Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Can There Be a UK Consensus on Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd June, 2017

Queen's speech 2017The Queen’s Speech to Parliament today, setting out what Theresa May’s minority government hopes to achieve over the next couple of years — if it survives that long — was a watered-down affair. Gone were many of the more contentious pledges in the Conservatives’ election manifesto, such as increasing the number of grammar schools and organising a vote on whether to bring back fox hunting. But so too were the  threats to major legacies of the Liberal Democrats in the 2010-2015 Coalition government, such as the triple lock on pensions and free school lunches for infants. So there was some reason for cheerfulness. But of course the big issue was and is Brexit; the speech asserted clearly the government’s intention to lead the country out of the European Union by the end of March 2019, though there was precious little detail about any of the colossal aspects of this.

Theresa May 12 Later Mrs May rather cheekily said in the House of Commons that 82% of the British electorate had voted for parties that are pledged to make Brexit happen. I suspect that many of the first-time younger voters who backed Labour because of its appealing message of free tuition fees, public sector spending rises and higher taxes for the very rich, did not quite intend their ballot to be a blank cheque for Brexit. However, it is regrettably true that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have made clear their belief that the UK should withdraw from both the European single market and the customs union — one of the few things they agree on with the right-wing Protestant DUP MPs from Northern Ireland, who are reportedly holding out for more money for Ulster before they formalise a confidence-and-supply agreement with Mrs May. Interestingly, the Queen’s speech did refer to trying to find a consensus among the people of Britain about the best way forward, which might prove to be deeply challenging. There are MPs in both major parties who still think leaving the EU is a terrible mistake, not to mention the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and others. Perhaps therefore the best hope of a consensus would be around a soft-Brexit, however that might be defined. But with only 18 months to try to achieve that, as negotiations with our current 27 EU partners continue alongside, I do believe we will reach a stage sometime next year when Britain will be asking for more time to try and sort things out.

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