The UK has no strategy, but that’s not its main problem

As a no-deal Brexit draws nearer, the UK faces questions over domestic disillusionment and European indifference, writes Colm McCarthy


New face: Britain’s newly appointed chief Brexit negotiator Dominic Raab, left, and EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speak at the European Commission in Brussels last week. Photo: AP
New face: Britain’s newly appointed chief Brexit negotiator Dominic Raab, left, and EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speak at the European Commission in Brussels last week. Photo: AP

Seeking to make sense of the UK government’s Brexit strategy presupposes that such a strategy exists. The existence hypothesis was tested over the last fortnight, starting with the Chequers ”unity” away-day, resulting in senior ministerial defections, a White Paper and its evisceration in the appeasement of Brexiteer Tories in the House of Commons and Mrs May’s performance on Friday in Belfast. For those who believed in some concealed, cunning strategy before Chequers, the hypothesis has now been tested and there is none.

Two weeks ago, Dominic Raab, then a sub-cabinet housing minister, missed out on the Chequers meeting. Last Friday he took the larger stage in Brussels as Secretary of State for Exiting the EU with full cabinet rank – Mrs May had to empty the substitutes’ bench after her Chequers away-day. The cabinet defections were followed by extraordinary shenanigans in the House of Commons, happily due to commence the summer recess on Tuesday. Had Mr Raab been at Chequers, he would have wasted a day, as the Chequers discussion and the White Paper which followed will have little effect on the course of events. The negotiations that matter are with Brussels.

Raab was entertained to a succinct summary of the current position from Michel Barnier, who explained: ”There are 13 weeks left before the October European council. During this short time we have two things to do. We must finalise the withdrawal agreement and we are not yet there. We must also prepare a political declaration on our future relationship. On the withdrawal agreement, it is a matter of urgency to agree a legally operative backstop for Ireland and Northern Ireland. We need an all-weather insurance policy.”

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