Monday

26th Sep 2022

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

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.

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

How to respond, if Moscow now offers peace talks

It is difficult to see how Vladimir Putin can survive more major setbacks or outright defeat. Should this happen, Russia will find itself in a major political crisis. But offering him negotiations now would help him, by easing domestic pressure.

News in Brief

  1. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  2. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  3. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  4. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  5. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  6. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up
  7. Finland 'closely monitoring' new Russian mobilisation
  8. Flights out of Moscow sell out after Putin mobilisation order

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Ireland joins EU hawks on Russia, as outrage spreads
  2. Editor's weekly digest: Plea for support edition
  3. Investors in renewables face uncertainty due to EU profits cap
  4. How to apply the Nuremberg model for Russian war crimes
  5. 'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians
  6. Meloni's likely win will not necessarily strengthen Orbán
  7. France latest EU member to step up government spending in 2023
  8. Big Tech now edges out Big Energy in EU lobbying

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us