Theresa May is on the right track. Today, she made two key announcements that shape the hitherto inchoate debate about the precise meaning of Brexit. First, we will repeal Ted Heath’s misguided legacy, the 1972 European Communities Act, which severely compromised our birthright as an independent, self-governing country. Second, we will give the EU formal notice of our intention to quit by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty no later than March next year (and perhaps sooner). Britain is on course now to leave the EU by the late spring of 2019 and resume its place among the vast majority of nations – from Argentina to Zambia – who decide their own destinies unfettered by foreign courts or bureaucracies.
Of course, winning the Brexit peace is far from over. The Remain camp, which commands a numerical majority in Parliament and widespread support among the Establishment, has yet to run up the white flag. Aided by its friends in the Treasury, it will seek to cloud and confuse Brexit, urging some kind of compromise that keeps us half in and half out of the single market and makes concessions on free movement of people. Brexit-lite rather than the clean break that is the logical consequence of the June vote.
Yet, after the Prime Minister’s clear lead in Birmingham yesterday, backed by the three key Brexiteers among her ministers and leading Tory Eurosceptics, the impression grows that the case for a swift and straightforward break with the EU is gaining ground. Washed up relics of the European age, such as Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke, and Nicky Morgan, may holler from the sidelines, but the Tory Party, not least the careerists who make up most of its numbers, can see the way the wind is blowing. Brexit really does mean Brexit (Just ask Mrs May).
The Prime Minister’s next big challenge at the Birmingham party conference is to give the country a better idea of who she is and where she is leading us. So far, we know that she is a vicar’s daughter, likes walking and watching cricket, and can bake scones. Her style is that of a private school headmistress, concerned but a touch remote.
As for political direction, we know she wants a country that works for everyone – so expect a lot more on social mobility and moves to address the concerns of those who voted Leave in the referendum because they believe they have nothing to lose.