The phrase has come to denote a “no deal” outcome, reflecting the fact that Brexit ultras are unappeasableby Christopher Grey / September 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
During the referendum, a more or less standard language emerged to describe Brexit: it could be either “soft” or “hard.” The core of soft Brexit was remaining in the single market, generally referred to as the Norway model. The core of hard Brexit was leaving the single market and seeking a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, generally denoted as the Canada model. A few people were already talking about a WTO Brexit, and geeks identified scores of other models and varieties. Still, for most of us it was soft or hard, although during the campaign the differences were often obscured by ambiguous references to “single market access.”
In the months which followed the result, as Theresa May deployed the widely mocked “Brexit means Brexit” slogan, an intense political battle took place within the Tory Party and the government over what Brexit should actually mean. Many expected that soft Brexit would emerge as a pragmatic, fairly consensual, way of delivering on the vote without poleaxing the economy.
Instead, the outcome, formally announced in the January 2017 Lancaster House speech, was hard Brexit (albeit that the trade arrangement envisaged went well beyond the Canada model). Moreover, the ECJ red line precluded not just membership of the single market but of multiple EU agencies, few of which had even been mentioned in the campaign. Continued participation in all of these would need to be agreed.
Since then, however, a very significant and insidious shift has occurred. As talk of a WTO or “no deal” Brexit has gained momentum, it has been re-badged as hard Brexit. In the process, the government’s stance has therefore been re-positioned as soft Brexit despite the fact that—even with the softer approach of the Chequers Proposal as compared with the Lancaster House speech—it entails leaving the single market.
This shift reflects the fact that the most hardcore Brexiters are—as successive Tory leaders have found—unappeasable. In the past, many of them explicitly wanted only soft Brexit. But once that was in prospect they insisted on hard Brexit. As soon as that was offered they demanded a WTO, no deal Brexit. Thus they have persistently dragged the terms of debate in an ever more extreme direction, so that it is now not just these ultras but mainstream commentators who routinely talk of no…