David Fuller's view -
Just get on with it! That is the consistent message from Leave voters up and down the country. For such people, it’s simple: “There was a vote, the Leave side won and now the UK has to leave the EU. No ifs or buts”. It’s an instruction that our MPs would do well to heed, and one that permeates all of the findings from a fascinating series of focus groups that I have been shown.
Change Britain, a new Eurosceptic campaign, has been speaking to voters in Yorkshire, in the Midlands, in the North East and North West. One of the most striking findings is the complete absence of any buyers’ remorse. Those who voted to quit the EU are happy; their frustration stems purely from the stalling of the Brexit process, and the return of finger-wagging, preachy Remainers telling them that it can’t be done.
Many have been supportive of Theresa May, who is saying many of the right things, but patience is wearing thin. As one Leaver put it last week: “Now I want to see something. You have said it, now do it. They seem to get there and it fizzles out like a Roman candle.” Many are demanding “a plan” and some “action”. Plenty are upset at the lack of communication, smelling a rat. “They asked us to make a decision. We’ve done what we were asked to do. They should let us know what’s happening.” There is a widespread suspicion that a deeply untrustworthy establishment is preparing to sell them out, that “there’s obviously some wheeling and dealing going on”.
The tragic, explosive reality is that “ordinary Leave voters”, as they are often called by London-based commentators, are right: the Brexit process is on the verge of going badly wrong, even though the economy has been astonishingly resilient since the vote.
The Remainers are on the march, with Tony Blair and his vast financial and human resources returning to the fray; the legal complications relating to Article 50 are becoming ridiculously onerous; and foreign leaders are making the most of our divided, unsettled establishment to humiliate Britain as often as possible.
Barack Obama’s infamous intervention ahead of the referendum backfired; it is a fair bet that reading about the Maltese prime minister who wants the UK to “be worse off” or the Polish foreign minister who said that we may never leave the EU will have driven many into an even greater rage.
Angela Merkel’s decision to block any fast-track deal over European expats was a seminal moment this week, as was the news that some lawyers believe that the Supreme Court could yet allow Scotland or even the European Court of Justice to have the final say over Article 50.
The reason why so many Remainers now feel able so openly to undermine Brexit is because the government has allowed itself to portray Britain as a supplicant, a divided, rudderless country. To European diplomats, it looks as if our government’s heart is not really in this, and that our strategy is purely defensive, a bid to retain as close links to the EU as possible
Allister Heath makes some very good points, although I hope he has overstated risks regarding the eventual outcome following the Brexit vote. I also think that Prime Minister May is trying to juggle all the various commercial and private interests regarding Brexit, while also attempting to do the right thing on behalf of the UK in leaving the EU while also remaining a close and valuable ally.
Not all of this is likely to be possible at this time, with the EU showing signs of imploding in an atmosphere of shock, anger and disillusion. That is a problem which Mrs May has neither caused nor which she can effectively address, let alone resolve. The EU has been deteriorating since the single currency was launched in 1999, without the federal union which none of the participating states actually want.
Meanwhile, Mrs May’s cautious approach to Brexit is worrying her supporters among Leavers, while emboldening Remainers who neither accept the democratic result of Britain’s Referendum, nor appear to understand the speed with which the EU is now unravelling.
It is very unlikely that Brexit can be negotiated successfully in line with the EU’s ‘Rules’, which exist solely to deter countries from leaving. Additionally, Brexit is now a side issue on the Continent because Mrs Merkel has lost electoral support and faces a difficult fourth term challenge. The woeful Hollande has already withdrawn from France’s election which is an open race between several widely different candidates. Italy is in a similar state of turmoil and may even seek its own version of Brexit.
It is highly risky for Mrs May to hold back during the EU’s chaos and assume that she can declare Article 50 at some point in mid-2017 and commence a rational process of withdrawal from the EU. She should focus her Brexit efforts on the swiftest exit from the EU which is possible.
Yes, this would almost certainly occur without any long-term agreements with the EU in place. More importantly, Mrs May should focus on a trade agreement with President-elect Trump, because that could be achieved both quickly and successfully. Whether the EU survives in its current state or not during 2017, the leading European economies will have every interest in negotiating mutually beneficial trade deals with an independent UK which is not part of the EU.
A PDF of Allister Heath's article is posted in the Subscriber's Area.
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