Brexit means ... 27th July 2016
“Brexit means Brexit”. That message is clear enough but what is less clear is what “Brexit” actually means.
Notwithstanding some mild criticism when I raised this immediately following the result of the referendum it is now plain that not only was there no “£350 million a week to spend on the NHS” but that, much more significantly, while those who led the campaign to extricate the United Kingdom from the European Union willed the ends they had not one shred of a route plan for the achievement of their goals. As a result, it has been necessary to set up not one but two new government departments to begin to determine a strategy for implementing the expressed will of the electorate and, given the lack of available expertise in this field, that will take some time to orchestrate. Those newspapers and politicians clamouring to “get on with it” need to consider that we do not need just any answer, we need the right answer.
The Prime Minister is right to say that, while engaging in preliminary talks with Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and others, she will not trigger Article 50 and commence Brexit negotiations until the leaders of the devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Norther Ireland have signed up to the strategy. People may have voted to leave the European Union but they did not vote for the breakup of the Union of the Kingdom and, as I warned before the referendum and as the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has indicated since, that remains a very real and potentially damaging possibility.
In this context it is just possible that a concept that I have long advocated might prove to be a suggestion the time for which has come. It is time, perhaps, to abolish the House of Commons and the House of Lords and to replace them with four National parliaments presided over by First Ministers and an elected United Kingdom Senate under the Queen as Head of State and a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to handle defence, extra-European foreign policy and macro-taxation only. Such enhanced powers devolved to the four nations of the Union could pave the way for Scotland, which voted far more decisively to remain within the European Union than England voted to leave, and Northern Ireland if the province so wished, remain within both the EU and the UK. If we are not to end up as a rump of a nation with not much greater clout than the Channel Islands or Luxembourg on the World stage then it is vital that we preserve the Union and that means recognising and accommodating the wishes of, particularly, the Scots. If we are indeed to emerge, ultimately, from the complex trade and security negotiations that lie ahead of us in a stronger and safer international position then we are going to have to engage in rather more imaginative thinking than has hitherto been on offer.
On the plus side it tends to be forgotten that David Davis, brought in from the cold to occupy Number 9 Downing Street as the Secretary of State for “Brexit”, is no novice to the Brussels game. He is a former minister of State for Europe with a reputation for not taking prisoners. Thank God, also, that we now have in Theresa May as Prime Minister the one person in the land capable of steering Britain through the uncharted waters that we have now chosen to enter. It will be the hardest task undertaken by any peacetime premier since the nineteenth century but “Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Woman”. Again.