Bruce Newsome: Theresa May’s Cabinet achieves a consensus on the customs union, after months of disagreement – and the consensus is: more years of delay!
Where’s her honesty? May again tried to keep the decision secret (we know only through anonymous leaks to one newspaper, published two days after the decision).
Where’s her leadership? May achieved consensus, not unity: the Foreign Secretary (Boris Johnson) and the Environment Secretary (Michael Gove) dissented. The new Home Secretary (Sajid Javid) consented, but is separately negotiating with the European Union to align the rights of British citizens in the EU with the rights of EU citizens in Britain, so is effectively challenging the prime minister’s unilateral capitulation without reciprocation back in December 2017.
Where’s her plan? The Cabinet agreed nothing practical: she is again delaying Brexit, without a plan as to what is to come thereafter – without even a deadline for a decision.
Where’s the schedule for Brexit? The Cabinet reluctantly agreed to stay in the customs union beyond 2021, when probably the government still won’t have a plan and still will be using its own unreadiness to justify yet more delay.
Where’s democracy? The referendum was promised as direct democracy, to be implemented on the “day after,” as David Cameron put it. May keeps pretending that she needs more time, but we’re already two years beyond the referendum. Delay beyond 2021 will take us five years beyond the referendum. Moreover, delay beyond 2021 will mean delay beyond the general election, which must occur by 5 May 2022, so that Parliament can have its say first. The House of Lords has already proven repeatedly that the peers’ majority is against the popular majority, and against even the commoners’ majority (the House of Commons keeps passing Brexit legislation that the upper house rejects). The House of Commons insists on its own approval of any final plan for Brexit – however flimsy that can be by 2022. Then we’ll face a general election to confirm our representatives’ consensus.
Then what happens after the general election of 2022? If voters reject the government, a new government would need to renegotiate. If voters confirm the plan, it would still need to be implemented, by a new parliament. Given that two prime ministers and two parliaments have failed already to implement the referendum of 2016, the voters of 2022 should expect a third parliament to waste its term (of up to five years). If the Labour Party leads, it won’t implement Brexit at all, because it is committed to staying in the customs union entirely. At this rate, the Labour Party will dominate, because – as the pro-Conservative magazine “The Spectator” puts it – “Brexit is fast becoming a Tory no-win.”
Ergo, Brexit will definitely not be implemented during this Parliament, i.e., not within six years of the referendum. Probably it won’t be implemented within the next Parliament, i.e., not within 11 years of the referendum. Possibly, it never will be implemented, except as the nominal separation that May has declared for March 2019, for which Britain will pay billions, to give up most of its rights, while retaining most of its obligations.
As long as Britain stays in the customs union, Britain stays in the EU to all intents and purposes. The EU has repeatedly made clear that Britain cannot stay in the customs union without its stay being governed by the EU – from the Council of Ministers to the European Court of Justice – and being subjected to all EU principles – such as the free movement of people.
May still pretends that she can have the customs union while rejecting those obligations. Last week, the EU’s chief negotiator (Michel Barnier) said with amusement that her Cabinet’s consideration of two variations of the customs union was pointless since the EU would reject either. The ridicule is baser elsewhere in the EU. For instance, the EU’s budget commissioner (an ironic position from which to be a barmy Brexit-basher, in an organization whose auditors refuse to approve its books) mocked May for being “weak” and Johnson for having “the same hairdo as Trump,” and urged voters to push May into “clever Brexit.” Effectively, he’s urging her to be strong by keeping Britain in the EU to all intents and purposes, while pretending that she’s not – which is what she’s doing, just less plainly than he wants.
May’s chief negotiator (David Davis) has warned that her proposal to remain in the customs union while leaving the European Union is a contradiction that could contravene international laws on trade. May had already bought Davis’ agreement on Tuesday by conceding his request for their first formal policy (“white paper”) on Brexit – to be published in June 2018. And guess what determines the timing? The deadline is the next EU summit, in late June. And how can useful can it be? May gave her prospectus in The Times newspaper, full of her usual platitudes about “opportunity,” but no practical proposals. Thus, consider the irony of her promise: “You can trust me to deliver.” We can trust her to deliver nothing when she promises nothing practical.
We can trust nothing of what May says on Brexit. May is now a routine faker of Brexit. Her under-qualified adviser on Brexit (Olly Robbins), whom she wilfully appointed to check Davis, faked his testimony to the Cabinet in order to pretend that the British-Irish border could not remain open outside the customs union (even though that border has remained open since the founding of the republic nearly 100 years ago – except spot checks for smugglers and terrorists).
Theresa May is threatening Brexiteers that if they push too hard she will instigate a referendum on the island of Ireland’s unification. Her ally Damian Green represented her policy on Northern Ireland with a warning that “she is certainly not bluffing.” Yet more irony! She bluffs everything else to do with Brexit, except threats to destroy the British Union in order to save the European Union.