Theresa May’s Brexit strategy lies in ruins

Simon Jenkins writes: The clock is ticking on the two-year Brexit countdown, with just 10 days to go to fiendishly urgent talks on its modality. May’s tactic appeared to be to enter those talks armour-plated against domestic trouble from both her right and left, or at least from advocates of hard and soft Brexit. That tactic, however plausible, lies in ruins.

How the EU’s negotiators will react is hard to predict. They must be dismayed at the prospect of weakened British negotiators vulnerable to constant carping and second-guessing by a hung British parliament. Some are already suggesting a postponement of the talks. It is hard to see that helping.

Meanwhile it is likely that in coming months a “remainist” or perhaps “softest” fifth column will open up across parliament and among the lobbyists. The collapse of Ukip and the probable increase in emboldened remain MPs clearly undermines whatever May’s “hard Brexit” stance was meant to achieve. In the Commons there should now be a majority behind Corbyn’s view, that no deal is worse than a soft deal.

The British team’s absurdist machismo in advance of talks has never rung true – and would appear to have cut little ice even with a post-referendum electorate. Coupled with the result itself, this should tilt the balance towards a more accommodating approach on both sides. The EU and Britain must clearly compromise, to honour last year’s referendum yet without the manifest shambles of a negotiating failure.

Common sense indicates that, at the day’s end, Britain must somehow stay within the regulatory regime of a European customs union. Since that would leave migration as the chief bone of contention, and since some deal on the movement of workers is vital for British industry, it is now possible to see negotiations slithering towards a “Norwegian” version of a single market. If so, this election could prove a blessing, albeit in heavy disguise. [Continue reading…]

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