The major problem with the Brexit stance of the UK government prior to the election was that it seemed unclear on exactly what it wanted and what compromises it would accept in order to obtain it. In her Lancaster House speech, Mrs May seemed to rule out membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union in one breath and call for frictionless borders and tariff-free access to the Single Market whilst rejecting freedom of movement and the supremacy of the European Court of Justice (which currently adjudicates any trade disputes in the EU). Talk of bespoke deals, not turning the UK’s back on her European partners and finding win-win deals just serves to further obfuscate what Britain wants and what it will pay for.
Having called an election ostensibly to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, by granting her a large majority, the reality of being returned to power as the head of a minority administration, poses more questions than it answers. Plainly, Mrs May did not receive a ringing endorsement of her Brexit strategy, but although billed as a “Brexit election” there were other pressing domestic issues in play. Does this mean that the public appetite for Brexit has declined?
Certainly, politicians are arguing that the idea of “no deal is better than a bad deal” with the threat of turning the UK into a low corporate tax haven must now be set aside. There is also a chorus of voices demanding that the PM adopt a more consensual style of leadership and even involve opposition parties more deeply in the Brexit process. Moves towards demanding a soft Brexit are growing, but compliance with all EU directives and standards related to trade without any hand in shaping them seems to fly in the face of all logic. As Donald Tusk said, the UK is either in the EU or it’s not.
During a meeting with President Macron in France yesterday, he told the PM that the door remained open to the UK changing its mind and remaining in the bloc right up to the point when the exit period elapses. Mrs May should lead little persuasion of the wisdom of this offer as she was a campaigner for the UK to remain in the EU in the first place. Perhaps the chances of the UK staying have been bolstered by the fact that the PM will not be the person leading the party into the next election (assuming that she can get the next Queen’s speech approved, of course), so she might be tempted to undo the harm done by David Cameron – politics is a funny old game. The economic climate in the UK will drive popular support for Brexit and currently, the omens for it look poor with declining wage growth and rising inflation.