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21 September 2017

Why is the government’s Brexit approach so inconsistent?

It's her own time – and the United Kingdom's – that Theresa May is wasting.

By Stephen Bush

Life comes at you fast. Just a fortnight ago, defenestrated Downing Street aide Nick Timothy wrote in his Telegraph column that “despite briefings that suggest otherwise, there is agreement in government about the Brexit strategy”. 

This week, we’re all at risk of a bad deal because Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond are at odds with the government’s approach, says Nick Timothy in his Telegraph column. “Treasury ‘talking down Brexit'” is their splash. 

At this rate we can look forward to a column from Timothy explaining why he backed a Remain vote on 23 June 2016 early in the New Year. The inconsistency and essential lack of seriousness typifies the government and his former boss’s overall approach to Brexit.

Downing Street is hoping to keep a tight lid on what’s in the speech but speculation is everywhere. In the Times, Sam Coates and Bruno Waterfield say that the PM will try to go over Michel Barnier’s head to get a breakthrough in the talks. The flaw in this approach isn’t that the EU’s sequencing of talks between the first stage and the second doesn’t create problems. It does, particularly as far as the Irish border is concerned. It’s that Barnier’s mandate already comes from the heads of member states, and while there are potential areas where the EU27’s unity might be tested, on the issues currently holding up the talks – money and citizens’ rights – there isn’t a divide to be exploited. It’s her own time – and the United Kingdom’s – that Theresa May is wasting.

But as with Timothy’s somewhat confused oeuvre, the underlying reason for both his contradictions and May’s blind alleys over Brexit is that most of the government treats Brexit as a secondary concern, to either easing their path to Downing Street or taking revenge on those who helped chuck them out of it. 

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