By Conor Holohan
It has been said by every player concerned. The Brexiteers, the EU negotiators and senior officials, the remainers and the Labour Party. It has been the most argued point perhaps since June 24, 2016: The government must provide more clarity on its Brexit ambitions.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he was having ‘problems understanding the UK’s position’ after the most recent round of Brexit talks. Last week the German Chancellor said she was ‘curious’ about the Prime Minister’s aims regarding Brexit having only just held a meeting with her. Yet again we come away from a significant meeting between our Prime Minister and a top European figure with absolutely nothing of substance on this issue which we have but 13 months to resolve. How can the sunlit uplands of a global Britain be reached if we do not know where they lay?
To remedy this continuous barrage of criticism, Number 10 is being forced to drop empty platitudes and nothing-announcements (the phrase ‘closest possible trading arrangement’ comes to mind).
They were finally, nearly 10 months after Article 50 was triggered, forced to clarify their position on the Customs Union. Now, the PM and some of her top ministers are making a series of speeches designed to clarify the ‘Road to Brexit’.
It has taken Theresa May quite some time to stop locking her ministers away whenever possible, a tactic that Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill helped her lose the election with. She should have realised after the 2017 election that she alone cannot be the face of government or Brexit, because she has not the power over government nor the desire for Brexit.
So now, in an effort to silence the disquiet over ambiguity on the biggest constitutional issue of our time, the PM has called for backup in a bayonet charge of clarity and optimism. Over the top, Boris and David!
One high ranking cabinet member who will not be making a speech in this six volume sensation is the remain-backing Philip Hammond, who has earned a reputation for blowing raspberries about Brexit.
The Chancellor has been shut away in the pantry like an energetic dog at a dinner party, occasionally yapping and scratching the door in the daily press. Old habits die hard, and some Tories are frustrated that May is still employing this and many other tactics that were used when Timothy and Hill were still at Number 10.
Number 10 has realised, however, that when Boris Johnson is locked away in such a fashion, he tends to curl up a rather large mess in the newspapers for the PM to clean up. Johnson loves the lights, and the lights love him, so it’s in May’s best interest to work with him rather than to make an enemy of a formidable potential adversary.
Boris is determined to be front and centre on Brexit, so it’s at least damage control for May to allow him to be there on her terms, on her side.
We may be on the road to Brexit, but can May reach those sunlit uplands with so many backseat drivers? The Foreign Secretary thinks we’re heading for global glory, the Chancellor thinks where we’re going will be glum and gloomy.
Will she be forced again, as she has before, to pull over and deliver some roadside corporal punishment to her boisterous ministers? Or, when she stops at the services for a pasty, will one of her passengers slip into the driver’s seat, ruffle his blond locks and drive the car into the distance, leaving her behind?