Patrick Wintour writes: Theresa May’s mantra “Brexit means Brexit” is designed to reassure. Suspicious leavers are being told by their new prime minister that there will be no reversal, slippery evasions or procrastination on her watch.
In the referendum campaign she may have been a reluctant remainer, but the message – with Brexiters taking the three top foreign policy jobs in cabinet – is that she will now abide by the people’s instructions. In the best Thatcherite tradition there will be no turning back.
Yet “Brexit means Brexit” means next to nothing since there are so many ways for the UK to leave the European Union, and so many different kinds of new relationship with the EU on offer, each with their own balance of advantage and disadvantage. Indeed few made a more careful attempt to weigh those risks than May herself in a lengthy speech on 25 April.
May is a stickler for detail and doubtless will be alarmed by the absence of a coherent plan for Brexit in Whitehall. If preparation is a prerequisite for successful Brexit, the omens are poor. The official leave campaign, focused on victory and avoiding internal division, drew up only the flimsiest plan for what Brexit would look like, pointing vaguely at the exit door, but with little idea of what lay the other side. Foreign Office diplomats were instructed to draw up no contingency plans whatsoever, supposedly for fear they might leak. [Continue reading…]