Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Brexit Pragmatism Is Needed, Not Ideology; Established 1827

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Brexit Pragmatism Is Needed, Not Ideology; Established 1827

Article excerpt

ALL political parties face a trade-off between the practical and the ideological. Make no accommodation to the real world and you are a narrow sect, pure in your beliefs but with little prospect of putting them into practice. Make too many compromises and you risk losing the reason for seeking power in the first place.

Theresa May was elected Conservative leader because she offered a pragmatic compromise after the party was split down the middle on the EU referendum. She voted Remain, but said she understood the concerns of Leavers. Her slogan, "Brexit means Brexit", did the trick internally because it allowed the maximum number of Conservative MPs to shelter under her ambiguous umbrella during the political storms last summer. The sensible, solid centre of the party, taking their cue from David Cameron, swung behind her and she saw off the challenge from the hard Brexit ideologues. The contrast with the Labour leadership battle a year earlier was striking. In that contest, Jeremy Corbyn had been anything but ambiguous in his hard-Left message. He won by bypassing the sensible centre in the parliamentary Labour Party, not by co-opting it.

The cool political calculations made over this hot bank holiday weekend show how far we have come since then. Now it is the Conservative leader who has become hung on ideology, and the Labour leader who sees advantage in compromise. That is because the general election produced a complete reversal in fortune. Mrs May is focused on shortterm survival. She is pursuing two tactics: avoid any controversy and keep kicking the ball down the road. So she sets a date for her departure two years hence, while avoiding any confrontation with the hard Brexiteers. It is striking that her most vocal supporter for staying in office is Iain Duncan Smith, who did not vote for her. To sustain this backing, she and her government have simultaneously acknowledged that Britain needs a transition period after leaving the EU, while insisting that we "will be outside the single market and outside the customs union" during that transition. …

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