Bruce Newsome points out the irony that the most steadfast opposition to the shortcomings of the Brexit transition deal is among Remain supporters, meanwhile Tory Brexit cheerleaders appear blindsided by its real implications.
Theresa May’s government has been gathering more Conservative praise, such that the Conservatives are sounding like Pollyannas, while the Remainers have become more accurate in their criticisms.
From May’s uselessly contradictory speech on Brexit at the start of this month, through the joint announcement at the start of this week by the British and EU chief negotiators of their agreement on the transition to full separation, to the endorsement by all EU members at the end of the week, Conservatives have been desperately rallying around the flag, pretending that calamitous Prime Minister “Maybe” or “Maybot” has turned around her fortunes and thence the party’s fortunes.
Without irony, The Daily Telegraph’s editorial declared that “the transition deal shows what Europeans can accomplish when they work together”, while the Financial Times offered the non sequitur that “European leaders opened a decisive new phase of Brexit talks.”
The Conservative press is practically ignoring May’s sell-out of the British fishing industry (individual EU members will continue to be allowed to take more fish from British waters than Britain can take), leaving the left-wing press to interview the disappointed fishermen (yes, all were fishermen, not “fisherpeople”).
May’s government has extended through the transition period the rights of EU citizens to remain in Britain just by arriving during that period, with the same entitlements and benefits as British citizens, without the same contributions. Two weeks ago, May’s Cabinet quietly agreed to extend free movement for EU citizens until 2021. On the same day as the transition deal, a Conservative backbencher (Sir Christopher Chope) tabled a private members bill to reduce the privileges of EU citizens to the same level as any other immigrant, but May’s government made sure to block it on the same day.
May’s government keeps spinning a transition as an efficient solution to the costs of a hasty exit, but a think-tank has estimated that her government will have spent £2 billion on the civil service work of transition by the time Britain actually leaves.
The Cabinet and thence government as a whole is unwilling to plan for exit without a deal, preferring to play up the positive spin that everything is going swimmingly.
Conservatives are generally ignoring the continuing fact, which they previously criticized with alacrity, that the deal leaves Britain with fewer rights but all the same responsibilities.
May herself was full of platitudes about a new “spirit of co-operation,” but the so-called transition deal – like every other of May’s fake “deals” with the EU – is full of conditions and deferrals; it pretends separation in March 2019, while extending Britain’s responsibilities through 2020, and possibly beyond, given that everything is conditional on a final separation deal; it defers disputes on the practical issues of customs, trade, and migration, particularly at the borders between Britain and Ireland, Britain and France, Gibraltar and Spain, all of which will need to be resolved bilaterally, making the whole idea of a comprehensive deal with the EU look dishonest.
Meanwhile, Barmy Brexit bashers are emboldened but most accurate in their assessments: Nick Clegg (former leader of the Liberal Democrats) came out to say that the transition deal does not change his commitment to reverse Brexit, but he accurately characterized the deal as a humiliation:
I want to stop it – yes, absolutely. The transition period is just a euphemism for delay. I think it is the most undignified act of humiliation that I can remember in my lifetime. It means the UK is willingly now saying we will do all the hard bits of the negotiation after we have forfeited any means of leverage. One of President Macron’s advisers said to me, “Do they realise how weak they will be?” No self-respecting French politician would put their country in that situation…Theresa May couldn’t face down her party and say she was going to do what was right for her country. After the referendum…some quite senior [EU] officials attempted to work up ways of giving Britain an emergency brake on free movement…They were gobsmacked when No 10 closed the door.
Similarly, the chairman of a group of journalists campaigning to stay in the EU, characterizes the transition deal as a necessary “climbdown” to delay the inevitable moment when “our economy would fall of a cliff” and we would “lose access to valuable tools to fight crime and terrorism”. which explains why May “has bent over backwards to secure a transition period. May has relented on virtually every red line she previously drew – with the result that we are losing, not taking back control.” Then this Remainer concludes explicitly that Remainers must be the ones to be most honest about the failings of May to deliver the positive benefits of Brexit that she had promised:
We also need to go in hard on how Brexit will mean a loss of power and a loss of pride. This language may not come naturally to some pro-Europeans, as such talk feels like it’s associated with Rees-Mogg and his ilk. But, with the exception of their fishy stunts, the hardline Brexiters are now zipping their lips. They have concluded that any deal, however bad, is worthwhile so long as we quit the EU.
We must not let the Brexiters have a monopoly over sovereignty, power and patriotism. It’s time for us to take off the gloves and call them out for selling our whole country, not just fishing, down the river.
The Remainers’ honesty helps them make the case for a second referendum to overturn the referendum of June 2016, which is nearly opposition policy.
Jeremy Corbyn (Labour Party leader) sacked his Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland (Owen Smith) for calling for a second referendum, but Corbyn has already performed one u-turn this month – by deciding that his party’s policy is to keep Britain in the customs union. (He demoted Smith probably more to slap down a leadership challenger more than to slap down a policy challenge.)
Labour backbenchers are at the heart of the “Best for Britain” group, which, this month, launched a legal claim that existing legislation guarantees a second referendum once May signs Britain back into membership of individual EU agencies, which May has already agreed to do.
The Liberal Democrats’ leader (Vince Cable) has always offered a policy of reversing the Brexit referendum. This month he revealed his prejudices to his party conference, saying that Brexiteers were “overwhelmingly…older” voters who voted for “nostalgia,” for a time when British “passports were blue, faces were white, and the map was coloured imperial pink.” He predicted that the transition deal would be dictated by the EU, which then would “create the sense of victimhood Brexiteers crave”.
May has turned the world upside down, such that Remainers are more honest than May’s Conservatives about her betrayal of Brexit.