We also had the launch of the bill formerly known as the Great Repeal Bill – now entitled the “European Union (withdrawal) bill”. I’m rubbish at legal stuff but the general impression seems to be either that we don’t really know any more about what this means, or that we should all be terrified of the coming power-grab and potential constitutional crisis, or both.
The Tory cabinet seems to be ganging up on Phillip Hammond in anonymous briefings, and is squabbling over Brexit policy, according to leaks within the party. Figures like Chris Grayling have immediately come out and denied that this is happening, but if it is, it is not good news for the Tory party and is probably bad news for the country. The rest of the party remains intent on repeating the same things over and over again, not changing course one iota in light of emerging information, the absolute antithesis of pragmatism. Hammond, whilst not a great deal more impressive, is much more realistic and appears to be actually taking new information on board and adjusting his approach accordingly. His rhetoric is perhaps at odds with the party line, but as we have seen the party line is unhelpfully rigid and ambiguous. Hammond represents compromise within the party – something which there will need to be a lot of, on both sides of the negotiations, if an amicable deal is ever to be reached. Any attempts to silence differing viewpoints within the party makes one wonder how differing viewpoints may be approached during negotiations. Alas, Hammond did eventually reiterate that there would be no single market membership during the transition period, once again throwing absolutely our best option under the bus.
Labour continue to confuse everybody. They have refused to rule out SM membership during the transition, but still want to retain all benefits of the SM and the CU despite leaving them, which is impossible, but boy are they sticking to it. Rebecca Long-Bailey even said this week that Labour want to “have our cake and eat it” when it comes to Brexit whilst recognising that this would be difficult without major concessions – a “have your cake and eat it” of a position, and completely meaningless. The bigger issue with the current political landscape is that with Labour having done fairly well at the election and the Tories looking shaky, party politics is becoming more important than doing Brexit in a sensible way. Hammond will now be hounded for disloyalty rather than listened to when he makes fair points about how badly his colleagues are doing.
As we officially enter the second round of negotiations, it unfortunately feels as if the only appropriate course of action for our politicians at this point is to accept that they may have screwed this up somewhat on first attempt, and reset both their approaches and their expectations. Davis in particular is still confidently pedalling vague nonsense, as we saw at his questioning by the Lords Committee last week. Everything he says massively oversimplifies the task at hand, and his general message that through compromise we will get through this and everything will be fine is completely at odds with his parties’ complete inability to even entertain the idea that they should adjust their strategy. Brexit will only work with if both sides are willing to give ground, yet the Tories are showing zero capacity to re-evaluate and adjust the course they so obviously set us upon before they were ready. They seem to see any wobbling on the current approach as a weakness, rather than a strength in effective, pragmatic management and a clear sign to the other side that we want to work with them. I cannot see any future outcome in which the Tories look good, given their current strategy. If we crash out without a deal, their reputation will be shot, and they will likely be out of power for a long time. If Brexit doesn’t happen, their reputation will be shot, and they will likely be out of power for a long time. If we get a good deal, it will look absolutely nothing like what they are suggesting we might get, will cross their red lines, their reputation will be shot, and they will struggle to get into power for a long time. The only way out of this is for them to hold their hands up and rethink, or call an election in the hope that they lose. The trouble is, none of the other parties are offering up anything better.
To end on a slightly more positive note, everything is starting to point in one direction: Norway. Barnier is mentioning the EEA more and more often, seemingly growing frustrated at our sides’ unwillingness to confront the best possible option despite him repeatedly putting it on the table. Iceland’s foreign minister has basically invited us into EFTA, and apparently there is willingness from all EFTA representatives to allow Britain into the bloc. Bill Cash, who leads the European Scrutinee Committee has said EFTA membership is an ‘interesting proposition’, and apparently there is increasing support for the idea within government, even going as far as the PM, and with DExEU not ruling it out. The way out is right there in front of us guys!