In what I’d like to think is a nod to the idea of spring cleaning, the government has announced that Article 50 will be triggered in March next year. Strap yourselves in: it’s Brexit, baby.
This of course means that we will be out of the EU by March 2019, as the triggering of Article 50 gives us a two year time limit in which to negotiate an exit deal. Easier said than done, by the way. May’s proposal to enshrine EU law in to UK law now so that when the break happens there won’t be any tremendous legal shocks is a reasonable move, on the surface. In actuality, like most things about international and domestic politics, it isn’t that simple. There are a whole host of legal issues that will take longer to untangle than two years, mostly because a lot of EU law references institutions that belong to the Union, thus making all bodies using those laws answerable to these institutions (i.e. none of that sovereignty we were promised will materialise until we change all of these laws, which we will have to pick through piece by piece for several years).
There is hope that realpolitic prevails and the two year limit is extended, but as we have seen Brexit is quite the emotional topic for many and the people in charge may not be so pragmatic when the time comes to set off the Brexit bomb - and not just on our collection of isles. Many leading European politicians have expressed their sadness at what is happening, and a fair few have been combative in their rhetoric. Many European citizens are also feeling uneasy; not perhaps at the threat of abuse, which is always likely to be in play when you live in a foreign country, but more the sense of rejection that comes along with a vote to leave: continental colleagues of mine reacted to the vote with a few jokes about whether they should still come over for meetings or holidays, but behind the teasing and chitchat there were some real worries about the symbolic nature of the result.
That is the kicker, really. Brexit is this massive, symbolic thing. It’s a humongous penis in a Freudian world; a Žižekian culmination of carnival in the context of the absurdity that is geopolitical news in the the last few years. To paraphrase Lenin, there are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen. At the moment it is still all things to all men, or our biggest foreign policy crisis since Suez (depending on who you speak to), but in the next twenty nine months this manic pixie dream girl of an event is going to have its carriage turned back in to a pumpkin, and be revealed for what it really is.
But who knows what it is? May’s government has been coming up with a few different plans, which isn’t that ideal since they are all contradictory. There have been noises that immigration control is the priority, despite the obvious repercussions this would have on limiting single market membership options, and therefore the likely economic repercussions. Moreover, Liam Fox has been continuously slapped down for explicitly stating this in the press, even though May herself has explicitly stated that we will not be getting single market membership level access as long as it comes with freedom of movement, which may have more to do with Fox’s various inadequacies than anything else.
However, on the eve of the Conservative party conference it seems there may have been a shift in public perception with a new poll signalling a preference for a “soft Brexit” among the electorate, implying the supposed impending economic gloom is now overshadowing the perceived threat of migration. However, it is just one poll, whereas immigration has been more consistently polled as a high priority. Even if the prevailing opinion does swing towards single market membership (and therefore the high likelihood of free movement) there is a chance that May would still swing for a harder Brexit to crush the UKIP threat once and for all. Her speech at the Conservative Party makes it seem likely that immigration will be the priority. The possibility of economic shocks caused by a “hard Brexit” are to be negated with further investment and less of an onus on deficit reduction by the Chancellor, thus completing May’s seemingly single minded attempt to put the 2015 Labour manifesto in to practice. Poor Ed.
It is still hard to figure out if May knows what she is doing as her aura is fairly impenetrable at the moment. The likely answer is no, she does not. This isn’t because of any of her shortcomings per se but simply because this is quite a complicated thing to grasp, especially for someone who thinks that it’s possible to ban all psychoactive substances. We will see how she fares with the questioning on Brexit from those outside her party next week, and with a reinvigorated Jeremy Corbyn having seemingly learnt how to make a point at PMQ’s, it will be interesting to see what more we can learn about May’s plans in the near future.