The Brexit Speech

In the words of The Observer, Brexit is shaping up to be a dreadful deal for Britain …

Be in no doubt. Theresa May’s watershed Brexit speech on Friday was a sobering defeat for the United Kingdom.

It was a defeat for the Leavers’ vision of a sovereign country freed from the constraints imposed by European politicians, laws and regulations … and a defeat for those who voted Remain and hoped against hope that Britain would, at the last moment, draw back from this gross act of national self-harm.

May’s speech, signalling a fundamental parting of the ways, was a defeat for the business people, trade unionists and community leaders who rightly fear for the country’s future prosperity, cohesion and jobs. It was a defeat for young people, British and European, who, more so than older generations, will perforce inhabit an ugly new world of harder borders, work permits, bureaucracy and pervasive state intrusion.

In a wider context, May’s speech marked a moment of British retreat from the shared ideals and principles of collaborative internationalism that have guided the western democracies since 1945. It presaged an historic abdication of leadership that many in Europe and beyond will neither understand nor quickly forgive.

The gaunt post-Brexit future towards which May is stubbornly leading us will make Britain a poorer, meaner, lonelier and shabbier place, hostile to immigrants yet badly in need of their skills, struggling to maintain its trade across the barriers we ourselves erected, and exploited by the world’s big economies whose governments and multinationals, imposing unequal trade treaties, will take what they want and leave the rest.

May’s speech was welcomed by hard Tory Brexiters, who imagine that quitting the EU single market and customs union, whatever the consequences, is a sufficient victory for their blinkered, jingoistic cause. It was seen by Tory Remainers as recognition of the need for compromise.

And this blurry reconciliation of her party’s schismatic factions, albeit probably temporary, was May’s main achievement. It may be a good deal for the Tories, but is a bad deal for Britain. Bad because, in overall terms, the proposed settlement is neither one thing nor the other. Britain will not have its cake and eat it, in Boris Johnson’s preposterous parlance. It will simply have less cake.

May rejected the single market largely because of its freedom-of-movement provisions. Even though employers have been telling her for months that Britain relies on EU workers, the PM remains foolishly frit of Daily Mail spectres of invading foreign hordes. Yet even as she rejected it, May recognised the benefits of the single market, sought continued, frictionless, access to it, and lamely admitted that we will all be the poorer for being outside it. What kind of leadership is this?

Such self-contradictory thinking would give Descartes a headache. The same applies to her Through the Looking Glass “customs partnership” wheeze that, she said, would “mirror EU requirements”. If she means future customs arrangements will be reversed, back to front and inside out, she may well be right.

In prospect now is a nightmare of red tape from those who promised a liberating bonfire on the cliffs of Dover and will create, instead, a giant lorry park.

© The Guardian

• This extract from The Observer’s article is reproduced here courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd under their Open Licence agreement.

• You can read The Observer’s full editorial here:

http://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/04/the-observer-view-on-theresa-mays-brexit-speech

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