DOG MEANS DOG, cat means cat, “Brexit means Brexit”. No, I am not attempting to be a poor imitation of the Oxford English Dictionary but the latter ‘definition’ seems to have become the government’s official plan for Brexit.
Unsurprisingly, this non-phrase has proved more unpopular than Michael Gove at parents’ evening. “Brexit means Brexit” was conceived in the midst of the Conservatives’ mercifully short leadership election by Theresa May, attempting to woo hardline Tory Brexiters flocking to Andrea Leadsom. The phrase appeared to work. Chris Grayling, a Brexiter, helped organise May’s campaign. High profile Brexiters such as Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis all got cabinet positions related to Brexit. Mission accomplished, Mrs May probably thought as she tottled off to Switzerland as Parliament went into recess.
Three months later however, this throwaway catchphrase that was espoused during the heady heights of a leadership contest appears to have become the official government plan. Actually, not plan, as it is increasingly clear from May’s repeated use of this hollow, ugly phrase, that the government does not have a cunning plan of action up its sleeve.
Now that everyone has cottoned on to this elaborate ruse, May has a problem. Brexiters in the Tory ranks are getting restless. Mumblings on the green government benches of the Commons are getting louder. The Daily Mail and Daily Express are getting more and more outraged. Boris Johnson is calling for the government to get on with it and start negotiating Britain’s independence. Fox and Davis are battling it out for who has the toughest plan for Britain. Meanwhile Joe Public watches on with confusion and anger on both sides of the debates.
May would do well to abandon this stupid glib phrase
For starters, May would do well to abandon this stupid glib phrase. Everyone has seen through it: the press, the public and politicians of all stripes. Nick Clegg probably summed up this phrase best as “being up Brexit creek without a paddle, canoe or map”.
Now we have parked the most disingenuous political stunt since Ed Miliband unveiled his tombstone… sorry, pledge stone, we need a plan. May needs to give the public some clue as to the government’s thinking and regain control of her team. With Davis, Fox and Johnson bickering like schoolboys over whose remit on Brexit is bigger, the confusion is causing more problems than it’s solving. With each of the three Brexit musketeers having different opinions, public confidence is dropping and Europe’s leaders are hardening their position.
If we are to do Brexit as the public demands, we need cool heads, not appeals to the Daily Mail by the three cabinet ministers most involved in the process of renegotiating our EU relationship. Instead of bickering, May should sit down with Messrs Johnson, Fox and Davis and start planning, not use an empty meaningless phrase which is fooling no-one.