Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

No, Theresa May's Brexit objectives are crystal clear

Far from being inscrutable, the Prime Minister's destination has been set out in detail. 

Theresa May will outline her thoughts on what Brexit means in greater detail this month, and some of the details are in this morning’s Telegraph“May sets out vision for Brexit” is their splash.

“At last!” will be the cry from some quarters: some detail on what May’s plans are beyond banal soundbites like “Brexit means Brexit” and “red, white and blue Brexit”.

On this one, however, I think the Prime Minister’s getting an rap for inscrutability she doesn’t quite deserve. As I’ve written before, we were told what it is that the government’s Brexit red lines were in May’s first speech at Tory conference: for Britain to have control over its own borders and to no longer be subject to the judgements of the European Court of Justice.

We’ve also been given a fairly big steer based on what ministers haven’t ruled out: that is, continuing to pay money to the European Union after we’ve left. Or, to translate it into Vote Leave speak: we will be able to prevent 75 million Turks from moving to the UK but we won't have £350m to give to the NHS every week. In fact, for the first time, we may well be handing £350m to the European Union, as we will likely continue to pay without receiving money back in kind.  

It’s crystal clear what not being subject to the free movement of people and leaving the ECJ means: a hard Brexit, with no continuing membership of the single market.

And it’s equally clear that the government’s hope is that it can use its status as a major contributor to the EU budget to buy a measure of the access it needs in order to keep the banks sweet and Nissan chugging out cars in Sunderland. 

Of course, it’s not at all clear that this is a deal that will work for the EU27 or indeed for the best interests of the UK. But it’s hard to truthfully argue that we don’t have a pretty good idea what it is that the government wants out of Brexit: it’s just that we don’t like it.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

Getty
Show Hide image

Supreme Court gives MPs a vote on Brexit – but who are the real winners?

The Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must have a say in starting the process of Brexit. But this may be a hollow victory for Labour. 

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of 8 to 3 that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament, as leaving the European Union represents a change of a source of UK law, and a loss of rights by UK citizens, which can only be authorised by the legislature, not the executive. (You can read the full judgement here).

But crucially, they have unanimously ruled that the devolved parliaments do not need to vote before the government triggers Article 50.

Which as far as Brexit is concerned, doesn't change very much. There is a comfortable majority to trigger Article 50 in both Houses of Parliament. It will highlight Labour's agonies over just how to navigate the Brexit vote and to keep its coalition together, but as long as Brexit is top of the agenda, that will be the case.

And don't think that Brexit will vanish any time soon. As one senior Liberal Democrat pointed out, "it took Greenland three years to leave - and all they had to talk about was fish". We will be disentangling ourselves from the European Union for years, and very possibly for decades. Labour's Brexit problem has a long  way yet to run.

While the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not be able to stop or delay Brexit, that their rights have been unanimously ruled against will be a boon to Sinn Féin in the elections in March, and a longterm asset to the SNP as well. The most important part of all this: that the ruling will be seen in some parts of Northern Ireland as an unpicking of the Good Friday Agreement. That issue hasn't gone away, you know. 

But it's Theresa May who today's judgement really tells you something about. She could very easily have shrugged off the High Court's judgement as one of those things and passed Article 50 through the Houses of Parliament by now. (Not least because the High Court judgement didn't weaken the powers of the executive or require the devolved legislatures, both of which she risked by carrying on the fight.)

If you take one thing from that, take this: the narrative that the PM is indecisive or cautious has more than a few holes in it. Just ask George Osborne, Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and Ed Vaizey: most party leaders would have refrained from purging an entire faction overnight, but not May.

Far from being risk-averse, the PM is prone to a fight. And in this case, she's merely suffered delay, rather than disaster. But it may be that far from being undone by caution, it will be her hotblooded streak that brings about the end of Theresa May.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.