Theresa May, signs the official letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, invoking Article 50. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/AFP/Getty Image
Winston Churchill when asked for his opinion on Anthony Eden, his successor as Prime Minister, at the time of the Suez Crisis is reputed to have said, “I wouldn’t have dared to start, but having started I wouldn’t have dared stop.” Theresa May must surely feel something similar about the result of David Cameron’s Brexit referendum. Brexit is the choice of the British people and their voice must be given practical expression.
Mrs May’s view on what this looks like has been a while coming. Two years on from the vote to leave the European Union the government’s long process to reach a settled negotiating position was beginning to look unachievable. At Chequers however at the end of last week the Prime Minister summoned her Cabinet and principle advisors to gather to hear the position she would adopt. As is her Prime Ministerial privilege she invited her Cabinet colleagues to support the approach or to leave the government. Two senior Ministers, David Davis and Boris Johnson, have chosen to leave. Other Ministers may choose to depart. The remaining members of the Cabinet having chosen to stay are bound tightly into the policy. Dominic Raab, the new ‘Brexit’ Secretary, is especially bound to the policy having joined the team once the decisions have been made.
There is no Brexit deal that will appeal to everyone. No deal will not please everyone. There is no perfect answer, no magic bullet, no silver lining – no unalloyedly happy ending. Britain’s relations with our continental neighbours have been fraught ever since, at least, Julius Caesar came for a long weekend. Every now again they become really tricky like the time the Duke of Normandy decided he wanted a back garden so he came and conquered the country in 1066. Or more recently in 1914 and 1939 when our continental neighbours fell out with one another and we had to go and help restore order. In the context of our island history refusing to join and then joining the EC late, being half hearted members for 43 years, and leaving – but hoping to participate in the EU, is but the latest angst ridden, heart tearing, emotion draining saga that is this love-hate relationship.
There is no pleasing all of the people all of the time. There can be no progress in indecision. To lead is to choose and Mrs May has made her choice. Rightly she has reimposed Collective Responsibility. She must now engage swiftly with the European Commission and do smart diplomacy across the European Union. In this she will be hugely aided by having Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary. She must conclude a deal and bring it back to Parliament. There she must win the support of her colleagues in both Houses of Parliament. Time is now short and we need to settle this. To Mrs May has fallen the lot of finding a new settlement for the Anglo-European relationship for our time and in this she should have our support.