An Amicable Divorce
Stuart Millson gets the Government’s Brexit strategy
Speaking last week on the Today programme, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt gave an upbeat assessment of the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy. He cited both her Article 50 letter to EU President Donald Tusk, and her speech last March on her vision of a sovereign Britain closely aligned to its former EU partners. That such a view came from Jeremy Hunt was encouraging, as this former ally of David Cameron campaigned for Britain to stay a member of the Brussels club, and even called – just after the June 2016 referendum – for a second vote, but on the final terms of our exit, not a re-run of the initial referendum itself.
On 28th January, the former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers warned that the Government’s negotiating strategy – which has attracted criticism from Brexiteers – is in danger of creating a situation whereby Britain leaves the EU in all but name, but remains, to all intents and purposes, a participant with special status. She has a point. After all, we now know that despite the return of the old British passport, Britain may well be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court for longer than was supposed – although the period will be (or so we are told) up to nine years. Just how extensive will the exit be?
All things considered, Brexit now looks like a gradual process of give and take – perhaps with more give on the United Kingdom’s part. But although, like many on my side, I hoped for a clean break from Brussels, I begin to warm to the idea of a long goodbye to our former partners in what began as the Common Market. And I do so because this will repair the divisions in our country which followed the referendum – creating a consensus between practical Brexiteers and rational Remainers.
For there are several types of Eurosceptic: for example, there are those who believe that Brexit may set an example to other European countries, increasingly anxious about EU domination of their affairs. Last weekend, President Macron stated in a BBC interview that in 2016, a French referendum on EU membership might well have resulted in another leave vote – evidence that it is not just the supposedly “inward-looking” British who resist a European ‘President’, emblem and anthem.
Likewise, there are also at least two types of Remainers: the supporters of our staying with Europe, but without the “barmy” EU rules and fishing quotas – and the minority element of unadulterated Brussels enthusiasts, often referred to as Remainiacs, or better still, Remoonies, who favour the virtual disappearance of Britain in a super state.
The Government seems to have calculated that most Leave supporters would not mind if the rules of Brexit were stretched – that in order to facilitate a comfortable passage out of our 40-year involvement with the EU, we softened our stance somewhat, with “interim periods” and a more generous “divorce settlement”. Ministers, too, are aware of the moderate, still-disappointed Remainers, who have nevertheless accepted the referendum result and feel that it would be in everyone’s interests to proceed as quickly as possible with this final full year of negotiations. If the Government can maintain the interest and allegiance of these two camps, Brexit will command real support in the country, isolating those for whom Britain isn’t good enough – the Euro-flag-waving metropolitans, obsessed with their emerald city of Brussels – and creating a positive vision among patriotic, but (culturally) European-minded voters of an alternative to “Europe” as presently constituted.
We now have until March 2019 to secure the trade arrangements and political settlement that will define Brexit. Like other great events in our island story, notably the creation of the Church of England, part Protestant, part Catholic, wholly Anglican; the constitution following the Civil War; and the Glorious Revolution, creating a sovereign parliament but adorned with a crowned head of state and the trappings of royalty – compromise will be involved. It is right that this should be so, as it would be a tragedy for any of us to feel betrayed – be they those who voted to leave the EU, a situation now past the point of no return, or the significant number who value an enduring relationship with our friends in Europe.
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