Theresa May repeats her Brexit wishlist, but it's still full of holes
A large ‘Road Closed’ traffic sign parked at the entrance to where Theresa May gave the sixth and final speech in her government’s ‘Road to Brexit’ series afforded a neat analogy of EU negotiations so far.
As we reach what May herself has described as a “crucial moment” in the Brexit negotiations, what was her message on Friday other than a confirmation that leaving the EU is to commit to national self-harm and that her five tests for leaving are on the road to nowhere?
Arguably, it was one of her best Brexit speeches so far - at least since those heady days when she campaigned for Remain. But as one cheeky German journalist put it, “Do you think it’s all worth it?”
May side-stepped the rhetorical by repeating that we had voted to leave but the senselessness hung in the air, all the same.
She wants the freedom to trade with other countries, to take back control, to have frictionless borders and to build the kind of country we want to be.
But where is the state craft in the refusal to see that she is asking for a series of things that are mutually incompatible?
May says she wants Britain out of the single market and the customs union yet she has no truck with an EU/UK border in the Irish Sea or in the re-instatement of a hard border for Ireland.
This was, yet again, a wish list of what the UK wants out of a deal with the EU and ignored the fact that much of that has already been rejected.
And finally, she said she would do nothing to damage “this precious Union” when what the Brexit negotiations have so far exposed is the complete disregard for the devolved administrations. This Union is already unstuck. And she is to blame.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all but been an irritation or an afterthought in the struggle for Theresa May to reconcile the factions within her own party while at the same time helping to cement her position in No 10.
Over the last few weeks we have seen the UK Government blame the SNP for derailing potential trade talks with the rest of the world, that haven’t yet happened. We have seen the Good Friday agreement traduced to a journey within Zone One on the London Underground. We have had both the Welsh and Scottish governments issue emergency measures in the form of “continuity bills” to prevent a so-called power grab by Westminster once Britain formally leaves the EU.
And in an extraordinary move we have seen the Irish Prime Minister make a plea to Sinn Fein to take up their seats in the House of Commons to thwart a hard Brexit damaging us all.
Theresa May has done more to unite the component parts of rUK against her than to re-unite a nation. These are unprecedented and potentially dangerous times and one of the fundamental flaws of the UK’s approach to negotiations with the EU is that Theresa May is dealing in politics and the EU is dealing in rules.
First published in the Sunday Post on 4 March 2018