Exaggerated ideas about the UK’s international position have only weakened it. Now the backstop row threatens more damage
The wild promises of those leading the Brexit charge were always based on a fantasy about Britain’s global standing. It harked back to the long-gone empire, portraying Britain as vastly more strong, powerful and important than any realistic assessment might judge; the only thing holding us back was the malign influence of the EU. In this way, Brexiters overstated both the ease of negotiating a satisfying departure from the EU for the UK – as if the EU would quickly deliver an outcome suiting the UK rather than the remaining 27 nations – and the ease of translating that into improved trade relations with the rest of the world. Reality shows otherwise; unfortunately, they are increasingly detached from it.
The problem at the heart of Theresa May’s Brexit nightmare remains the need to strike a deal with Europe that will prove politically acceptable back home, to parliament, her party and the DUP MPs on whom her government relies. It is not a coincidence that as things improve on one score, they deteriorate on the other. Two days after the EU’s chief negotiator said matters were progressing well, the former Brexit secretary, David Davis, called for ministers to revolt against Mrs May’s “completely unacceptable” plan. The Brexiters are demanding a strict time limit on the Northern Ireland backstop agreed with the EU in December. Ideology and bravado, spiced with personal ambitions among the Leavers, have made her party unmanageable.