Not even May knows what Brexit means

Not even May knows what Brexit means

   October 08, 2018  
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Not even May knows what Brexit means

It has been a tough few weeks for Theresa May. This is by no means unusual for the PM, but the Salzburg summit last month was particularly bruising. May had already been walking a domestic tightrope with her Chequers plan, but she has now been effectively pushed off by Donald Tusk’s blunt statement that it “will not work.”

May’s conflict with the EU over Chequers is essentially one of red lines. Under the plan, Britain would opt out of freedom of movement yet maintain free movement of goods, even though the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier has repeatedly shunned such cherry-picking. Yet May claims that Chequers is the only possible way to satisfy her two key conditions, that “anything which fails to respect the referendum or which effectively divides our country in two” would be unacceptable.

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This is not an argument based on the supposed merits of the plan itself, but an attempt to give Chequers a mandate by linking it to the referendum result. Crucially, it is in exactly these terms that others have sought to derail it. Of course, ever since the resignations of Boris Johnson, Steve Baker, and David Davis, it has been evident that many Brexiteers oppose Chequers. But rather than argue for their specific Brexit visions on the basis of their merits, these Brexiteers often simply rely on that familiar, seemingly catchall phrase: that only their ideas respect the referendum result.

Brexit plan

Brexiteers of course know how disingenuous they are when they claim that only they have correctly interpreted the referendum result. Yet this type of argument, which relieves them of the need to argue about the specific advantages and drawbacks of their individual plans for Brexit, is simply too attractive for them to resist.

This helps to highlight a contradiction among Brexiteers. Their infighting is an obvious sign of their unwillingness to compromise for a united Brexit plan, thus shattering the myth of a unified Leave bloc. Whenever Leavers claim that their particular Brexit vision is what voters really wanted in 2016, it becomes clearer that none of them have a mandate at all.

Any Leave mandate rests on the dubious claim that 51.9% of voters were broadly in agreement with a specific Brexit vision. With that disproved, the mandate vanishes. The Chequers disagreements are hardly the first to have exposed this, but they have done so very explicitly. It is unsurprising, then, that we now increasingly hear calls for a ‘People’s Vote’.

Only a People’s Vote would remove the key failing of the original referendum in 2016: a binary vote on this complex issue. The infighting over Chequers once again displays how disingenuous it is to group all Leavers together. They are not one bloc and should not be treated as one.

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