As the date set by Theresa May for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty draws ever closer, and not even her most ardent admirers in the press can stop the electorate becoming ever more concerned about what we have let ourselves in for in voting to leave the EU, it is becoming clear that our great visionary Prime Minister, whom we should not call unelected, does not have a clue what she is doing.
One issue is sufficient to illustrate this point: the manner of Britain’s future relationship with the EU, whether this will involve a “Hard Brexit”, with exit from the Single Market and trading arrangements still to be worked out, or some other deal whereby Britain maintains its Single Market membership and also obtains at least an interim deal allowing businesses in the UK to trade with the EU as they did before.
As with so many moments of realisation, this one appeared perhaps unexpectedly, but once it was out there, it hit home with some force. The moment of truth for Theresa May came when representatives of devolved Governments around the UK arrived in Downing Street yesterday. And it fell to Scotland’s plain-talking First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to spell out that the woman in the house behind her didn’t have a clue.
What progress, Ms Sturgeon was asked, had been made? The answer should worry businesses across the UK: “We discussed the UK's negotiating position in general, but it is safe to say we got no more information or detail on that than we had before we went into the meeting, and I got the strong sense the UK government itself doesn't know what it is trying to achieve”. Theresa May doesn’t know what she’s doing, in other words.
It was not an isolated occurrence: later, in the Commons, Andy Burnham got Ms May to let the cat out of the bag for real. As the Guardian has reported, “He asks about research carried out to assess the impact of ‘the harder form of Brexit that she seeks’ will have on the regions”. After all, that was the clear inference from her Tory Party Conference opening remarks. What she talked about then and there meant “Hard Brexit”.
But to Burnham’s surprise - and clear delight - her reply was “He talks of a hard Brexit this government is going to take the country into. There is no suggestion of that whatsoever … The gentleman seems to think all of these decisions are binary, whether you can control immigration or you can get a free trade deal … That is not the case. We are going to be ambitious in what we hope to get for the UK, a good trade deal as well as control on immigration”. She really doesn’t know what she’s doing - in her own words.
That is a U-turn since the Tory conference. And it flies in the face of the united front being maintained by all EU leaders - Schulz, Juncker, Tusk and anyone else - that there can be no “EU à la carte”, no Single Market membership without free movement of people. Ms May might have the ambition. But her ministers will not deliver it, given their personal ignorance and shortcomings. We are looking increasingly stuffed.
But the Kippers, Tory libertarians, and press barons got what they wanted, so that’s all right, then.