Two years after the electorate voted for Britain to leave the European Union, Theresa May still can’t secure Tory MPs’ consensus behind her preferred negotiating stance. She is hoping for third time lucky, having been turned over twice by her Cabinet.
She should be reminded that the referendum result is not simply an internal Tory concern. It was an instruction by Britain’s voters to whichever party is in office to end this country’s membership of the EU.
The Prime Minister was as committed as David Cameron and George Osborne were to remaining inside the neoliberal bloc. No surprise there, given her and her husband’s banking background and the fact that the City of London’s finance sector has been unequivocal in its backing for the EU. Despite her supposedly blunt “Brexit means Brexit” mantra, May has been as firm as a spineless amoeba in dealing with the EU27, allowing Brussels to set the agenda, make demands and refuse to move on to negotiations on a post-exit trading relationship until those are conceded.
Even-handed negotiations take place between equals, but May’s demeanour has been akin to an obsequious supplicant. Her task has not been made easier by the existence of noisy pro-EU zealots in all parliamentary parties — in some instances, their entirety — set on frustrating the electorate’s intention either by ditching the Leave decision openly or gutting it of meaning through a squalid deal that is Leave in name only.
They proclaim “compromises” involving a Norway-style option, joining the European Economic Area or various computations around remaining within the EU internal market and the existing customs union or accepting European Court of Justice judgements. All these “compromises” would do is leave Britain — even as it claims to have left the bloc next year — fully within the orbit of the EU but lacking even the current right to debate and vote on EU policies. No-one had even heard, before the 2016 referendum, of the concept of so-called “hard” or “soft” Brexit, but the terms have been swallowed by pro-Remain circles in Parliament and the liberal capitalist media to demean everyone who actually wants to leave the EU — rather than pretend to do it — as a rigid hardliner.
How do we know that leaving the EU must mean detaching ourselves from the internal market and customs union? Was it something the Leave camp insisted on? Supporters of leaving did in fact recognise this necessity, but the most strident voices making clear that this was the logical and inevitable consequence of leaving the EU were the aforementioned Cameron and Osborne who saw it as a key argument against leaving. Their Project Fear campaign, backed up by a glossy one-sided propaganda brochure delivered to every home in the land at taxpayer expense, was unrelenting but, in the final analysis, unsuccessful. This campaign was assisted by a constant clamour of “advice” from visiting EU politicians and bureaucrats, plus US president Barack Obama, to help voters make the right decision. Fortunately, they didn’t speak Russian, so it couldn’t have been unwarranted interference.
The government was given an unambiguous instruction by the electorate, but a combination of May’s weakness and a no-holds-barred rearguard action by big business, especially the finance sector, has held us back. If May cannot do as she was instructed, she should go and without delay. Let a Jeremy Corbyn-led government, even at this late stage, negotiate an honourable internationalist deal that honours the referendum and puts jobs and economic development centre-stage