Poor decisions and strategic errors from the very top of Government have defined the Brexit process

Poor decisions and strategic errors from the very top of Government have defined the Brexit process

There are very few people who are willing to argue publicly that Brexit has been a smooth and easy process. Nor are many likely to say that it has gone the way that most Brexiteers anticipated. Over the course of the past three years there has been a series of poor decisions and strategic errors in the handling of Brexit. These events have left the UK with an appalling Withdrawal Agreement and a Government without authority or credibility.

Trying the same thing and expecting a different result is often quoted as the definition of insanity, and yet this is now the position of the Government. The Prime Minister intends to bring her Withdrawal Agreement back to the Commons for a third time; but it will not go through Parliament. It suffered the worst government defeat of all time, by 230 votes, and then the fourth worst, by 149 votes.

These were record government defeats and still, the Prime Minister insists upon a third Meaningful Vote even though “nothing has changed”.

This is a ridiculous position for the UK Government to be in, but it is hardly a surprise. The awful Withdrawal Agreement is the result of a Prime Minister making a litany of blunders in her handling of Brexit and refusing to accept that she, like most Remainers, has not understood Brexit. There is a reason that there are so few Brexiteers still in government.

The first sign of the current crisis was the disastrous 2017 general election. All anyone will truly remember from her campaign was her ability to trot out the same meaningless phrases of “Brexit means Brexit” and “strong and stable” despite the clear evidence that nobody believed in her or her position. Naturally, this played out with her blowing record poll leads and the first Conservative majority for almost 20 years.

It demonstrated to the EU her inability to articulate a clear, sensible Brexit policy that could unite the UK and Parliament.

This electoral and parliamentary weakness was then compounded by her decision to give in to the EU’s demands on the progress of negotiations against the advice of the Brexit Secretary at the time, David Davis.

This concession to the EU handed complete control of the agenda to the EU and set the tone for the future of the negotiations. This put the UK in the ludicrous position of being unable to negotiate future arrangements at the same time as its withdrawal, despite the inextricable nature of the future arrangements and the withdrawal.

Theresa May has had little to no control over her Cabinet and ministers, let alone her parliamentary party. Fundamentally, she is too weak to exert any measure of meaningful influence.

Theresa May recognised this weakness, which is why she sought to balance her Cabinet between Remainers and Brexiteers, to assuage both sides of her party and to prevent a split. However, this has been an awful mistake as it has allowed Remainers to hijack the Brexit narrative and push the Prime Minister away from delivering a true Brexit.

Moreover, this strategy has been ineffective as the Conservative Party is now more divided than ever between Brexiteers and Remainers. Theresa May should have backed the Brexiteers in her Cabinet and, by doing so, challenged Remainers to respect the referendum and manifesto or to rebel against the party line. I suspect that, when pushed, most Remainers would have fallen behind the sensible policies put forward by leading Brexiteers like Canada+ or MaxFac.

Moreover, it is mostly Brexiteers who have resigned, whilst high-profile Remainers have stayed within government. This is a telling indicator of both Theresa May’s weakness and the failure of her Brexit proposals.

There are two possible reasons that Remainers are not resigning: perhaps it is because they can snipe against Brexit with impunity or maybe because they know that the proposed Withdrawal Agreement could see us inextricably trussed to the EU – Remain by any other name.

Another issue with prominent Remainers in Cabinet has been the refusal to allow adequate preparation for No Deal. There have been several reports of the Chancellor withholding allocated funding for preparations for a move to WTO terms. The Chancellor is also ultimately responsible for the endless stream of economic propaganda about Brexit, a continuation of the discredited pre-referendum Project Fear – which has been proven so drastically wrong.

Of course, we must not forget that some of the problems in the Brexit process started before the referendum took place. It is a shameful indictment of David Cameron and his Government that they arrogantly refused to allow the Civil Service to start planning for potential Brexit options.

They disregarded the possibility that they could lose the referendum. After all, how could they? The Remain campaign heavily outspent the Leave campaign and had the benefit of official government messaging such as the Government’s leaflet, which cost taxpayers £9 million.

This Government is caught in a seemingly endless cycle of errors, mistakes and poor decisions with each new loop inexorably bringing the Government further away from the lofty heights that Theresa May once promised. But this crisis is one of her own making and the signs were there: we should have seen this coming.

Photocredit:  ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor