the red lines?

The big­gest prob­lem May now faces is sell­ing this pro­posal to her MPs and the Bri­tish pub­lic. Some will see it as a sell-out and a “grand be­trayal”. As an ar­dent Brex­i­teer, I see the deal as a “grand com­pro­mise” – but one that re­stores the in­de­pen­dence of the UK while boost­ing our do­mes­tic econ­omy. Michael Fabri­cant is the Con­ser­va­tive MP for Lich­field

Keir Starmer This cri­sis is a direct re­sult of a di­vided gov­ern­ment

The res­ig­na­tion of David Davis was about the prin­ci­ple of the Che­quers agree­ment. The res­ig­na­tion of Boris John­son was about am­bi­tion. But both high­light the deep po­lit­i­cal frac­ture that lies at the heart of Theresa May’s bro­ken gov­ern­ment and con­sti­tute a clear vote of no con­fi­dence in the prime min­is­ter’s Brexit strat­egy. In truth such a mo­ment has been in­evitable.

Af­ter a di­vi­sive ref­er­en­dum, we needed a leader who would re­spect the re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum but de­velop a fu­ture vi­sion ca­pa­ble of unit­ing the coun­try; where ev­ery­one could see their fu­ture, which­ever way they voted. In­stead, May pre­sented her party and the coun­try with an ex­treme in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ref­er­en­dum. Rash and reck­less red lines were laid down that were never com­pat­i­ble with se­cur­ing a good deal with the EU or speak­ing to a di­vided coun­try.

The agree­ment struck at Che­quers last Fri­day is flawed in many re­spects, but at least it ap­peared to be the first re­al­i­sa­tion that the ap­proach May adopted two years ago was wrong. But even this mod­est shift has proved too much for some in the cabi­net and the Con­ser­va­tive party.

The cri­sis un­fold­ing now is a direct con­se­quence of a di­vided gov­ern­ment. It’s an im­passe that can­not be re­solved by fur­ther in­ter­nal ne­go­ti­a­tion in the Tory party. May has kicked the can down the road on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, but now she has run out of road.

It is now time for the ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment to be heard: a ma­jor­ity that re­jects the ex­treme ap­proach to Brexit. May has shown she is in­ca­pable of ne­go­ti­at­ing a way for­ward. She should let par­lia­ment lead the way. Keir Starmer is the shadow Brexit sec­re­tary

Ian Bir­rell The for­eign sec­re­tary again re­vealed his lack of prin­ci­ple

The res­ig­na­tion of Boris John­son serves as a perfect metaphor for the tragedy and hypocrisy of Brexit. He once posed as a lib­eral, but now po­si­tions him­self as pop­ulist leader of hard-right na­tion­al­ists. He’s a former Lon­don mayor who said he was in favour of the sin­gle mar­ket but has quit over the prime min­is­ter’s at­tempt to find a way for Bri­tish firms to trade with Europe while not break­ing up the union.

But then John­son only ever cares about one thing: him­self. This self-serv­ing char­la­tan has noth­ing but am­bi­tion cours­ing through his veins. He claims such pas­sion for his na­tion that he quits as for­eign sec­re­tary in the wake of a nerve agent at­tack which killed a Bri­tish cit­i­zen and days be­fore a Nato sum­mit that could threaten the se­cu­rity of our con­ti­nent. John­son has been a dis­rup­tive force for months, sab­o­tag­ing ef­forts to find a com­mon path through the Brexit maze. Do not be fooled by his gags and clas­si­cal quips, which only mask a cal­cu­lat­ing des­per­a­tion for the top job. No wonder there is such cor­ro­sive dis­trust of West­min­ster.

Remember the bus, the claim of Brexit div­i­dends, the talk of a Turk­ish mi­grant in­va­sion. The re­al­ity is these peo­ple sold a pup, had no ex­pec­ta­tion of win­ning, and now their dreams are be­ing dashed on the bru­tal rocks of re­al­ity. In­stead of tak­ing back con­trol, Bri­tain has been left poorer, weaker and will end up lack­ing sway over key rules im­pact­ing on our pros­per­ity.

His­tory will judge the Tories harshly over these events. The idea of Alexan­der Boris de Pf­ef­fel John­son as party leader and prime min­is­ter is a bad joke. Yet again, he has ex­posed him­self as a man lack­ing prin­ci­ples who will sac­ri­fice any­thing from his party to his coun­try on the al­tar of his am­bi­tion. Ian Bir­rell is a former speech­writer for David Cameron

Katy Balls The odds have short­ened on a ‘no deal’ – and a ‘no Brexit’

For all the chaos David Davis’s res­ig­na­tion as Brexit sec­re­tary brought, it was un­sur­pris­ing. The Con­ser­va­tive MP had threat­ened to quit many times. And ever since Theresa May brought him back to her front­bench, it’s been clear the pair were tem­per­a­men­tally ill-suited to work­ing to­gether. Where May ob­sesses over de­tail, Davis is a broad-brush politi­cian and a gam­bler at heart.

As the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­gressed, it be­came clear that May came in­creas­ingly to rely upon civil ser­vant Olly Rob­bins, whose name now amounts to an ex­ple­tive in Brex­i­teer cir­cles. Rob­bins spent more time in Brus­sels than Davis did. This ten­sion has been ex­ac­er­bated re­cently as Davis was left out of key Brexit de­ci­sions by No 10. Davis con­cluded he could no longer go out to bat on be­half of the gov­ern­ment.

Davis’s de­ci­sion pet­ri­fied fig­ures in No 10 – who must now quash a re­bel­lion, with Boris John­son fol­low­ing Davis’s lead and head­ing for the exit.

But the main rea­son Davis is cur­rently walk­ing around with no min­is­te­rial car is that he has failed to come up with any per­sua­sive al­ter­na­tive to May’s plan in the past two years. Davis wanted a “Canada plus plus plus” deal, but at Che­quers he failed to of­fer an­swers on how such an ar­range­ment could be rec­on­ciled with no hard bor­der in Ireland.

By choos­ing to walk out at such a piv­otal point, he has thrown ev­ery­thing into chaos. He has en­cour­aged oth­ers such as the for­eign sec­re­tary to aban­don ship – and more res­ig­na­tions can’t be ruled out. With the Euro­pean Re­search Group of Brex­i­teer Tory MPs up in arms, there’s now the threat of a big Tory re­bel­lion, but no clear al­ter­na­tive plan. Today, the chances of “no deal” and “no Brexit” have both gone up sig­nif­i­cantly. Katy Balls is the Spec­ta­tor’s po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent

PHOTOGRAPH: PETER NI­CHOLLS/AFP/GETTY

Theresa May with David Davis and Boris John­son in 2016

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