I write this shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that the government couldn’t begin the formal process of leaving the European Union without a vote in Parliament, but before the vote actually goes to Parliament. Whatever the outcome one thing is clear, as far as I’m concerned the point of no return for Brexit has already passed and it does not change the fact that the UK will be leaving the European Union. From what I understand the legislation will be narrow and focus only on the triggering of article 50 and I very much hope it wont be used as a vehicle for attempts to thwart the will of the people, or frustrate or delay the process.
More interesting was the Prime Minister’s speech in response to the noise for more clarity on how exactly she intends to take Britain out of the EU. It appears now that Britain will not be a member of the single market. The speech was attention-grabbing because it managed to sound both conciliatory and menacing. In it she stressed her desire for a British –European partnership of friends and stressed that Brexit was not ‘personal’ but a matter of national self-determination. She then hinted that if she didn’t get what she wanted she might well walk away from the table. Of course whatever deal she seeks will depend on European consent, which means every EU country has to agree to it. No easy task. And yet it should be remembered that since voting to leave the EU in our referendum we have seen much of Europe already radically changing its tone and terms of the looming negotiations. It has also emboldened euro sceptics across the continents, most notably those in France.
Her speech also gave us a loose plan. That plan has 12 objectives, including; tariff free trade with the EU, preservation of the common travel area with Ireland and phased implementation of Brexit so that key exporters have time to adapt. She is thinking ‘big’ but not implausibly so. Her trump cards include the value we have as a regional partner in defence and security, that we continue to be a valuable market for European exports and the money we provide, some £9billion. These can all be used as leverage in the negotiations.
Prime Minister May has cleverly moved the goalposts to give herself the option of a hard Brexit. If we end up with a soft Brexit it will be because Brussels was wise enough to respond in kind.