Image Copyright Sunday Times
It may all be rather embarrassing but the fact that the Government is floundering shows at last just how difficult leaving the EU was always going to be. In fact, the complete break that a dwindling band of zealots still crave looks increasingly impossible. This transcends specious economic arguments and is all about commercial contracts, food supplies, ‘planes flying and keeping the lights on. Chancellor Hammond has admitted that the Cabinet has so far not discussed what the end position might be and this is because the ‘cake and eat it’ bargaining strategy has yet to be put to the test. If Mrs May still expects the EU to lean on the Irish Government she will surely get an early indication of failure on any kind of bespoke trade deal. If she somehow gets to Stage 2 then she will surely get the message fairly early on that the cake will be somewhat diminished and not available for eating.
By the time of the next Summit in March, Mrs May is going to have to decide which half of her Cabinet she wants to keep. She can probably keep the Brexiteers hanging out of fear of a Corbyn election victory but they would have to resign if and when she publicly admits that exiting will take at least 5 years. She might then decide to quit herself as the failure of her strategy will have been cruelly exposed or instead seek to soldier on with a more realistic timetable. On the other hand, if she toughs it out the Remainers will have to resign in order to form a blocking alliance with Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Lib Dems. Whatever she decides, the UK will not leave the EU in 2019.
A General Election is very possible next year but Labour will be reluctant to campaign on an overt platform to stay in the Single Market and even proposing a second referendum could result in its failure to win a majority. However, the SNP and Lib Dems would most likely be willing to support any different approach to Brexit and if there were to be a new referendum the voters would be much better informed. All this points to Brexit’s being pushed back for several years and possibly being abandoned altogether. A final thought is that a Labour Government without a big majority (and without enough time to purge its moderates) would struggle to build a new Havana in England’s green and pleasant land.