How long can Theresa May stay committed to her government’s vision of Brexit?

The question is raised again by the latest row with the EU – this time over the UK’s involvement in the Galileo space programme.


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The row between the British government and the European Union over the United Kingdom's continuing participation in the Galileo space programme is hotting up, with Theresa May insisting that if the UK can't continue to participate in the programme, she will demand the £1bn that the British government contributed to it back and that it will imperil UK-EU security co-operation.

The row is one of those Brexit squalls that makes one wonder why exactly the Conservative government is committed to the version of exit it has chosen. Once we are outside the EU club, that means a subservient and lesser relationship with existing EU schemes, as full members will want to tilt the playing field for lucrative work on programmes like Galileo, and because we will have left the rule-setting structures of the EU, it will also involve following rules we don't set. (See also: the United Kingdom's decision to remain within the broader Europe-wide security apparatus.)

As Theresa May noted in an earlier, more lucid phase of her career, the question in the the referendum was about how the United Kingdom should “maximise its sovereignty.” Whatever relationship the UK has with the EU (or indeed any other trade bloc or nation it conducts a deal with) there is a trade-off as far as its decision-making freedoms go. But since Brexit, her government has committed neither to explaining those trade-offs to the public or really committed to any of the political or infrastructure decisions to match its chosen final relationship with the EU.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.