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Brexit – is the tide turning against Leave?

July 30, 2018

A month is a very long time in Brexit politics.  At the start of July Theresa May had stayed at the helm and held together her minority government for a year longer than many thought likely.  She was edging towards getting her fractious party and cabinet to accepting a carefully crafted Brexit plan that delivered an exit from EU institutions while seeking to minimise the damage to trade. A cabinet away day at Chequers endorsed the plan. Two years after the referendum and a year after losing her majority in a general election, the Prime Minister at last had a deal that could be presented to Monsieur Barnier as the definitive British objective in their negotiations.

Within 48 hours harmony had turned to discord and rupture.  Her Brexit Secretary resigned, followed by the Foreign Secretary and a clutch of minor members of the government. By the end of the month the Chequers Agreement was in tatters, amended in the Commons as May caved in to the Rees Mogg led Brextremist faction in her party.  In trying to hold together her party it seems May had pleased nobody.  The Brextremist faction (numbering perhaps 50 MPs) pulled one way and the Tory hard core Remainers (now as low as about 15 MPs) tugged another way but the party and government has now moved onto true hard Brexit territory.

This raises the prospect of Britain leaving the EU in March next year without agreeing exit terms or a trade deal.  Theresa May’s second most (in)famous Brexit related phrase is that “a no deal is better than a bad deal” but she must now realise that this is as fatuous as “Brexit means Brexit.”  Representatives of British industry have become louder in their warnings about the chaos that will ensue if there is no deal. As her new Brexit Secretary was appearing before a Commons committee, Downing Street announced that the Prime Minister was taking the lead in the remaining stages of negotiations with Brussels. Dominic Raab’s rather unhelpful metaphor for describing his demotion was that it was a “rearrangement of the deck chairs” of government. Let’s hope there are enough lifeboats.

If the government has abandoned “cakeism” and accepts that the EU will agree a Canada style trade deal but not cherry picking current arrangements, then Mrs May’s problem is that her Brexit ultras now appear to prefer a no deal outcome.  Liam Fox has indicated his preference for such a “clean Brexit” and the government has prepared a series of 70 ‘technical notices’ for what we should expect in a no deal scenario.  This has led to speculation that the supply of certain foods and medicines that are sourced from the EU will quickly dry up, the approach roads to ports will be jammed with lorries and the army will be deployed to get essential supplies to hospitals and vulnerable people.

Such talk has previously been dismissed by the Brexit brigade as “Project Fear” and scaremongering. But more of the public, including many Leave voters, are now appreciating that exiting the European Union comes at an enormous cost. They also believe that the government has failed so far and is unlikely in the future to agree a beneficial deal with the EU.  Support is growing rapidly for a referendum on the terms of the exit deal, with an option for abandoning Brexit altogether and staying in the EU. Several polls now show strong support for a “Peoples Vote” on Brexit, rather leaving it up to a dysfunctional Parliament.

A Sky News poll today shows that a slight majority of people now believe that Brexit will be bad both for themselves and the country. A huge majority of 78% believe that the government has done a poor job of negotiating with the EU.  The poll also shows that if there were to be another referendum, the Remain option would be the clear winner. If people are presented with the three options of Remain, the government’s Chequers Agreement or No Deal then Remain comes out ahead with 48% support with No Deal on 27% and the government deal with just 13% support and 3% don’t know.  When asked about second preferences Remain wins with 59% support.  What stood out the most for me was that my home country of Wales, which voted narrowly for Leave in 2016, now becomes the leader of the pack in EU support with 73% backing Remain, a truly remarkable turnaround.  The Sky poll was limited to Great Britain.  Several separate polls have shown a solidifying of Remain support in Northern Ireland. The Brexiters will no doubt now start to panic that the “dream of Brexit”, to quote Boris Johnson’s self-serving resignation letter, is slipping away from them. Expect to see more comments about a “great betrayal” and a “stab in the back” as the Brexcrement hits the fan.

Delivering Brexit was never going to be the walk in the park predicted by the Brexiters.  They said negotiating a trade deal with the EU would be easy, as they needed us more than we needed them. Davis and Johnson have fled the field.  Fox and Gove remain in post, believing in a Britain free from the EU but closer to the US. They now have to work with May to salvage Brexit, while reality dawns on more people inside government that the project may be undeliverable.

The Brexiters’ chickens have now come home to roost.  With Trump in the White House, demanding “America First” trade deals, those chickens will be chlorine washed.  I’ve thought since 2016 (perhaps with a dose of wishful thinking) that Brexit would eventually collapse, pulled apart by its internal contradictions. With eight months to go I am now more hopeful than ever that this national act of self-mutilation will be averted.  The public have got wise to the snake oil salesmen of Brexit. The tide is turning but eight months is a very long time and who knows what twists and turns lie in the road ahead.

 

The full data set of the Sky News poll can be read at https://interactive.news.sky.com/brexitshifttabs.pdf

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Doug Reid permalink
    July 31, 2018 10:15 am

    Stephen,

    A truly remarkable turnaround in Wales  &  in the referendum in Scotland  it was 64% Remain  36% Leave

    almost 2 :1      . Do you think the Scots are going to be happy if  Brexit goes through?  It’s  Madness  utter Madness.

    All the Best,

    Doug

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