Why does Theresa May keep telling us what we already know? She says she will not “tolerate” Brexit backsliding from rebel remainer MPs. What we want to actually want to know she’s not tolerating is a much smaller group of flat-Earth rebels backsliding from a sensible Brexit. It is that madness she cannot fudge.
Brexit talks now resuming in Brussels are just days away from collapse. There is not the slightest doubt of the crunch issue. As anyone who knows Brussels will attest, its unelected cardinals do not care about single markets or migration or the euro, or even Europe. They care about their money, of which they are about to lose a fifth. On this Britain has no leverage, short of “no deal”.
Just pay the money. Sign it off at the cash desk. Some €50 billion (Dh214 billion) or whatever is not that much over time, and if leaving is such a good deal, it must be worth it. Once that is off the table, Brussels intelligence is that all is sweet reason. The other two cogs of the departure deal click into gear, on citizenship and Northern Ireland. The one is simple, the other is so impossible it will be left in an Irish mist, pending part two of the negotiations, which governs trade.
That too must be agreed, and fast. Talk of “no deal” is illiterate, playing politics with other people’s lives. Given the loss of time, the initial agreement has to be on transition. As those close to the talks report, that can only mean some off-the-shelf arrangement, such as the “economic area” embraced by Europe’s non-EU states. It must be kept simple.
It is wholly unhelpful for former diplomats such as Lord Kerr to suggest that Brexit is merely “an intention” and thus reversible . That red rag merely encourages the leave bulls. An intention of Brexit, democratically stated, should be honoured. If it is to be reversed, like any decision on Scottish independence, that is a future battle. But it does not entitle the leavers to dictate what Brexit means. Implementation is entirely parliament’s business. Here its duty is to consider the weight of its own and public opinion, the nation’s interests and, up to a point, Europe’s interest as well.
Here there is no argument. Employers agree. Unions agree. The City agrees. An overwhelming majority of parliament agrees. All wants a frictionless, tariff-free, open relationship with the EU, negotiated outside its political framework — however “asymmetrical” that might be. Even within the leave camp, majority opinion is for the retention of single market freedoms, provided there are restrictions on EU immigrants accessing public services.
This is the sensible view May should be harnessing and cohering. It is the view she claims to have held during the referendum. Its opponents are the ones she should refuse to tolerate. She has her precious date. Now she should champion sanity.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd
Simon Jenkins is a journalist and author. He has edited the Times and the London Evening Standard. His recent books include England’s Hundred Best Views, and Mission Accomplished? The Crisis of International Intervention.