The month that has elapsed since the Brexit referendum has seen the start of a massive re-calibration of the UK political scene. The most important, and most widely-quoted, is “Brexit means Brexit” pronounced by Theresa May, the new Prime Minisiter. That sounds pretty definite, but … the fat lady hasn’t yet sung.
The second event was the announcement of Ms. May’s top cabinet posts, with prominent Brexiteers to the fore. The disbelief in the UK and Europe about the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary was pretty well universal. However, mature reflection suggest two things. First, that, having a large share of responsibility for Brexit, it is appropriate that Mr. Johnston has to deal with the consequences ( one is reminded of the lines from “The Mikado” .. “… to make the punishment fit the crime/The punishment fit the crime.”) Secondly, Ms. May, whom the British media establishment has described as a tough cookie is following the advice of Machiavelli, to “..keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer”.
The third development was the message sent from Scotland. All 32 Scottish electoral regions and 62% of the electorate voted to remain in Europe. While Westminster was a sea of confusion for several days after the results of the vote were announced, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promptly set out the position of Scotland. The Scottish parliament will negotiate with Westminster in order to explore all possibilities for a mutually-acceptable solution to their disparate positions but Ms. Sturgeon was equally clear that she had a strong mandate from the Scottish electorate to keep Scotland within the EU. She promptly visited Brussels to make sure that this message was understood by the European political élite, which made encouraging but not binding statements of support.
The Scottish position has not gone down well in Westminster. Early on Ms Sturgeon suggested that Scotland could block Brexit but Ms. May and her top ministers have made it clear that this is not the case. Other EU-positive regions of the UK, including London and Gibraltar, have also expressed their interest in negotiating “special relationships” with the EU but that is likely to be even more difficult than for Scotland and neither have gone so far as to suggest “independence” as their goal. Brexiteers point at the various arrangements that have been negotiated for non-EU European states, principally the EEC: however, an EEC “solution” such as that between the EU and Norway would essentially mean all the responsibilities with fewer of the advantages of full EU membership.
The central position of Brexiteers seems to be that the UK can simply walk away from the Four Freedoms, in particular freedom of movement. That has already been categorically ruled out by, for example, M. Hollande. If and when negotiations start in earnest I suspect that they will come to resemble the Monty Python “Norwegian Blue” sketch. “That perrot is dead”.
In is in and out is out. And Scotland is between a rock and a hard place.