“Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it”, was the rallying cry of the Tory party prior to the 2017 election, with the issue of exiting the European Union at the very heart of the Conservative campaign. However, with the election failing to “strengthen the hand” of the Prime Minister in the Brexit negotiations, what is the current status of the Brexit agenda and how have the parties shifted in their opinions?
With the Parliamentary recess drawing to a close and the third round of Brexit negotiations underway, the question of a transitional period after Brexit is currently dominating headlines. Both the government and the Labour party have stated that a period of transition will be necessary in order to ensure an orderly exit from the European Union in March 2019.
However, their definitions of the transitional period diverge when it comes to the finer detail. The government has stated that it wishes to leave the customs union during this transitional period and form a completely new customs relationship in order to ensure economic stability. Contrarily, the Labour party has stated that the UK should remain within the customs union and the single market during the transition, thereby indicating a clear divide with the government and signalling a shift towards a softer Brexit.
The differing interpretations of the transition process have therefore become more of an ideological battle which will undoubtedly anger Leave voters on both sides of the political spectrum. Whilst the governments decision to adopt a period of transition will anger hardline Brexiters on the right, the Labour party also threatens to isolate its Leave supporters as a result of their new position which some may interpret as a threat to the entire Brexit process altogether. Party politics aside, the overall transition is of course subject to the ease of negotiations with the European Union itself.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has not helped in this respect and has controversially criticised the UK’s ‘ambiguity’ regarding it position on the so called ‘divorce bill’ which outlines the current stance of the UK in the Brexit negotiations. In response, Brexit secretary David Davis has maintained that such “constructive ambiguity” is a necessity during the negotiation process as a result of the nature of the talks. It is increasingly apparent that there is still a clear divide between the opinions of the UK and the European Union in terms of what they seek to gain and it appears that the addition of the transition period will only seek to prolong the negotiations, in addition to heightening tensions between the political parties at home.
With the Prime Minister now operating under a minority government, she can no longer exercise the pre-election hardline Brexit agenda of the Conservative party and has the challenging task of appeasing both remainers and leavers within her own party, in order to maintain party loyalty. The shift in the position of the Labour party towards an even softer Brexit position than that outlined by the government, also highlights a departure from their previous stance prior to the general election. It is clear that the definition of Brexit is continually evolving and will undoubtedly continue to do so throughout the remainder of the negotiating process.