Justin Bowie on the Brexit Debate


By Justin Bowie

The terms ‘Hard Brexit’ and ‘Soft Brexit’ have become commonplace in recent weeks, after Theresa May confirmed her own intentions for the UK to pursue control of EU immigration over remaining a member of the single market, with the indication that it is not possible for the UK to achieve both.

Recently, a number of MP’s and other political figures have suggested that May’s determination to push through her own version of Brexit is both undemocratic, and lacks a clear mandate. After all, May’s ascension to the top job was largely on the basis of various betrayals and gaffes, leaving her alone as the sole remaining candidate.

The terms of Brexit were not determined beforehand, and the government cannot assume that the result would have gone the same way had it been made clear that curbing free movement and remaining a member of the single market was not at all possible.

The debate itself was rushed, too. Claims that money from the EU would be filtered to the NHS have been rubbished by just about everyone on either side, while even the Remain camp were often hyperbolic and exaggerated in some of their arguments.

Theresa May has, perhaps cleverly, identified that as a new Prime Minister, she’s had to find something to latch onto, something to allow the people to create their own initial perception. In the end, she’s gone for the image of decisiveness. If David Cameron was the man who liked referendums in which he often refused to debate political opponents, and who liked to appear as a moderate within his party, then May is going for the opposite approach. She wants to lead. She wants to be the one who directs Brexit.

The latter won’t be easy. Her own party remains full of ardent Remain voices, perhaps even including the Chancellor himself if rumours are to be believed, while even a disunited Labour can, you’d presume, agree on their opposition to a ‘Hard Brexit’, along with the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens. With EU officials who appear to have little interest in the UK’s posturing, May’s vision of Brexit will be difficult to achieve. Add in issues regarding Scotland’s future, as well as the Irish border, and it becomes even harder.

But then, she may not need to achieve it exactly. To simply side with those who want to curb immigration, who want a blunt, direct split with the EU and feel like they are finally being listened to, may be enough to bolster her popularity. As we’ve seen in Scotland post-referendum, sometimes defeat can serve to ignite a political base, and further invigorate them.

It’s possible that May might not get what she wants when it comes to Brexit, for very fair reasons. But the pro-Brexit crowd, or at least a significant number of them, will not be happy with a softer exit. If UKIP don’t sort out their current infighting, then we may see more Brexiters turning to the Tories.}