Brexit means Brexit. And it will be hard. Despite the Government’s insistence that they will not offer a ‘running commentary’ on our exit from the EU, that has been the clear signal emanating from Downing Street since Theresa May became Prime Minister in the summer.
But this week, there are clear signs of a thaw in that position.
First, we had the now classic of a photograph taken of the hand-written notes of someone entering No 10 – believed to be an adviser to central London MP Mark Field. What we learnt from those notes was that the strategy was “to have our cake and eat it” and, insightfully, that “the French will be difficult.” More significantly perhaps, four EU ambassadors reported from a meeting with Boris Johnson that he had told them he wasn’t personally opposed to freedom of movement. The Foreign Secretary may deny it all he likes, but given he has written Telegraph columns in praise of immigration, and argued at the Cabinet table for immigrant amnesties, few believe him.
Most significantly of all, Brexit Secretary David Davis revealed to the House of Commons that the Government does not rule out paying for access to the Single Market in future, as other non-members like Norway presently do. We all remember those “£350m for the NHS” buses – well how will the public feel if in the end we continue paying the membership fee to a club they voted to leave?
The strategy of not offering a running commentary in a negotiation is one which on the face of it makes sense. But it ignores the fact that we’re negotiating with 27 other parties, and we live in a democracy where we expect people we elect to be transparent and accountable. With no proper Government updates, we’re left to interpret the morsels of information that do come out. So are we over-interpreting all this? Possibly. But the climate of confusion is of the Government’s own making. The ‘no running commentary’ strategy might now be causing more problems than it is solving.