And so it came to pass that the Cabinet, chaired with suitable authority by Theresa May, convened at Chequers, with the PM’s opening remarks broadcast to the nation, to grapple with the issue that is at the top of the Fourth Estate’s agenda right now: Britain’s exit from the EU. Once again, we were told that “Brexit means Brexit”. And once again, most of those present had no idea how they might even define the term.
Here’s the BBC account: “In a statement after Theresa May's cabinet gathered at Chequers, Number 10 said ministers agreed on the need for a ‘unique’ deal for the UK … This included controls on EU migration as well as a ‘positive outcome’ on trade, Downing Street said … Mrs May told cabinet colleagues the UK would not stay in the EU ‘by the back door’ … The PM has said official talks with the rest of the EU will not begin this year”.
A “unique” deal. That means neither Ms May, nor any of her ministers, knows what they are going to ask for. “Controls on EU migration” is already in place - we can refuse entry and can also deport those who overstay or misbehave. And a “positive outcome” on trade could be easily secured by either (a) not leaving, or (b) retaining access to the Single Market. That would mean accepting free movement of people.
And so you go around the circle once more. This has not stopped the press from taking what is a blank canvas and projecting its own prejudices on to it, with predictable results. The Express, aka the Daily UKIP, has proclaimed “Message from the Prime Minister … EU EXIT WILL BE GREAT SUCCESS”. For those slaving in the service of Dirty Des, politicians are now trustworthy. So they don’t know either.
The Telegraph is more thoughtful, but ultimately just as clueless: “Brexit deal will limit migration, May pledges … PM draws red line on free movement whatever the impact on trade with EU”. Yes, brave Ms May will cut off our political noses to spite our faces, all in the name of ideological purity. Like heck she will. No Government is going to impoverish its population for the hell of it, not even one led by the Tories.
The Guardian has more or less the same message, but words its headline in a way that suggests wriggle room: “Brexit means border controls at whatever price, May insists”. We have border controls right now, and could have the so-called “emergency brake” on free movement that was on the table for Young Dave. There is the get-out.
It is a get-out which would satisfy the headline writer from the Murdoch Times, which has told readers “May pledges to restrict EU migrants after Brexit”. We can already “restrict” them. So why do we need to leave? That is not addressed by the Brexit cheerleaders. Nor is the minefield of legislation. Nor is the thus far united front being presented by the other 27 EU member states. Because nobody really knows what Brexit looks like.
So the anti-EU politicians and press pay homage to something they cannot even define. Why, d’you think, was religion once all the rage? All things to all men, indeed.