The wonderfully staged after-school detention class at Chequers was carefully choreographed to show Theresa May as tougher than she’s been up to now and a woman in control of party and policy.
Its value in taking us closer to the kind of break the electorate voted for is more questionable. It points to a colonial status, has washed away most of Theresa’s red lines, and is ominously vague on the two crucial points: control of EU immigration and the ability to make trading arrangements with countries outside. Without either there’s little gain for a nation which needs to establish a degree of independence from an EU designed to suit the purposes of France and Germany but not ours.
Then there are two more serious problems. The first is that the EU won’t accept Theresa’s plan. Michel Barnier has already turned down parts of it and the first reaction of the Commission might as well have been “to assent with civil lear/ And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer”. The EU isn’t a nation with which can negotiate sensibly. It’s a network of rules designed to hold 28 diverse entities together. It can only work on the assumption that the rules are absolute. If anyone is allowed to break them, the whole tangle will collapse – and unity with it.
So negotiations always come back not to interests which can be modified, but to rules which can’t, meaning that they’ll want to drive us back on the weak requests we’re putting up. Britain will be pushed back step by step to far less than the modest pleas Theresa is humble enough to make.
The second problem is Britain’s own fifth column, the Remain resisters. Up until now, they’ve been able to concentrate on stopping what they call a “hard” Brexit. They’ve won that argument by fear and funk. But it wasn’t their real intention, which can now be revealed: they don’t want any Brexit at all. Now they’ll drop the pretence and go on to kill it.
Seeing the vote as the result of the ignorance, foolishness, racism and simple irresponsibility of a section of society they don’t particularly like, they will now claim to have been right all along. They’ll argue that mini-Brexit is worse than staying in and throw their energy into cancelling it altogether, hoping that their naughty compatriots will now realise that what they wanted is impossible and reconcile themselves to crawling back with a few mea culpas.
A gloomy prospect. Yet it doesn’t mean that Brexiteers have to give up or its Cabinet supporters resign. Weak as Theresa has been, she must still be held to what have become her lavender lines. The intransigent obstinacy of the Great Blob has to be underlined. The people must be shown that they’re being betrayed by Britain’s elite in collusion with the European plutocracy. Britain’s interests have still to be defended. As those on the lifeboats escaping the Titanic told themselves, any degree of distance is better than staying on the sinking ship.