“To lead is to decide”. That is what Theresa May told the Tory backbenchers last night (9th July 2018).
I think in this instance the Prime Minister should have followed the approach she adopted to her nonsensical “Brexit means Brexit” soundbite. Because in actual fact “to lead is to lead”, and good leaders bring others with them.
The tumult of the last few days has its origins way back in Mrs May’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October 2016. When she set out red lines like the European Court of Justice having no role in a post-Brexit future, she may have brought Brexiteers like Davies and Johnson on board, but she set-up a negotiating position that was not consistent with prioritising market access.
From that point on it was inevitable that there was going to be a reckoning. Either in Brussels as she took over a negotiating position that was so full of demands for “British-only” rules and oversight that the EU would never grant the market access we so badly need; or, within her own cabinet as Brexiteers complained that Mrs May, in seeking the market access we need, had rolled back on the hard-line position set-out in 2016.
Mrs May had set out two irreconcilable desires back in 2016. Complete autonomy for the UK on the one hand, with the required market access, on the other. There was always going to be a point at which she was going to have to look over the cliff-edge and have second thoughts.
This seems to have happened in the run up to the Chequers Summit.
The reality is that the Chequers Summit should have happened two years ago. Probably, before the Article 50 process even started. Not around 3 months prior to the key summit for determining our future relationship with the EU.
Proper leadership would have canvassed and marshalled her Cabinet’s opinion to a reconciled position long ago. That would have been how to lead in the national interest.
Instead, we have been forced to engage in a prolonged shadow-boxing session with the EU whilst the Conservative Cabinet engages in open-warfare over our negotiating position. Violating all the norms of good Cabinet Government while the March 2019 deadline draws ever closer.
So, what has all this been about? What has been the point of the last two years of UK Government work and efforts on the Brexit negotiations (remember the army of civil servants hired to work on this)? It seems that keeping the Tory Party together has trumped all else. That is the case whatever one’s opinion on Brexit. This Government has not advanced the country in any meaningful direction on Brexit. It has been about the Conservatives and Theresa May staying in power.
We have had Airbus, BMW, Jaguar Land-Rover, and others express major concern at this lack of progress in recent weeks. If the Labour Party had been in the driving seat we would have committed to a customs union (as we did many months ago) and none of these companies would be making these statements. I would even suggest investment levels in these high-employing sectors would be substantially higher.
This last two-years has been the self-indulgent Tory party as its very worst. It’s time for a change.