THERESA MAY has delivered another speech on Brexit, but the message has not changed: accept her proposed deal or you won’t get Brexit. This is a false choice. She should be demanding a better deal or walking away from a bad deal. Instead, she keeps tabling a proposal that has been rejected in multiple votes already.
On the same day, the Chancellor (Philip Hammond) offered a false choice between May’s proposal and the loss of billions of pounds that could be spent on public services. His false choice is so ridiculous it takes some explaining: he argues that if May’s proposed deal goes through, then he could release the money he set aside against a no-deal Brexit.
Yet May’s proposal includes a promise to pay at least £39billion to the EU just for the privilege of leaving, excluding billions in annual membership fees for staying in the EU’s agencies and programmes. His argument is defeated by the following antinomy: avoid no-deal, and we save billions on preparedness; accept no-deal, and we save billions on a bad deal.
Hammond has not set aside as much as May has promised to pay. This is the same Chancellor who refused until late last year to fund any preparations for a no-deal Brexit, from the same government that now argues we are so unready we should back May’s proposed partial-withdrawal.
This is the same government that has wasted millions on contracting with a start-up company with no ships to ferry emergency supplies, and on compensating Eurotunnel for violating obligations to consult it before contracting for ferry services.
But the government’s hypocrisies and false choices don’t end there. May’s speech on Friday offered a false choice between her proposal and chaos: ‘Back it and the UK will leave the European Union. Reject it and no one knows what will happen.’ Our premier is claiming that she has no control or foresight, beyond her abject proposal of November 2018.
May’s crimes against political responsibility continue: ‘The only certainty would be ongoing uncertainty.’ Whose fault is that? She procrastinated on lodging the petition to leave the EU, when she still didn’t have a plan for leaving, so she got suckered into accepting any EU demand, then she faced domestic criticism, so she reinterpreted what she had done, in multiple ways to suit multiple parties, before going covert in order to reach an agreement with the EU that pleases nobody except the EU.
May’s crimes against reality continue: ‘As prime minister, my job has been to negotiate the very best deal I could. And I believe that is precisely what the government has done – working with the EU team led by Michel Barnier.’ Like Tony Blair, Theresa May reduces her arguments to ‘beliefs’. Her entire speech – 3,327 words – contains no argument for her proposed deal other than that she believes it is good and the alternatives are worse.
Her most egregious false choices are disguised as pro-democratic. ‘The democratic case for backing the deal is clear.’ Realise what she just did there: she conflated the referendum vote to leave the EU with her proposal more than two years later to pseudo-leave the EU.
Later in the same speech, she offers a false choice between her proposal and delay, which would give more time for Remainers and the EU to frustrate the referendum. ‘And that might lead to a form of Brexit that does not match up to what people voted for.’ Yet her proposal doesn’t match what people voted for: they were promised by David Cameron that Britain would leave the day after a majority vote. May’s manifesto promised to leave in favour of a free trade agreement, but her government signed back into most of the EU’s agencies and programmes, including even defence integration, while pursuing a customs union.
Parliament wouldn’t be able to delay if May hadn’t caved to Remainers in her own Cabinet who abandoned collective responsibility in order to vote against a no-deal Brexit and in favour of delay. Nevertheless, May’s speech deflects all the blame on Parliament: ‘Brexit does not belong to MPs in Parliament. It belongs to the whole country. It belongs to the people who voted for it . . . Everyone now wants to get it done.’ She concludes her speech: ‘The British people have already moved on. They are ready for this to be settled.’
To fulfil popular desire to move on, she should stop offering the false choices that get us nowhere. She should demand a better deal or leave without a deal. And she should resign, in favour of someone who seeks best options rather than false choices.