As first the man in charge of negotiating Britain’s EU exit and then the foreign secretary flounced out of the government, outsized egos and thwarted ambitions looked like the obvious explanation. They played their part, but they are not the whole story as to why Theresa May struggled to make her Chequers deal stick. Even putting aside the question that really can’t be put aside for much longer, about whether there is any hope of the rest of Europe buying it, she also found herself snared on something else: logic.
The moment May began to move towards the softer Brexit which she has concluded that the economy, the parliamentary arithmetic and the Irish border require, it started to become plain that the UK is headed towards a worse position than now.
The recent White Paper cheerfully advanced a “common rule book” for traded goods as a boon, but the chief difference with the existing “common rule book” is that the rules in the new book will be rules over which we have no say.
Whereas a hard Brexit could crash parts of the economy, its smarter advocates can point to serious potential advantages regarding sovereignty and commercial freedom which must be weighed against the losses. But as we edge towards signing up to the main rules of a club while walking away from it, it is hard to recall what the point was.
Hence the rising murmurs about whether it might be better to stop the clock, rethink, rebuild some bridges with Europe, and, once the real options are clear, ask the country anew. People thinking this way can be found in all parties and none, and this month we hear from two who come from very different perspectives.