Why is the key Brexit debate still locked in the Conservative Party?

In all its recent wild unpredictability, British politics can often be tediously predictable.

And so it was with Theresa May’s speech in Florence. Perhaps not the speech itself but the political reaction to it back in Britain. Opposition parties predictably labelled it as yet another of the Prime Minister’s string of failures. One of the immutable facts of British political life is the fact that, even if a sitting government were to magic up peace, prosperity and happiness for every citizen on Earth, opposition parties would still label it a monumental failure. It’s all rather childish.

The speech, and the run-up to it, emphasised what we all already know. That the real opposition to the government on the Brexit debate comes from within the cabinet and within the Conservative party. In spite of a weak government with barely a working majority in parliament, the opposition parties seem strangely impotent in having any meaningful impact on the Brexit debate.

In Britain, the approach to the negotiations has been chaotic, politically driven and characterised by a very public and rather acrimonious debate. The EU, on the other hand, has taken a calm and disciplined approach driven by its bureaucracy rather than by the voice of the people or their representatives. It’s not clear which is the more democratic approach. But we should consider the possibility that the chaotic British approach, frustrating though it might be, is more in line with a vibrant democracy than is the dead hand of EU bureaucracy.

But what of the speech itself? The Prime Minister has been criticised for being short on detail in her speech. That is not a valid criticism. It would be both remarkable and a significant over-reach to expect a short speech to lay out in detail all the parameters that will govern one of the most complex sets of negotiations ever known. The Prime Minister could only hope to achieve two things: set the mood music around which the negotiation dance can start in earnest; and project a sense of consensus in the government’s position.

On the first count, the speech was a success. It dialled down the hateful rhetoric and empty posturing and set a tone for a more co-operative approach to the negotiations. It remains to be seen whether the EU will respond in kind. It is encouraging that even arch unhelpful disrupters like Guy Verhofstadt welcomed the tone of the speech. We shall see how long that mood can last.

As for projecting a tone of unity within the government, that was also successful – for a couple of days. The Sunday papers are once again full of tales of disunity and threats of leadership coups. The real test will come during Conservative Party conference next week. Compared to challenges for her upcoming speech in Manchester, May’s Florence speech will seem like a walk in the park.

Help us lay the intellectual foundations for a new radical politics. Sign up to get email notifications about anything new in this blog.

Rate this post!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Barry Cooper says

    I signed up to the RADIX website because I believe that the future must require “System change. Challenging established notions. Re-imagining our societies.”

    I can’t see how this endless chat about BREXIT, all with personal biases and prejudices, has anything to do with the aims of RADIX..

    • Joe Zammit-Lucia says

      Thank you Barry for your comment. You are right of course. Brexit does also represent one of the main system changes that will affect the UK for a long time. So it might be worth discussion.

      That said, we welcome all contributions. Do let us know subjects of interest to you and others and we will seek to address them as best we can. We also encourage contributions to our blog so please do share your ideas and suggestions. That would be most welcome.

      • Barry Cooper says

        I regard the so-called BREXIT “negotiations” and any outcome as nothing more than playing around with the deckchairs on a sinking ship. The bureaucracies, with their vested interests, which make up the establishment will always be there, albeit with different names, with the same individuals in control, no matter what the outcome is of the games being played. This is not a system undergoing change, it is not unlike the successive reorganisations of UK local government from WW2 onwards. The big picture remains unchanged.

        What is the process by which one can contribute to your blog?

Leave a Reply

The Author
Latest Related Work
Follow Us