Theresa May is doing exactly the same with Brexit. And that means dishonesty at the very basic level is fundamental to how she defines it. In her short speech at Tory party conference earlier, she had this to say:
I believe there is a lot of muddled thinking and several arguments about the future that need to be laid to rest. For example, there is no such thing as a choice between “soft Brexit” and “hard Brexit”. This line of argument – in which “soft Brexit” amounts to some form of continued EU membership and “hard Brexit” is a conscious decision to reject trade with Europe – is simply a false dichotomy. And it is one that is too often propagated by people who, I am afraid to say, have still not accepted the result of the referendum.She and every leading Tory knows full well this is untrue. When matters turned to Brexit over the summer, proponents of soft Brexit - presumably favoured by reconciled remainers and a large number of leave voters because, after all, a soft exit is what the likes of Johnson and Grayling talked up during the referendum campaign - defined it as fundamentally non-disruptive. Britain after Brexit was to be business as usual with as many benefits retained as is practicable. The hard Brexit position, which has only recently started speaking its name this last month or so, isn't the rejection of trade with the EU as May pretends. It's the reckless abandonment of arrangements that have strengthened the British economy and allowed for the interpenetration of capitals, of workers, of flows of trade and the circulation of goods. The EU sells more to us than what we buy, say the idiots, but as an entity where risk is distributed among a market of 440 million people, the sundering of free ranging economic ties with Britain are going to hurt us far more than our withdrawal will hurt it. And we know from the 2008 crash who'll end up paying for this failure.
In the Bermuda Triangle of the Foreign Office, Dept of International Trade, and the Brexit office sense disappeared right after truth vanished from the radar. May has swallowed the Leave line that Britain can negotiate its own exit that retains all the benefits of the EU with none of the responsibilities simply because, well, we're Britain and we're a Very Important Place. As an assumption to hang a negotiating position, it's utterly reckless. For one, as the default party of British business the Tories show scant awareness of capitalist economics. To demonstrate, there is some evidence British car exports to the continent have taken a hit post-referendum. Who benefits? Well, that would be other manufacturers. Imagine that on steroids. Two years of Article 50 negotiations means a drop in inward investment for companies wanting unimpeded access to the single market. Meanwhile multinationals with a significant presence in the UK, such as Toyota and Nissan, will no doubt hold negotiations of their own with a view to relocation. And European competitors are going to go hell for leather on EU market share held by UK companies because they cannot respond quickly to competitive pressures thanks to Brexit uncertainty. May's foolhardy Brexit is going to put British capital at a disadvantage. Again, remember, this is supposed to be the party of business.
There's a strategic deficit when it comes to the 27 member states too. She seems to have forgotten they have politics too. As above, some would gain from a Brexit as UK-based business relocates and their companies muscle in on markets: they have an interest in a bumpy landing for Britain. At the same time, EU member states - Germany especially - working toward greater integration have to strike a fine balance between maintaining stability that won't negatively impact on their economy, and ensuring no one else has exiting thoughts. While the Tories believe in appealing to the rationality of unimpeded Mercedes sales in Britain, German and EU politics are divided over detente or punishment because EU business benefits differently and unevenly from Brexit. The second big political issue is the Tories' fantasy of free trade without free movement. If by some fluke Britain negotiated such a deal, the populist and the far right in the EU could be emboldened to demand the same. With immigration and the refugee crisis a perennial issue, it's difficult to see how Brussels, with the backing of Paris and Berlin would sign up to an arrangement that could accelerate EU disintegration.
Recall how we got into this mess? That's right, the short, medium, and long-range interests of the country were put into jeopardy for the sake of a small number of Tory voters tempted by a declining and doomed fringe party. May likes to pose as a different kind of leader, but I can't shake the feeling this negotiating position is also conditioned heavily by parliamentary party management. The Brexiters were always going to be her bastards, so the pre-announcement of Article 50 and a clear, if stupid and dangerous position on hard Brexit would keep them happy. But couple it with the Great Act of Repeal (an invite for a limited but publicity-hungry backbencher to call for a national holiday in perpetuity to fall on that date, to be sure), due to be legislated for as the EU negotiations take place and the PM can now look forward to a trouble-free conference. Let this be clear. The government are adopting the weakest negotiating position vis a vis the EU because it preserves party unity.
Asked about his son's role in negotiating Britain's future, Stanley Johnson reportedly said his Boris needs to avoid Brexit becoming a wrexit (wrecks it). Even if he was competent, which he is not, his boss is determined to steer the ship of state right into the harbour wall.