London, UK (ViaNews) – The notion of a scheming, self-serving sort with an incompetent sidekick might evoke images of several members of the current Government. The latest developments on Brexit could suggest that Theresa May has, somewhere within the apparent chaos of negotiations to leave the European Union, some kind of plan.
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, met with May on Friday, and it seems as though the tiniest bit of ground has been conceded following her apparent pledge to come closer to the £40 billion fee Britain would need to offer even to begin talks.
However, Tusk may not be speaking for all of the EU’s members in suggesting any glimpse of progress; Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has indicated that the kind of hard Brexit where Britain keeps little in the way of benefits is the best we should hope for. It is soon to be Bulgaria’s turn to take over the Presidency of the EU (this rotates between member nations) and that could indicate months of stunted movement if he is reluctant to entertain talks.
There seem to be three key issues where progress must be made for discussions to being in earnest:
- Trading arrangements and the extent to which Britain retains access to the single market thus avoiding enormous tariffs on its exports.
- Citizens rights (especially relating to Europeans living and working in Britain), freedom of movement and the degree of adherence to the EU’s Court of Human Rights.
- The Irish situation, and the extent to which free movement of trade and people can continue between the north and the south of the island.
From Britain’s immediate perspective, the first of these is the most important. With the best will in the world, most of our trading needs to remain with Europe. The alternatives are too risky. Increasing arrangements with the US depends on Donald Trump’s mood on the day – something nobody is prepared to predict, and other members of the Commonwealth are geographically just too far away to become Britain’s main trading partners. Britain needs Europe, probably more than Europe needs Britain.
The British people should also cast their eyes across the Pond to witness what can happen when a leader takes charge of a country unchecked. Many Britons believe that if we are to remain a fair, tolerant and inclusive society, we must have the counterbalance of the EU court to support us. Equally, many key industries simply could not survive without European workers – health, construction, education, agriculture, trades – all would struggle without employees from overseas.
The Irish situation seems the smallest of the three major issues, but could still prove to be the most difficult. If the north and the south of the island are working under different legislative processes, it is hard to understand how the introduction of border checks can be avoided. But at the same time, the infringement on people’s rights, the cost and the inconvenience of installing border checks are all astronomical. Ireland remains a sensitive nation, despite the progress that has been made in recent years. As a separate member country, Ireland possesses a veto to any proposals on Brexit and its economy is struggling. The Premier, Leo Varadkar is in charge of a minority Government and it is fragile. Anything that threatens that precarious stability will be challenged.
Theresa May has sat largely on the fence when it comes to Brexit. She was as uncommitted a member of the ‘remainers’ as could be imagined. Similarly, she has never convinced in her many statements made to honour the (extremely marginal) views of the electorate to leave the EU.
As fears around the economy grow, and Phillip Hammond delivers a budget that suggests many years of belt-tightening (if we can afford a belt) ahead, so Theresa May and her Brexit cabinet seem happy to throw increasing amounts of money at the problem.
This juxtaposition will not be lost on the electorate. Suddenly, the cost of leaving is going to appear a harder pill to swallow than the cost of staying put.
Could she be playing a deliberate, but dangerous, game? Despite their less than convincing words to the contrary, if it came to it, most Labour MPs would probably welcome another referendum on the whole issue of EU membership. The Liberal Democrats are pro another vote, and the SNP would surely fall into line. Many Irish MPs would adhere to the suggestion.
Ukip is a spent force, with no influence in Parliament and there are enough Tories who are opposed to leaving the EU to mean that, if the feelings of the public grew strong enough, perhaps May would advocate putting the question once again to the nation.
Let’s face it, the margin of the victory for the leavers was minimal, at a time that UKIP was very strong, Labour non-committal and those lies around NHS funding convinced many. Without being too heartless, in the gap between two referendums, a number of older ‘leavers’ will have passed on, while many younger ‘remainers’ will be old enough to have their say. Only a tiny swing is needed for the decision to be reversed. Maybe Theresa May believes that there will soon be a point where the British people are prepared to rethink their decision. It could destroy the Tory party, but might be her own only chance of remaining in power, especially were Europe to be so grateful that we get a good deal.
We know, from the snap election, that she likes a gamble. So perhaps the current chaos is more by design than we might give credit for.
Maybe Theresa May has her own cunning plan. She should remember, if that is the case, those other two cunning planners, Blackadder and Baldrick. For all their schemes, they came unstuck at the end.