As the chief EU adviser to David Cameron and then Theresa May, Ivan Rogers has seen the EU and British political class up close and knows where the bodies are buried. And hell hath no fury like a civil servant scorned.
He was forced out in January 2017 for being too blunt with Mrs May about her plans to trigger Article 50. Last night he told some rather painful truths to power in Glasgow.
To Rogers unsparing eyes, the three dominant schools of thought on Brexit are all “fantasies or incoherent and muddled thinking”.
The three schools are Brexiteers who view anything but the cleanest and most complete break with the EU as betrayal; ‘Remainers’ wishing to reverse the referendum result via a new vote; and Prime Minister Theresa May, and her government, who say that the UK can retain all the benefits of EU membership but reclaim control of its borders and regulation, and without paying anything for it.
The idea that a second referendum would reverse Brexit and make everything better again is a ‘Remainer’ fantasy. So, too, is the “buccaneering blather” of hard Brexiters.
Hardline Remainers and Leavers are “bluntly, delusional”, he said.
Meanwhile, the ‘cherry-picking’ approach of Mrs May falls into the same trap of thinking that EU leaders will accommodate ‘British exceptionalism’ that successive British governments have fallen into for the past 25 years.
This, said Rogers, amounts to “complete amnesia”.
Rogers said he despaired of “people professing themselves free traders who have only a hazy understanding about multilateral, regional and bilateral free trade deals, have never negotiated one – but know it’s straightforward, once one has left the EU.”
It is hard to think of who he was thinking of. Any ideas, Boris Johnson?
To Rogers, the most viable option would be for the UK drop some of its red lines on the European Court of Justice in exchange for a form of “quasi-single market membership, paying something for it, living under [European court of justice] jurisprudence and jurisdiction in goods, but disapplying the fourth fundamental freedom, free movement of people.”
“The sooner we realise there are no perfect choices…the better for the UK,” Rogers concluded last night.
Will his advice be heeded? Almost certainly not. These truths are too painful for extreme Brexiteer and Remainer ears to hear. British politics is currently dominated by people offering easy certainties.
Given that the UK is not preparing for a ‘no deal’ scenario and will not walk away from the Article 50 talks, the reality of Brexit will almost certainly be messy, involve compromise, and will take a long time to work out.
And nobody wants to hear that, do they?
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