Sunday

23rd Apr 2017

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexiteers still hunting for a strategy

  • Clarity on the government’s negotiating strategy will have to emerge sooner rather than later. (Photo: Reuters)

Brexit minister David Davis made his triumphant return to Parliament on Monday (5 September), almost 20 years after his previous government job as, ironically enough, John Major’s minister for Europe.

Back then, Davis was the bruiser who had helped force the Maastricht treaty through the UK parliament. Now he’s the man charged with leaving the club.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Anyone expecting the government to have devised the semblance of a plan for negotiating its exit from the EU was disappointed. Davis’ 15-minute speech was largely content free.

To Davis, Brexit “must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe – but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade in goods and services”. So far so vague.

Meanwhile, the Labour party finally appears to have a post-Brexit position.

Leadership candidate Owen Smith, who has promised to campaign for a second "in/out" referendum on the terms of Brexit, will almost certainly be comfortably defeated by Jeremy Corbyn at the end of September.

But Corbyn’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry has taken a similar stance to Smith, demanding a parliament vote before the triggering of Article 50, the EU clause on the exit process.

After 10 weeks of post-referendum reflection the only thing that either government ministers or Joe Public can agree on is that "Brexit means Brexit". For the country that produced Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, and the Beatles, this hardly appears to be an auspicious achievement.

Given the ugliness of the referendum campaign, and the mendacious claims made on both sides, it is noteworthy. On the eve of the poll, Nigel Farage warned that the result would be rigged to ensure a Remain victory. A sizeable portion of eurosceptics vowed not to let a narrow defeat end the matter.

There is still a lingering viewpoint in Brussels that Article 50 will remain unused, or the reality of terms offered by the EU-27 will be so unpalatable that Britain will never leave the EU.

That is certainly not the view among Remain supporters in Westminster.

Focus on single market

Labour former ministers lined up to express their sadness at the result, but were unequivocal in accepting that the will of the 52 percent is final.

“I campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, but I accept the outcome of the referendum," former Europe spokeswoman Emma Reynolds told MPs on Monday.

“It would be a good idea to try to find some way of maintaining a form of co-operation on foreign policy after we leave the European Union, because even after exit we will still very much be part of Europe.”

Several corridors away in Westminster Hall, MPs debated the petition signed by over 4 million Britons in the week following the referendum, most of them surely Remain supporters, demanding a rerun.

Believe it or not, there are, if not millions, certainly thousands of Brits who are still in post-referendum mourning. But that battle is almost certainly over. Although around 400 of the 650 MPs backed a Remain vote, most accept that the June result must be respected.

The next pitched battle for Remainers will be retaining British membership of the single market. The Stronger In group, which ran the official Remain campaign, has now morphed into Open Britain, with single market membership the centrepiece.

Direction of travel

If Davis, who was flanked in parliament by fellow Brexiteers foreign secretary Boris Johnson and trade minister Liam Fox, has his way then it seems almost certain that Britain will leave the single market.

“This government is looking at every option, but the simple truth is that if a requirement of membership is giving up control of our borders I think that makes it very improbable,” he said

It took less than 24 hours for prime minister Theresa May to disown this position. “He is setting out his opinion. A policy tends to be a direction of travel, saying something is probable or improbable is not policy,” May’s spokeswoman told reporters on Tuesday (6 September) when asked if Davis was expressing a government policy.

The clarity on the government’s negotiating strategy will have to emerge sooner rather than later. But the train only has one destination.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer.

Column / Brexit Briefing

UK cannot have and eat EU cake

The UK’s two main demands: migration control and single market access are irreconcilable. Something will have to give.

US and Japan warn UK on EU trade

Washington and Tokyo say trade relations with the EU are more important to them than those with Britain in the context of Brexit.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit: preparing for a bitter divorce

Conservatives Brexiteers and Labour leadership are increasingly leaning away from the Norwegian-style deal with the EU, towards a UK-specific arrangement.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Post-Brexit party games

The British party conference season has started, with Labour re-electing its leader but staying ambivalent on EU relations.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's drive for one-party Brexit state

Snap election will kill off attempts to reopen debate on second referendum and inflict further damaged on confused opposition.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  2. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  3. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  4. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  5. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  6. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  7. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  9. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  10. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  11. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society

Latest News

  1. France holds nail-biting 'anti-system' vote
  2. Le Pen-Putin friendship goes back a long way
  3. Mogherini should tell Russians their rights matter
  4. Le Pens Freunde aus dem Trump Tower
  5. Sexe et mensonges: l'information russe sur l'UE
  6. Report: Post-Brexit payments, ECJ jurisdiction could last years
  7. Oxford study raises alarm on 'junk' news in France
  8. Thousands to march in defence of science