Brexit is dead

It is beyond resuscitation. Theresa May – doughty and resilient and persistent as she is – has recognised as much

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 15 January 2019 23:30
MPs reject Theresa May's Brexit deal in overwhelming 432-202 majority

Brexit is dead. It is time to read the last rites. We have lived with it for so long, argued about it so vociferously, loved it, hated it, grown bored by it, been scared by it, we can hardly believe it has gone, slipped away into the political afterlife. But parliament killed it stone dead. Whatever fragments of the Monty Python sketch come to mind, you can recite them on the Brexit cadaver, lying lifeless beneath its perch.

It’s over. Theresa May’s deal was, in essence, a version of soft Brexit. It has entered the history books as the deadest of dead potential legislation. It is beyond resuscitation. She – doughty and resilient and persistent as she is – has recognised as much. She now wants to “reach out” to the previously untouchables in order to concoct some new deal.

It won’t be the so-called no-deal Brexit, trading on World Trade Organisation terms. As MPs have already indicated, with a warning shot over an obscure vote on the finance bill, there is no majority for this idea. It is confined to the 40 to 100 hard Brexiteers hanging around Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab and John Redwood. All honourable and patriotic people, all limited in their House of Commons appeal.

They might even be right, with their vision of Britain as the low tax, high enterprise Singapore of Europe. But it lacks parliamentary support, to say the least. Indeed there is an overwhelming majority against it. It will be ruled out in due course. That Brexit, despite what Boris Johnson might have told you, has never been truly alive.

Which leaves few remaining options, if you’ll pardon the pun. One is the “Norway” of “Norway plus” idea. This means staying in all the EU's economic structures including the single market and customs union. It leaves Britain technically outside the EU, but a “vassal state”, a sort of colony with no votes in the council of ministers or the European parliament. Nominally we “honour” the result of the 2016 referendum because we technically leave the EU. It is Brexit in name only. The EU would not let us use it as a departure lounge until we worked out how to do proper Brexit. Utterly pointless.

Er, so that leaves Remain, so to speak. Or, more fairly to all, Remain versus Leave in a proper referendum. Now we know that Leave really would mean Leave, it is a perfectly respectable option, though economically damaging. Remain also means Remain, as the EU says the UK can cancel Article 50 and stay in on the old terms.

There are no more versions of Brexit left, except the ones MPs trot out that the EU have said, many times, they will not accept, such as the variations on “Canada” and the like. Indeed, Theresa May, Geoffrey Cox and many others with direct knowledge have said that all such alternatives to her now deceased Brexit plan are “unicorn” ideas, fit only for dreaming swingers. Correct.

All that is left is to give Brexit, RIP, a decent burial, and for Britain to realise that it isn’t big enough to get what it wants. This was not a betrayal of Brexit, a personal failure by May, or an establishment plot. Brexit failed because the EU was ten times bigger than we were and was never going to give the UK – under May, under Boris, under Corbyn, under Farage for that matter – anything like an acceptable Brexit that wouldn’t wreck the economy.

Maybe they are big fat bullies; but, as Ricky Gervais once observed, the best way to deal with a bully is not to stand up to them, but to try to be in their gang.

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