Theresa May announced her initial Brexit deal on 8 December with a “new sense of optimism”. Defying reports that her time as PM was all but over, May compromised on the Irish border issue and agreed a payout of around £39bn to Brussels. This enabled Brexit talks to move to ‘Phase 2‘.
May presented this as a triumph of her team’s diplomacy, saying:
I have always been clear that this was never going to be an easy process. It has required give and take for the UK and the EU to move forwards together. And that is what we have done.
Others said May had simply caved in [paywall].
Unfortunately for May, members of her party and even her cabinet have not reinforced the positive message. On 6 December, Chancellor Philip Hammond rocked the boat. He stated that the cabinet had not been allowed to discuss Brexit outcomes. He also claimed the UK would pay the ‘divorce bill’ even if no deal was reached. May’s spokesperson publicly rebuked Hammond for this.
Environment minister Michael Gove then also broke ranks on 9 December, by suggesting that voters could somehow change the deal. Gove said “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, and that the British people would be “in control”.
“I don’t have to know that much”
Worst of all for May has been the behaviour of Brexit Secretary David Davis.
Davis stands accused of lying to parliament over details of the Brexit negotiations. He then appeared on the BBC to say that May’s deal was only a “statement of intent” and not “legally enforceable”. This undermined the statements of his own Prime Minister.
In an interview on LBC radio on 11 December, Davis failed to offer much defence for any of this. He said:
What’s the requirement of my job? I don’t have to be very clever. I don’t have to know that much. I do just have to be calm.
Serious questions are now being asked of Davis’s competency.
In the wake of this comedy of errors, public confidence in Brexit has reached an all time low. According to research conducted by The Economist, even committed ‘Leave’ voters believe a bad deal is coming. Only 28% of those surveyed expect May’s team to deliver for Britain.
While the current government remains in place, the future should worry us all.
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