July 26, 2016
The limits of May's freedom of manoeuvre
A month after the Brexit vote, the debate has calmed a little as political Britain is descending into its annual holidays - except for the Labour Party, which is holding a leadership election. Our interest remains focused on the dynamics of the Brexit process, and to this effect we have picked on three comments today, each focusing on different aspects.
There is now a suspicion among those who were hard Brexiteers during the campaign that Theresa May could go soft on Brexit. They don't feel that she would undo it, but rather that she'd opt for an EEA agreement, which would not allow Britain to control immigration. Melanie Philips notes in her Times column that May has already shown weakness by her readiness to compromise on the red lines of Brexit. She must stop now.
"If she fails to respect the passionate desire for self-government expressed by more than 17 million citizens, she will not only damage British interests and harm her own reputation. She may also end up destroying the Conservative party she now so unexpectedly leads."
We agree with Philips on this specific point. The real red line for the new prime minister is keeping the party together. It is hard to see that this a permanent EEA agreement could do this - though we think that a time-limited agreement, of say two to five years, leading to an FTA with the EU - would constitute a reasonable compromise that would respect the Brexit vote, and cause minimal economic damage.
William Hague is mapping out a new post-Brexit industrial strategy. He notes that the industrial revolution that is currently under way will have a big impact on lower and middle class jobs, and may drive more and more people into insurrectional opposition to the establishment. Brexit allows the UK to focus much more on investments, including public sector investments, that would give the country a niche in those markets of the future. The only way to keep the army of discontented voters happy is through strong firms, better jobs, and adaptive learning.
And finally, we noted a rather emotional comment by Marie-Noëlle Loewe, who lives in the UK, and who says that Brexit is personal:
"I, as many other mobile European citizens, have felt a bit uncomfortable. The public mood has shifted from being welcome here to being tolerated. It is hard not to take the increasingly negative language used with regards to immigrants personal. Schrodinger’s immigrant, i.e. the one stealing British jobs whilst equally claiming unemployment benefits, does not exist. Ultimately, the rhetoric is aimed at those who are different, those who were not born here, those who are changing the make-up of this country through their mere presence – people like me."