Two in theory separate but in practice closely-aligned groups of anti-democratic vested interests are influencing, with her concurrence, Theresa May’s obdurate pursuit of a Soft-Remain Brexit-In-Name Only
Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 24th October 2018
On the “what” of Theresa May’s catastrophically-inept, stubborn, secretive, submissive and duplicitous conduct of the United Kingdom’s Brexit negotiations, there is little room for doubt.
The original story, of her deceitful complicity in the covert No 10 operation that gestated her infamous Chequers Plan – which she obstinately persists in clinging to, despite its manifest flaws and rejection by both colleagues and Brussels alike – has received extensive media coverage.
Since then, the details of her successive capitulations to, and appeasement of, the EU’s intransigence, such that the position she is now reduced to claiming is a meaningful EU exit that delivers the Referendum result is scarcely distinguishable from continuing membership at all, have received equally widespread publicity.
In summary, having let herself be totally outmanoeuvred on the Northern Ireland backstop – with the connivance, on this and much else, of a Civil Service opposed to Brexit in principle and resolved either to dilute it to insignificance, or thwart it altogether – she now proposes a £57 billion-costing, non-voting vassal-state transition until 2022, before a permanent Customs Union, adherence to EU Internal Market rules, inability to strike external trade deals, continuing subservience to the European Court of Justice, and possibly also even surrendering domestic control over tax policy.
And that’s disregarding her also signing away UK Defence and military autonomy to the incipient European Defence Union on the sly.
So there’s no lack of knowledge or detail about what May is doing.
In contrast however, the “why?” of May’s incompetent, disingenuous and potentially-disastrous, yet doggedly determined prosecution of a soft-Remain (non)-Brexit has received little attention in comparison. This may be an understandable omission in the urgency of reporting and analysing day-to-day developments: but it’s surely as equally important. It’s time we started considering the possibilities seriously.
First, is it just an admittedly truly staggering level of ignorance and incompetence, but nothing more? May’s failings of both competence, intelligence and leadership are hardly either unknown or doubted: indeed, I’ve argued myself earlier this year that she should be ousted and replaced on those grounds alone.
But it does seem unlikely that anyone could be merely incompetent to May’s degree. Nor would it account for the combination of calculated deviousness and intolerant-of-dissent petty authoritarianism by which she had her Chequers Plan formulated behind the backs of Cabinet, MPs, Party and country, then pre-cleared with Merkel, before imposing on her Cabinet without prior warning, on pain of dismissal. Other factors must surely be in play.
A conspiracy theory occasionally advanced is that the myrmidons of the Deep-State – or the New-Class Establishment Elite if you prefer – which always was and remains viscerally opposed to Brexit, have something on May and/or her husband which would be acutely embarrassing, even resignation-inducing, if revealed, and can therefore control her approach to Brexit. Adherents hint darkly for example, about how the Home Office Inquiry into allegations of Westminster organised child sexual abuse was effectively neutralised during her reign.
But is this not also unlikely for a self-described “goody two-shoes” whose idea of taking daring risks is skipping though a field of wheat? Besides, if so, wouldn’t she have anyway used her 6-year tenure as Home Secretary to ensure that any such material was safely buried, as Jack Straw is widely rumoured to have done with MI5 files on the New Labour hierarchy’s past Communist allegiances?
In her Sunday Telegraph article of 21st October, Janet Daley suggested that a submissive May is surrendering to the EU’s playing hardball with her in the Brexit negotiations because both it and she are impressed by the constant stream of out-of office Referendum-repudiating Remainer politicians dancing attendance on it in Brussels, assuring it that Brexit can be stopped if it continues to display the intransigence it has to date.
I don’t buy this. If the EU is knowledgeable enough about current UK politics to know that May is in deep trouble, and is a pushover, then it’s surely also knowledgeable enough about current UK politics to know that the opinions of the Unreconciled Continuity-Remainer political claque epitomised by Blair, Clegg, and Major actually carry very little weight in UK. The theory that May is capitulating to its intransigence because it thinks that they represent UK public opinion and that she is in fear of it, seems to me to just not stand up.
For what it’s worth, my theory is this: that May is knowingly, in effect willingly. being held hostage by, and dancing to the tune of, two nominally separate but very closely aligned groups.
Firstly, the Number 10, Cabinet Office, and Foreign Office officials, in whose hands – having little discernible knowledge, judgement or confidence of her own – she has been ever since taking office, who are reportedly uniformly opposed to Brexit, and of whose private and unreported contacts behind the scenes with EU officials we are unaware.
Secondly, the pro-Remain side of Big-Business that’s essentially crony-corporatist rather than competitive free-market capitalist, and which channels its collective view to Government through the CBI, which represents predominantly that particular type of business organisation.
There a reason why May, instinctively a big-government statist, might be particularly receptive, both to the blandishments of this particular lobby, and to the idea that “business” equals the CBI.
To the extent that she is ideologically wedded to anything at all, May seems much more inclined to the EU’s preferred model of state-interventionist, crony-corporatist “Rhenish capitalism” than she does to the quintessentially Anglosphere small-state, low-tax competitive free-market model of capitalism. She did after all join the Conservative Party in 1973 when it was led by Heath, who thought very much along those lines.
Remember, too, the CBI was fiercely pro-Remain, despite its undistinguished record of having being wrong about almost every major issue for the last 100 years. including nationalisation, Prices and Incomes Policy, the Exchange Rate Mechanism, and, most of all, the UK joining the Euro.
CBI-type pro-Remain Big-Business finds EU membership most congenial. First, the EU’s regulation-heavy regime is highly susceptible to corporate lobbying – in 2016 there were an estimated 37,000 lobbyists in Brussels alone – for regulation and restrictive practices that favour the interests of large producers over those of consumers, and which tend to entrench oligopoly rather than generate competition. In addition, the EU’s secretiveness and lack of transparency at the very least facilitate outright corruption.
Second, the large CBI-type corporates that do the lobbying have the economies of scale to cope with the mountains of EU-originating red tape, forced compliance with which cripples their smaller, nimbler potential rivals, especially innovative start-ups. And the deal which May currently wants to accept would in effect keep all UK business, not just the mere 15-20 per cent of it involved in exporting to the EU, subject to the EU regulation which Big-Business specifically lobbies for in pursuit of its own anti-competitive interest. Continuing membership for all intents and purposes thus acts acts as a barrier to entry for its competitors.
There has already been persuasive circumstantial evidence of Big-Business complicity in, if not influence on, the Government’s conduct of Brexit. Readers will remember how, in the earlier iteration of Project Fear about a No-Deal Brexit, in the run-up to May’s infamous Chequers Summit, Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark emerged as not merely been the willing mouthpiece of pro-Brussels, crony-corporatist Big-Business, but perhaps its persuasive script-writer too.
And it’s still going on. But keep that name in mind. Because for some time, there have been unsubstantiated rumours that the same Greg Clark – possibly the ideal choice for the role of the Government’s Big-Business’ fixer, being so utterly uncharismatic and unremarkable as to be virtually anonymous – had long assured Japanese motor manufacturers in the North-East that Britain would be remaining in the Customs Union come what may, despite all the guarantees for public consumption that Brexit would involve exit from both it and the Single Market.
Corroboration, however, is now starting to emerge. In an article for Conservative Home on Tuesday 16th October, Stewart Jackson – former Peterborough MP and more recently Chief of Staff to David Davis when the latter was May’s Brexit Secretary – openly called Greg Clark’s dealings with Nissan “dubious”, and condemned Clark’s refusal to publish his correspondence with the company, despite Clark having pledged to do so to the House of Commons.
Jackson went to say that pro-Remain Chancellor Philip Hammond, plus Clark and his officials, were briefing, from January of this year, that the UK would be staying in the Customs Union, and that the Irish backstop was the cleverest possible wheeze to ensure that this happened. Significantly, perhaps, those allegations have not been refuted.
Jackson is not alone. Recently, Daniel Moylan, former both deputy chairman of Transport for London and chairman of Crossrail, has openly disparaged online the anti-Brexit “fightback of vested interests and their Cabinet advocates”, and also speculated whether, as now seems highly likely at least, such a secret promise was indeed given by Clark, with May’s blessing, to the motor industry.
If so, then it would at the time have been totally inconsistent with the vision of Brexit that May was publicly advancing so clearly in her Lancaster House and later Mansion House speeches. And even now, the UK negotiating team appears to be closing down every significant element of Brexit: one by one: laws, trade deals, money.
The theory, therefore, about why May is prosecuting Brexit in the way that she is – deceitfully and secretively negotiating the softest of Soft-Brexits, not in the wider interests of the British people and economy and honouring the Referendum result and her own 2017 Manifesto pledges, but in the narrow sectional interests of anti-Brexit Whitehall and pro-Remain Big-Business – at least appears plausible.
And it leads on to another, equally intriguing, one.
For two years, the Cameron and then May Governments have been excoriated for having failed to plan in advance for the possibility of a Leave vote in the EU referendum, for instructing officials not to prepare for one, and for not doing very much to plan its implementation for several months afterwards.
But what if we were all looking in the wrong direction, and Plan B was there all the time, hiding in plain sight? What if a contingency plan for a Leave vote was prepared, in secret, and the title of that contingency plan was: ‘Theresa May’? And prepared because it had been determined, at the deepest, innermost levels of the State, that whatever the Referendum result, even an 80:20 win for Leave, Britain’s exit from the EU could not be allowed to proceed?
On this theory, there was an intention that a Leave vote would never be honoured if it occurred, but muted, if not thwarted. So did Cameron assist by resigning to be conveniently replaced, in a rigged MPs-only coronation, by a Theresa May who, although a Remainer, had basically spent the entire campaign hiding behind the sofa, so that she was available and not too tainted by it when Cameron resigned?
A May who then proceeded, under the sway of, and with the full co-operation and support of, the equally pro-Remain, anti-Brexit Civil Service, backed up by a similarly inclined Big-Business and reliably on-message media, purposely to delay, dilute and diminish Brexit, including calling the unnecessary 2017 General Election?
By writing, in concert with her closest confidantes only, a Manifesto whose contents even Cabinet Ministers were unaware of, and hardly saw before its launch? And then by deliberately throwing the election via a lacklustre campaign and crucial manifesto gaffe on long-term social care halfway through it, in order to weaken her own Commons majority and thus make it harder to get any pro-Brexit legislation through an anti-Brexit Parliament?
Fanciful? Maybe. But we live in strange political times. Who would have thought, three and a half years ago, that in the Autumn of 2018 we would have a Prime Minister whom large parts of her party believe to be complete disaster, but is kept in place out of genuine fear of her being replaced by a 1970s Trotskyist throwback as Leader of the Opposition?
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