We had said that Brexit felt like a situation where too much energy was being pumped into a system. When that happens, it will eventually undergo a state change, meaning become chaotic compared to its prior form. That time has arrived.
Theresa May’s plans to achieve a semblance of unity and finally present the EU with a position of sorts fell into an utter shambles with the resignation of the minister in charge of the Government’s Brexit negotiations, David Davis. His deputy Steven Baker resigned on the heels of Davis and Brexit minister Suella Braverman joined them.
Perversely, the collapse of the delusion that there was a flavor of Brexit that could satisfy various factions among the Tories is, at a minimum, a gift to the EU. The leaks of terms that May briefly appeared to have gotten her Cabinet to accept were certain to be rejected by the EU, since they were just a reshuffling of arrangements that had already been nixed. As Richard North wrote then:
The precise reasons for the EU’s rejection, when it comes, will not be at all difficult to work out. Firstly, at the core of the proposal is “the establishment by the UK and the EU of a free trade area for goods”. This supposedly entails the UK and the EU maintaining a “common rulebook” for all goods including agri-food, but it will cover only those areas “necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border”.
The government, says the statement, would then “strike different arrangements for services”, the criterion being that it is “in our interests to have regulatory flexibility”. And, on that basis, the government recognises that “the UK and the EU will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets”.
This, as I have already pointed out, is cherry-picking at two levels. At one level, the UK is retaining the option to extract service provisions from the Single Market and, at the second level, the UK is deciding to apply only part of the acquis, on grounds of its own choosing.
But the effort to force an agreement, which May had put off, didn’t even last to the official announcement set for Monday. As a result, the UK’s disarray relieves the EU from being cast in the role of the bad guy for rejecting the UK’s unworkable plans.
It’s not yet clear whether the hard Brexit faction throwing a bomb at May’s plans will force a vote of no confidence. There had been 40 MPs who favored have her step down of the 48 required by the 1922 Committee; there’s now a call for a new tally:
Sources confirm letters calling for vote of confidence in @theresa_may leadership going in to @Graham__Brady, chair of 1922. Tory Brexiters very unhappy – accuse PM of traducing those who voted to leave EU. This appears to be spontaneous, not coralled by ERG & @Jacob_Rees_Mogg
— Robert Peston (@Peston) July 8, 2018
According to Political UK, the head of the committee indicated on Sunday night he had two more anti-May votes, so six more are needed to force a new contest for leadership.
However, recall that the Tories are hamstrung by their desire above all not to precipitate snap elections, which could well lead to Labour coming into power. The ultras clearly view the Davis resignation as an opportunity for them to get the upper hand. From the Guardian:
• Vocal pro-Brexit MPs welcomed Davis’s move, with Andrea Jenkyns saying the next move was to make this a “game changer for Brexit” and calling for Boris Johnson to act.
• Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group faction, said the prime minister “would be well advised to reconsider” the Brexit vision she believed she had secured at Friday’s Cabinet summit at Chequers.
And as a result, more stories on the dangers of Brexit are getting short shrift. For instance, from the Independent, Hard Brexit could leave food rotting at border, Asda boss warns:
he chief executive of Asda has added his voice to a chorus of supermarket bosses warning that a hard Brexit could leave food rotting at the border and have severe financial implications for the sector.
Roger Burnley said that anything disrupting established food supply chains, currently governed by EU customs arrangements, would have “significant consequences”.
“What would be scary is the prospect of any holdup at the border. Any prospect of a holdup – that includes the Ireland border – would have very significant consequences.
“You’d be eating into the life of products with all sorts of implications for waste, for freshness, for quality,” he said…
The British Retail Consortium and a host of other organisations have also said that food prices could rocket if the government botches Britain’s exit from the bloc in March 2019.
I could say more, but we are in the midst of an overly dynamic situation, and much depends on whether May judges it to be necessary to make serious concessions to the ultras, or whether they’ve taken their best shot at her, and she can manage to stare them down. Businesses clearly want to avoid a hard Brexit (and actually any Brexit at all if they understood that even a “soft” Brexit won’t give them the frictionless borders they so keenly want to preserve) and popular sentiment is also moving against a hard Brexit and even towards having a second referendum, despite it being far too late for that sort of things. But whether those external factor make any difference are to be determined.
Richard North argues in an instructive tweetstorm that it was incorrect to see May as navigating between a hard and soft Brexit; she was instead trying to find a compromise that would work for the EU and her fractious Cabinet.
4. Now she's left with a "plan" that pleases no-one but, to continue the motoring metaphor, to get there, she's driven down a narrow cul-de-sac in a car with no reverse gear. She can neither U-turn nor back out. She has nowhere to go.
— Richard North (@RichardAENorth) July 9, 2018
North still thinks there is a way forward for the UK:
9. Probably now the only workable strategy is for the Tories to appoint an unknown "dark horse" leader to go to Brussels and seek an Art 50 extension, while they work up an Efta/EEA application, to be progressed once we have settled a Withdrawal Agreement and transition.
— Richard North (@RichardAENorth) July 9, 2018
It would be better if I were wrong, but I am not so optimistic. The entire discussion in the UK about Brexit has been so badly informed that I don’t think it would be possible for anyone, even with a clear idea of a viable option that would be acceptable to the EU and would limit damage to the UK could sell it to a press and public that has been fed a steady diet of falsehoods and policy muddle.