If ‘pragmatism’ was the right approach Theresa May would be reigning supreme

If ‘pragmatism’ was the right approach Theresa May would be reigning supreme

Theresa May is now trying to convince her Cabinet to back Customs Union membership for the UK. The plan is until further notice and there is no time limit. Her climb-down is humiliation for her reputation, and for the UK. As has been pointed out by Asa Bennett in the Telegraph, she has previously rubbished the idea of Customs Union membership as having “less control than we do now”, and something that “neither Leave nor Remain voters would want”.

On numerous occasions she promised that Britain would not be a part of it, telling MPs in March: “We are not going to be in a customs union — we are not going to be in the customs union”. She even admitted that it would “betray the vote of the British people”.

But, alas, the Prime Minister who electrified Brexiteers with her Lancaster House speech has succumbed to the deadly poison of pragmatism. At every stage since then she has shown pragmatism and compromised against the logical certainty of the EU. Theresa May likes her cookery programmes but it’s possible she’s a fan of the BBC game-show Hole in the Wall. Players must position their bodies in order to fit through various shaped gaps or risk being knocked over by the oncoming wall. At every stage the Prime Minister has contorted the UK to meet each new demand of the EU, and degraded her country each time. Truly, if a “pragmatic” Brexit had been the right approach then the PM would be reigning supreme.

Pragmatism is defined as “an approach that evaluates theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.” which sounds sensible until you realise the definition of success depends on your ideology. A lack of ideology on one side of the table is intensely vulnerable when the other side possesses it in spades. Theresa May even admitted the need for ideology – when pitching for the Tory leadership she declared that her Brexit Secretary must be a Brexiteer.

And who can forget the explicit link she made between ideology and Brexit delivery before the last general election? “You can only deliver Brexit if you believe in Brexit”. As the intensely cautious, Remain-voting Prime Minister surrounded herself with the likes of Ollie Robbins, Greg Clark and David Lidington, there was only one way we were going to go.

Many Remainers would argue that a successful Brexit is one which minimises any loss of trade and protects the status quo. “Nobody voted to be poorer” is the familiar refrain from Remainers who claim to respect the result. But that’s not actually true. Apart from the apocalyptic warnings during the campaign, the vote to leave was about democratic self-government but they have now reinterpreted it, as David Heathcoat-Amory put it so brilliantly this week, as a conversation about import prices.

Ideology is not, and should not be, a dirty word. And when it comes to Brexit we shouldn’t expect anything less. May’s duty was to enact the referendum result and there can be no tinge of pragmatism when it comes to the final outcome. Driven by the ideological commitment to democracy and self-government, it’s not her concern whether or not it gets through Parliament. Let the MPs explain themselves if they reject a simple Free Trade Agreement. But if the hole in the wall, when it comes, makes the UK bow and cringe before Brussels in order to pass through, then we must refuse to play their game.

When British negotiators square up to the EU negotiators they bring useless pragmatism and bags of compromise but are stared out with the cold, hard ideology of Brussels. Instead, let’s offer a Free Trade Agreement for every part of the UK and get back to the ideological approach of Lancaster House as it’s the only way both sides can retain their red lines. Let’s ditch the pragmatism, chuck Chequers and say no to a Customs Union. It’s not too late, even at this late stage, to match the EU’s gaze.

Ideology isn't a dirty word - it's the essential component of Brexit