It has been a year since the vote on the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU happened, a year since the country woke to news that it was leaving the EU. In that time it seems as though there are two very different narratives developing over how negotiations are being handled. Soon after the referendum result came in, leaders of the other twenty-seven European nations met to discuss what their views and goals were for the upcoming negotiations, once that was decided they quickly appointed Michael Barnier as the chief negotiator for the EU in regards to Brexit. The UK government on the other hand dithered. David Cameron resigned, there was a ‘leadership’ election and Theresa May after winning by default, duly rejigged the cabinet and created several new departments filled with those who were pro-Brexit, but also with those who were of a more cautious bent. Whilst the EU came to the table with proposals, the UK did not seem to have anything concrete other than empty platitudes meant to pacify the Eurosceptic press and the UKIP voters who May and the Conservatives wanted to poach. The slogans: ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Red, White and Blue Brexit’ were echoed constantly by government officials, but there was no serious plan put forward as to how they wanted to achieve that.
When they were not repeating endless slogans, government ministers were stating that the British public had voted for a hard Brexit, and that anything that did not deliver on that was a sham. May played hard ball throughout early negotiations blaming EU officials and European leaders for not understanding what she wanted, and for rejecting the will of the British people. Anyone who did not get on board was a traitor, and not a true patriot. And yet, there was nothing solid put forward by the British side. Merely audacious statements from cabinet members, stating they would not pay any divorce bill, and they would want what was best for Britain at any cost. Still there was nothing presented before the EU negotiating team, there was nothing presented to the public. Then Britain’s top official to the EU resigned, and warned his colleagues to not get bogged down with empty rhetoric and to actually advise the government as they were meant to.
What followed were several more months of pointless posturing by the British government, including the call for a general election by Theresa May, to give a real and true mandate for a hard Brexit. The election did not give the Conservatives a thumping majority, instead it took it away, and left them needing to form a government in partnership with the DUP. Since then the posturing has gone. Theresa May is no longer the strong leader she was previously seen as. The cabinet, who previously had appeared as little more than obedient dogs had suddenly found its voice and there was constant infighting, between the pro Brexit David Davis and Liam Fox, and the more cautious and business friendly chancellor Philip Hammond. The divisions have left the EU and the world wondering, what exactly is the British government doing. A proposal for trade deal talks has been ignored by the EU until the divorce bill is settled.
A half-hearted proposal on a customs union with the EU customs union has been mentioned by the government recently, but that too is receiving criticism from EU officials as being too fairy tale like and light on actual detail. Something that would be bad news for businesses within Britain who hope to keep access to the single market or even the custom union for their benefit and for the benefit of the economy. The lightness of this proposal shows that the government is not completely united behind what their Brexit strategy should be and despite fears in some corners of the EU that this chaos and confusion is all just a ploy, it really does seem as though the government is scrambling to find something that suits them before March, 2019 which would be when Britain really leaves the EU.
What this shows is that this government does not appear to have a real clue as to what it wants, nor what is really happening around them. Talks of trade deals have been cut down, businesses are continuously expressing their concerns of what would happen without a proper deal for exiting the EU. The days of pointless slogans might be gone, but the chaos and confusion remains. The current government looks like a child lost within the maze of reality, and it is not a pretty picture. They need to figure out what they want, stop their infighting and come together for the good of the country, and quickly.