Theresa May’s Brexit confusion reaches fever pitch as her party descends into chaos

Mark Turley

The deep divisions within the Conservative government have been exposed again, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond declared the need for an ‘interim Brexit’. Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s insistence on triggering Article 50 by the end of March 2017, Hammond’s comments cast further doubt over the government’s Brexit planning.

A lack of clarity

Since she assumed the role of Prime Minister off the back of the Brexit controversy, May has faced criticism for her vague public statements about it. Neither the public, political commentators, nor even members of her own government can discern any form of plan.

For months, her ministers could only offer the tautology that “Brexit means Brexit”. This then morphed into “red, white and blue Brexit”. And Hammond has now called for an “interim Brexit” or “transitional Brexit.”

Strategy, or no strategy?

Initially, May claimed her vagueness was part of a deliberate strategy. But if it was, the strategy was recently abandoned. She backtracked when faced with a revolt within her own party.

May then promised to reveal her plans, if parliament backed her timetable for Article 50. The House of Commons played ball. Now the world awaits.

But Hammond’s comments have caused more confusion. Article 50 only allows for two years of negotiations to establish a new trade deal with EU members. But a House of Lords committee, supported by Hammond, stated that from where we are now, this will not be enough. Hammond said:

an emerging view among businesses, among regulators, and among thoughtful politicians… on both sides of the English channel that having a longer period to manage the adjustment… would be generally helpful, would tend towards a smoother transition and would run less [sic] risks of disruption, including, crucially, risks to financial stability.

As a result, Hammond supports the idea of an “interim deal”. This would tide the UK over while negotiations continue over the actual deal. But it flies in the face of statements from Brexit secretary David Davis. Davis said he was “not really interested” in a transitional arrangement.

Can open, worms everywhere

It seems clear that Hammond has launched a veiled attack against the Prime Minister and the Tory ministers known as the ‘three Brexiteers’.

If two years is not long enough, as the Chancellor says, why was May so determined to invoke Article 50 now? Why not wait until a more appropriate time? Suspicions will remain that this was only to appease the hard right of her party.

In addition, in talking about his agreement with “thoughtful politicians”, was the Chancellor suggesting that some involved in Brexit are not thoughtful? Perhaps even some of his colleagues?

We all wait for answers. But as those in Theresa May’s party fight among themselves and she does whatever she can to hold them together, Britain continues to head for its Brexit train-wreck. And a coherent government strategy appears further away than ever.

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