25 Jun 2016

Where is the power right now?

While Brussels and Berlin teemed with reaction, Edinburgh too… London seemed strangely silent.

The man dubbed by one former Cabinet Prime Minister “our zombie Prime Minister” had the humiliation of an official visit to go through. One heckler at the Armed Forces Day commemoration in Cleethorpes (70 per cent support for Leave up round this part of Lincolnshire) shouted “traitor” and it’s a safe bet he wasn’t making a pro-Remain complaint.


David Cameron could have three months of these rituals left. He is in danger of becoming what Bagehot called a “dignified” part of the constitution, a figure head without power.

Where is the power right now?

It appears to have migrated to a building on the south side of the River Thames on Albert Embankment, to the offices of Vote Leave (or more accurately to the people who worked there and who are now chatting on phones or in each other’s homes).

They haven’t won the Tory leadership election, but they expect one of their gang to do so and they think they have the right to shape the new relationship. They say they’ve done their homework with informal approaches to EU member country embassies and Brussels (though one prominent Vote Leave figure told me he thought that was a mighty exaggeration and they were all “trying to write the manifesto after winning the election.”

Vote Leave is hoping that a chief negotiator and some of the lead members of the cross-party team can be announced soon and believes it’s found someone who will be acceptable to all parts of the Tory Party. Some say that could be Michael Gove but a senior official at No. 10 says emphatically that’s not true and would leave other ministers like Theresa May or Philip Hammond furious if it happened. Vote Leave wants informal discussions to start very soon and before Article 50 is invoked later this year or early in 2017.

EU sources say that is unthinkable. David Lidington, the Europe Minister, was told by his counterparts in Brussels yesterday that the timetable announced by David Cameron, invoking Article 50 in October, was too slow. EU countries are also saying that there will be no informal talks before the real thing starts.

This morning I looked in on Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in London to a room of very fervent supporters. He mocked talk of standing down and said Labour would have a re-think on its immigration policy post the referendum. But when I asked him if the Brexit vote meant a deal with Europe that involved freedom of movement of peoples was out of the question he said it wasn’t.

I also asked why he’d said on Friday that Article 50 initiating the time limited 2 years of exit talks with the EU should be started immediately. That statement irritated quite a few Labour MPs who thought it an insane act against Britain’s interests as the moment the Act is triggered the other 27 EU members have the whip hand of the stop clock.

From his answer I got the impression that Jeremy Corbyn had not really studied this too closely when he spoke but maybe, like a lot of people on Friday, he’d just been tired.

The Lib Dems have announced their policy is now to re-join the EU.


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