ANALYSIS: Theresa May has finally managed to unite the country - against her Brexit vision

Posted On: 
12th July 2018

The sight of MPs having to carry boxes containing copies of the Brexit white paper to hand out to their colleagues was powerfully symbolic.

Theresa May has finally published her Brexit white paper.
PA images

Moments earlier, new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab had been on his feet trying to explain the Government's plans for leaving the EU.

But he was stopped mid-flow by John Bercow after MPs pointed out that they would struggle to interrogate the minister without sight of the white paper first.

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The five-minute interlude allowed backbenchers to finally take possession of the 100-page document, even if it left them little time to digest its contents.

The farcical scenes seemed to encapsulate perfectly where we are on Brexit: a dysfunctional Government trying desperately to give the appearance of normality while simultaneously looking as though they are making it up as they go along.

The white paper itself goes out of its way to try to please everybody - the European Commission, the other member states, Remainers, the business community and, most importantly for Theresa May, Conservative MPs - but inevitably has left virtually everyone unhappy.

Perhaps we should thank the Prime Minister, however. For the first time since before the referendum campaign, the country is united, albeit against her Brexit policy.

Jacob Rees-Mogg had already made clear his dissatisfaction with May's desire to maintain close economic links with Brussels, so his declaration that "this white paper has not needed age to turn yellow" would already have been priced in by Number 10.

Similarly, John Longworth of Leave Means Leave describing it as "a complete capitulation" to Brussels will not trouble Downing Street.

But the response from the pro-EU camp, who the PM will need on board if she is to stand any chance of getting a deal through Parliament, was just as dismissive.

Chuka Umunna of the People's Vote campaign said it was "totally unworkable and a bad deal for Britain", while fellow Labour MP Gareth Thomas of Best For Britain said it "must have been authored by Walter Mitty and Arthur Daley".

The trade unions were similarly vitriolic, with the GMB's Tim Roche describing the proposals as "woolly words that will easily be unpicked" and Unite's Len McCluskey saying it was "a fudge which pleases no one and is politically undeliverable".

That is surely the crux of the issue. At a time when the Prime Minister needs as many political allies, of whatever colour, to get her policy through the Commons, she is becoming a political outcast.

Europe, at the request of Number 10, are keeping their powder dry. Save for a few non-committal tweets, the EU's main players have given nothing away on what they think of her plans.

So Theresa May is now left hoping that Brussels will give the white paper a positive response, rather than demand a political price which she is unable to pay.

And that is never a good position for a British Prime Minister to be in.