Expert View

PM’s sleight of hand is dishonest answer to Brexit impasse

by David Hannay | 29.03.2019

At every critical moment in the Brexit negotiations Theresa May has capitulated to the ultra-Brexiters. And now she has done it again. In a last desperate attempt to save her deal, she has dumped all the guidelines for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, so painfully negotiated last year and which she told us again and again was an integral part of an otherwise pretty unpalatable divorce settlement.

Now, by threatening the Brexiters with the prospect of no Brexit, she is trying to tempt them with the opportunity of designing their own, minimalist post-Brexit relationship with the EU under their own new leader.

What a cynical gamble – and what a leap in the dark! What’s more, it is not even what Article 50 prescribes. The text is clear. The divorce settlement has to take account of the framework for a new relationship. The Political Declaration, which has been thrown overboard, was a pretty inadequate thing, but it was a good deal better than nothing. Now we would have to start from scratch, negotiating from the outside in a weak position. That is an experience which will surely end in tears; but only after a long period of uncertainty for our businesses and acrimonious negotiation.

The eurosceptic press would have us believe that all this is the result of scheming bureaucrats in Brussels. It is not. It is the result of our own incompetence and divided councils, and above all of the civil war in the Conservative party for which we are all being asked to pay a heavy price.

Let us hope that Parliament will not swallow the bait. Just when we were beginning to see on the horizon some way out of the impasse, with a less bad alternative than May’s deal being tested in a confirmatory referendum, we really do need to resist the temptation of a swift but damaging and dishonest release from the saga in which we have been locked for many months.

What Parliament needs to do is to mandate the government to ask for a longer extension of the Article 50 timeframe, so that we can set off on a new course, not one swathed in unnegotiable red lines.

Could that lead to a decision by the electorate to turn its back on this Brexit, which has proved to be such a desperate disappointment and so far from what was promised in 2016 ? Of course it could. But, even if it does not, it will at least produce a softer Brexit and one less likely to damage our economy, our security and our global influence than what is on offer just now.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “PM’s sleight of hand is dishonest answer to Brexit impasse”

  • David Hannay | 29.03.2019
    “This is a cynical gamble and a leap in the dark.”

    What a incisive description of the entire Brexit decision.