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Theresa May's Plans For Britain's Brexit Look Increasingly Like The Status Quo - But Worse

30/08/2017 16:59
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What a difference year makes. Last June, Leavers celebrated their shock triumph in winning a referendum for Britain to leave the European Union. During the campaign, much was promised about what Brexit would deliver from an extra £350 million per week funding the NHS to the introduction of a points-based immigration system. Brexiteers promised an end to free movement from Europe and 'taking back control'.

Since the referendum, Theresa May's government has repeated the mantra that 'Brexit means Brexit' only to intensify questions about what, in fact, Brexit will actually look like by March 2019. Instead of policy detail, the public have received only sound bites. Britain is 'open to the world', we welcome the 'best and brightest' and plenty of 'Brexit means Brexit' in case that was overlooked.

Nearly a year on and halfway through the two-year timetable to conclude Brexit talks, it is now increasingly clear how poorly prepared and badly wrong the government has played its limited hand.

Much of the time has been spent on stand-by as the Prime Minister chose one delay tactic after another. First it was challenging the right of Parliament to trigger Brexit something never in doubt for leading constitutional scholars - and the government lost valuable time contesting cases in the courts it was never going to win. Secondly, May chose to break a solemn promise against calling a snap election only to do so weeks later in a cynical attempt to crush the Labour Party - only for voters to end her majority in the Commons weakening her hand still further.

These self-inflicted, unnecessary delays have kept her government from focusing on the biggest challenge to Britain since the Second World War in an unforgivable display of political and economic carelessness. There have been hardly much talking at all between the two negotiating sides as a result - and now talks will be largely on hold until December because of the forthcoming election in Germany.

So much time wasted and still no agreement on even the starting point for negotiations. These are talks that have not gone well at all. But it gets even worse.

Now the government has begun to make known its policy objectives and a hidden aim is becoming increasingly clear. Theresa May's idea of Brexit looks little more like all the benefits of EU membership without the membership fees. This is a recipe for disaster.

After promising voters greater control, it now turns out May is pushing for tariff-free, borderless trade with the EU - keeping the Customs Union in tact in all but name. Likewise, her government appears open to accept continuing free movement of workers and students. This will be achieved through enforcing restrictions, some of which are already in place but rarely enforced in the UK as they are in the EU.

In short, the more we learn about Brexit the more it looks like cosmetic changes to existing policies covered by a veneer of calling an apple an orange hoping no one looks closely enough to notice. So what's not to like? Plenty.

The details are still few and far between. The plans for EU citizens meant to help clarify and reassure the government's position instead raised more questions than answers. Much of the issue is if so little will genuinely change why not admit it -- and why take the trouble of leaving?

Leave supporters will be least impressed of all. One by one virtually every promise made by Vote Leave looks set to be broken except for the vow to leave the EU. Empty promises will not be rewarded at the ballot box - and blaming Europe for failing to get Britain the best deal is not an option for Brexiteers who claimed their critics had nothing more than Project Fear. It's looking a lot more like Project Fact.

Meanwhile, the unnecessary instability and uncertainty caused by our not knowing the final details of any deal could have been a price worth paying if the end agreement a better deal. But if the aim is simply to keep things between us and the EU the same except we want only our courts and our Parliament to dictate the rules, believing the EU will cave in to avoid an increase in import and export costs would be laughable if the issue not so serious.

Boris Johnson said that Britain could have its cake and eat it over Brexit. This off-the-cuff remark now appears the official Brexit strategy. If this is all they have, Remoaners, Leavers and the Bored with Brexit are all set to be disappointed -- and the government better devise a plan B if it wants to avoid likely public fury at the royal mess they're landing us all in while the Cabinet continues to decide what Brexit should look like so late in the game.

So prepare yourselves for a Brexit that isn't going to actually happen - as I predicted from the start. Not that the government will admit it or take responsibility for gambling away with our future to settle a Tory Party obsession over Europe.

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