Theresa May, better known as “ Lady Brexit” in the European press, raised eyebrows yesterday by seeming to do all she could on LBC Radio to avoid saying she would vote for it. “How much more difficult will it be now that she has basically told the world that she prefers to be an objective bystander to Brexit instead of the midwife she had claimed as her role?” asks Tom Harris. She was no more enthusiastic when asked the question again at Prime Minister’s Questions today, leading our sketchwriter Michael Deacon to conclude: “This, it seems, is British politics in 2017: a woman who secretly thinks Brexit’s bad, versus a man who secretly thinks it’s great.”
That man, Jeremy Corbyn, may have a reputation for telling it like it is, but his spokesman echoed Mrs May’s coyness and refused to say whether the Labour leader would vote for Brexit in another referendum. “There is no other referendum,” they told reporters. “We respect the result of the referendum so we want to be part of these negotiations.”
Politicians loathe to answer hypothetical questions, but their answers can be indicative of their instincts. If Mrs May wants to convince the EU that she is unafraid of taking Britain out of the bloc – if necessary – without a deal, I argue online that she will not have helped herself by seeming on the fence about Brexit in itself. Philip Hammond, a man unafraid to make his scepticism of Brexit clear, stirred the waters after suggesting that he would give just £250 million to departments to budget for the consequences of leaving the bloc without a deal. Eurosceptic ministers want tens of billions to be allocated, but the Chancellor said he would only dish more out at the last minute. Mrs May had to slap him down at PMQs by making clear to arch-Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith that “where money needs to be spent, it will be spent.
As ministers argue over how much should be budgeted on a “no deal” Brexit, the time Britain has to negotiate one is ticking down. Away from the PMQs spotlight, Britain and the EU have written to to the World Trade Organisation to set out the minimum basis for their future trading relationship. These details will be important to business, with a senior Treasury official warning MPs that international banks with operations in the City will decide early next year whether or not to move some jobs from the UK. Clarity is needed soon, so David Davis will hope to provide some reassurance tomorrow when he is set to give his update – alongside Michel Barnier as ever – as to how the Brexit talks have been going.
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