Naked Politics Co-Editor
Any hope that Britain’s trade policy will once again be decided by governments elected by Britons, appears to be dwindling. In June 2016, I voted with 17,410,741 of my compatriots for the UK to leave the EU Customs Union with exactly that hope in mind. For the last three years, I’ve been repeatedly told that the only meaningful vote that I’ve ever had the opportunity to cast would be enough to make that vision a reality.
The position that we now find ourselves in is reminiscent of the classic movie; Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne, the wrongly-imprisoned main character, is determined to escape. While many of his fellow inmates are fearful of a chaotic outside world that lacks the routine on which they’ve come to depend, Andy yearns to be free; the master of his own destiny.
Red, Andy’s friend and the film’s narrator, is convinced that escape is impossible and tries to talk him out of the idea. Andy recognises that high walls and armed guards stand in his way. But he never accepts the premise that he would be better off remaining in captivity, even if that does come with the guarantee of three square meals and a roof over his head.
After over 40 years of legislative entanglement and in the face of determined efforts to stand in our way, it was never in doubt that leaving the EU would pose challenges. But just as Dufresne “crawled through 500 yards of shit and came out clean the other end”, having endured three years of uncertainty and dissension, there’s still hope that we can escape from the shackles of the EUCU protectionist racket.
Or there was until the Draft Withdrawal Agreement was presented.
There may still be an outside chance of the referendum result being respected if a trade deal can be agreed as part of the ‘future relationship’ phase of the negotiations. The non-binding “political declaration” professes to assure just that. But if the Withdrawal Agreement is accepted in its current form, the EU27 have us just where they want us – locked inside the Customs Union, forced to inflate prices with import tariffs before handing the proceeds over to Brussels.
Following the Conservative Party’s bizarre decision to crown an anti-Brexit leader, there was always a good chance that pursuing a damage-limitation negotiating strategy would deliver such a result. Especially after compounding that mistake by choosing Olly Robbins, an unelected bureaucrat and staunch Europhile, to negotiate on her behalf.
Seemingly swayed by the straw man peddled by ardent Remainers, that 52% of Britons are xenophobic “Gammons”, May and Robbins chose to focus their efforts on prioritising border controls. In doing so, their deal offers what Europhiles said would not be possible – de facto membership of the Single Market while dispensing with the supposedly indispensable ‘Free Movement of People’ clause.
But contrary to that mischaracterization of Brexiteers, the current uproar across the country demonstrates clearly how wrong they were to do so. The immigration question was only ever part of the wider demand for our elected representatives to “take back control”.
In poll after poll, sovereignty was consistently cited as the top priority. This May-Robbins fudged deal fails to deliver that. It fails to deliver on the manifesto pledges on which she was elected. It fails to deliver on repeated pledges made in her own speeches. It was never going to wash with the Leave Voting majority.
Similarly, anyone that remains desperate to overturn the democratic verdicts of either the Referendum or General Election was always going to object to any deal that doesn’t do so. Even, as in this case, if it does happen to betray those verdicts in all but name.
After needlessly calling a snap election last year, then running a dire personality-focused campaign without the requisite personality to pull it off, Theresa May made a rod for her own back. Despite 85% of voters backing parties that promised to honour the referendum result, with the Labour Party’s commitment being contingent on them forming a government, the parliamentary arithmetic was never going to stack up.
May now faces increased pressure from all sides as the inevitable constitutional deadlock closes in. What happens next is impossible to predict.
Before the referendum, I queried whether our collective psyche was akin to a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome, paralysed with fear as we stared at the unlocked door, and separately, posed the question, “Does Britain have the willpower to see [Brexit] though?”.
I’m still waiting for the answer to both questions…