If things go to plan, Mrs May will invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon by the end of March – less than 80 days from now. That decision is just about all that anybody outside (or, arguably, inside) cabinet knows about the UK’s Brexit plan. That notification will start a two-year process of disentangling the UK from the EU and, according to the rules, only once this period ends will the UK be able to start to negotiate the post-membership deal that it wants with the EU. Many suspect that the two events will be allowed to run in parallel, but that is not what the rules actually say, of course.
We are awaiting a Supreme Court decision on a government appeal against the High Court judgment that Article 50 cannot be triggered under the Royal Prerogative and requires approval of the UK parliament to go ahead. The devolved parliaments intervened in the government’s appeal and it is possible that the Supreme Court could decide that they too must assent to issuing the Article 50 notice which could yet derail the whole Brexit venture…
The government has steadfastly refused to outline its Brexit strategy to parliament or anybody else, for fear of giving away its eventual negotiating position with Europe. Even Brexit supporters are beginning to see that this excuse is wearing thin since UK (and foreign) business and investment needs concrete information for decisions going forward. Mrs May apparently even refused to discuss her plans with the Queen!
In her first interview of the New Year, Mrs May denied claims that the governments Brexit plans are muddled (cynics were quick to agree – how can a plan that doesn’t exist be muddled?). She told Sky News: "We're leaving. We're coming out. We're not going to be a member of the EU any longer" noting that the UK could not “keep bits of membership” whilst stressing that the UK wanted the best possible deal on leaving the EU (which any economically literate person knows to be continued membership, of course).
Her comments, naturally enough, were taken to signal that a “hard Brexit” was on the cards (the ones she keeps close to her chest) and this caused the value of Sterling to fall by about 1% against all major currencies.
Just the next day, as Sterling fell, Mrs May stated: “I’m tempted to say the people who are getting it wrong are those who print things saying I’m talking about a hard Brexit, that a hard Brexit is inevitable ... I don’t accept the terms hard or soft Brexit.” Not muddled at all, is it?