At the start of 2018, everybody was friends, in spite of Brexit, except some people weren’t. And then we had a Brexit Secretary resign and everybody thought it was a stupid idea, except some people didn’t. He resigned because of Chequers, which everybody wanted Theresa May to chuck, with some exceptions, and May definitely didn’t want to, at least not until a few resignations later. And then there was a draft withdrawal agreement, giving the chance for our Prime Minister to channel Noel Edmonds, and theatrically declare that it’s a deal or no deal situation.
So, with everybody losing their shit at May, the Tories finally ended up getting their act together and triggering a vote of no confidence, which she won. So, it turns out that they don’t hate her quite as much as we all thought, except Jacob Rees-Mogg who still wanted her to resign. And then Jeremy Corbyn was sexist but not sexist, though nobody really cared outside of SW1, and all the Tories were friends again.
Confused yet? I know I certainly am.
So, let’s make this simple. I’ve decided to characterise 2018 as the year of the Brexit secretaries, and we’ll go from there. Remember that, if anything becomes unclear at any stage, it’s not your fault: none of us understand anymore.
Our first Brexit Secretary, David Davis, somehow managed to keep under the radar during the start of 2018, jetting off around the world to foster good relations for post-Brexit trade deals, and trying not to make a fool of himself again while in meetings with EU leaders. But then came crunch-day: Chequers.
In what was described as an “agonising decision” for him, Davis decided to put “country before party” (I won’t make the joke) and resign from his role as Brexit Secretary. He was unhappy with May’s plan for Brexit, more specifically that it would entail ceding economic and legal control to an organisation that we’re no longer part of. Of course, you’ll recall, Boris Johnson also resigned, though both him and Davis waited until they got home to do so, presumably to avoid the long walk down the Chequers driveway.
So, enter stage-left Dominic Raab, and another disagreement about another plan for leaving the EU (do you see why I decided to put the spotlight on the ghosts of Brexit past?) This time it was the Withdrawal Agreement, which is the one May said is the only deal going, at least until she realised that it wasn’t popular, and tried to go back to the heads of EU member-states to renegotiate. But alas, I digress.
This EU withdrawal agreement (please, don’t follow the link, don’t do that to yourself) was widely criticised. One issue was that we would continue to be in some form of bastardised customs union during the transition period and potentially beyond.
The ‘solution’ to the Irish border problem created more problems, effectively legislating to keep Northern Ireland in two different types of customs union: one with the rest of the UK, and the other with the Republic of Ireland and the rest of Europe. The DUP (remember them?) weren’t happy because it effectively treated Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK, and this type of divergence is not acceptable to the unionists. And then of course the ECJ would still have some form of control over our laws, and we’d also potentially rely on the EU to tell us where we can and cannot fish.
See, I told you this was confusing. Stay with me though because we’re getting to the fun stuff now.
So, it wasn’t just Barry down the pub who was unhappy with the withdrawal agreement. Raab also hated it so he resigned, along with a few junior ministers most people have never heard of, saying that the agreement would be disastrous for the country’s economy and ruin that last little bit of trust the public have in democracy.
Well, by this stage May was getting pretty irritated so she took the next sensible course of action: promoted a Brexit Secretary in name only. Stephen Barclay (I’d never heard of him either) waltzed onto the scene, and it was made very clear he was to oversee domestic preparations for leaving the EU. The real Brexit negotiations were to be left to Downing Street which is strange, especially considering that Theresa May couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, let alone a major retreat from a political organisation consisting of 28-member states. But, who are we to judge?
Though, on the topic of judging, Theresa May decided that she didn’t want parliament to comment on her withdrawal agreement. Most of us get nerves before the big day but May got so many butterflies that she did the only reasonable thing: pull the meaningful vote, and said she’d rearrange it for when she’s ready. She did confirm that would be the week commencing January 14th but that doesn’t mean anything. After all, university students everywhere are jealous of the flexible relationship May has with her deadlines.
So, after a no-confidence vote from her own MPs, smoke and mirrors from Labour, Jean-Claude Juncker getting a bit hands on, Jeremy Corbyn maybe calling May a stupid woman (not sexist, just true) we leave 2018 with less of an idea of what Brexit will look like than we started the year.
This is concerning, not least because we have about three months until we actually do leave, unless we extend Article 50. If we don’t do that, and the government ignores the ‘bollocks to Brexit’ lot for just a little bit longer, then we will be leaving on March 29th, 2019.
I’m considering hosting a party. In part because we’ll have finally left but mostly because we’ll be able to start to move on. Maybe then we can start to act on issues that have fallen by the wayside, like crippling poverty and homelessness and welfare reform, and maybe even taking a look at reforming our internal democracy. That’s right, Lord Sugar, we’re coming for your lot in the House of Lords next.
Unless, of course, Theresa May throws yet another curveball. Because, at this stage, who really knows what’s going to happen?
Daniel Clark is the Editor-in-Chief of Backbench