Theresa May has apparently been spending quite a lot of time reading up on the EU: “[T]he prime minister is ploughing through hundreds of pages of briefing papers on all aspects of EU policy. After six years at the Home Office, she knows justice and home affairs inside out, but is having to learn at speed the intricacies of the customs union and the impact of Brexit on 38 economic sectors. She wants to master the detail before revealing her hand.” However, she must have set herself the Conservative party conference as her deadline to learn enough to decide what Brexit should mean, because today the time for waffling was clearly over.
In spite of claiming that “there is no such thing as a choice between ‘soft Brexit’ and ‘hard Brexit’,” everything else in her conference speech was pointing very clearly towards the hard variety:
We’re going to talk about Britain […] in which we pass our own laws and govern ourselves. […] In which we win trade agreements with old friends and new partners. […] Our laws will be made not in Brussels but in Westminster. The judges interpreting those laws will sit not in Luxembourg but in courts in this country. […] We are going to be a fully-independent, sovereign country, a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts. So it is not going to a “Norway model”. It’s not going to be a “Switzerland model”. […] And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
She could hardly have been clearer than this. She wants the UK to fully leave the European Union and to become as independent from it as for instance Russia or Egypt. I think it’ll be an economic disaster because a lot of jobs are going to move to rEU countries, and she’s now given all companies the clarity they’ve requested to start the process.
She also slapped down any hope of Scotland getting a separate deal (such as the Reverse Greenland that has been discussed in the past): “[W]e will negotiate as one United Kingdom, and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom. There is no opt-out from Brexit.”
Finally, she gave us a time for Brexit: “We will invoke Article Fifty no later than the end of March next year.” This means that Brexit will take place no later than March 2019 (but possibly a few months earlier).
I thought it was right and proper for Nicola Sturgeon to explore all alternatives to a new independence referendum, and to bide her time. If Theresa May had opted for a soft Brexit, I’m sure we could have lived with that for a few years, and if they’d be open to a Reverse Greenland solution to allow Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to remain within the EU after England and Wales left, if would have been very hard to argue that we needed to vote on independence at this point in time.
However, now that we know that the UK is leaving the EU fully no later than March 2019, with no special deal allowed for Scotland, there are no reasonable alternatives left on the table. We can of course hope that a majority of MPs decide to get rid of Theresa May within the next couple of years and elect a soft-Brexit Prime Minister instead, or that Brexit gets blocked permanently by the Northern Irish courts, but I can’t see it happening.
There’s only one realistic way to prevent Scotland from leaving the European Union and the Internal Market in 2019, and that’s by voting Yes to Scottish independence before then. It’s time for a new independence referendum, and this time we’ll win it!