Meeting the Article 50 deadline will require almost super-human effort—and we've frittered away months alreadyby Jonathan Lis / June 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot features two characters continually discussing an event that may never happen. At the end, they resolve to go, but do not move. The comparisons with Brexit are obvious. But now the waiting is over, negotiations have begun and the protagonists are set to move, it remains unclear where they will go, how they will get there, or who will lead them.
The first day of negotiations was instructive. In the first dispute, over sequencing of negotiations, Brexit Secretary David Davis promised the “row of the summer,” but had capitulated by the evening press conference. He could not win, not only because the EU carefully and unanimously agreed its negotiating mandate months ago, but because Brussels holds the cards. They can afford to say no, and we cannot. Despite the certainty of his loss, still Davis publicised the fight. Such antics will have convinced the EU of a long-held suspicion: he is not bluffing when he talks of Britain’s superior position. He believes his own hype.
Even before the election result, the government’s deficiencies—and specifically the prime minister’s—were painfully obvious to the European Union. Officials in Brussels had long expressed open alarm at Theresa May’s commitment to a hard Brexit—especially given that the PM did not appear to understand the economic and political consequences. But her U-turns on national insurance and social care demonstrated more fundamental weakness. May revealed through her actions that she would reverse a policy within days if tabloid editors or opinion polls disapproved. Senior figures in the EU consequently feared that they could strike an agreement which swiftly unravelled following a negative domestic response. Despite her apparently unassailable power in parliament, which enabled her to pass the Article 50 bill unamended, the EU realised that the prime minister was not in command of the Brexit process.
The disaster of the election has not only compounded May’s problems, but added graver ones. The first lies in tragic irony: the prime minister, dominant in parliament and weak in Brussels, asked the British electorate to “strengthen her negotiating hand.” This was a false premise: the success of her negotiating hand does not depend on a larger parliamentary majority but a more convincing negotiating strategy. Now,…