What do we make of the in-fighting amongst senior Conservatives that sends a message around the world that they are divided, suspicious of each other and highly territorial ? But the other message it sends is that the government aren't managing the Brexit process at all well.
If we were to be charitable, we might say that Brexit is a situation without precedent and that everyone is having to get to grips with it from scratch. Perfectly reasonable, you might think. Yet this is the biggest thing in at least a generation to challenge Britain and there is only one shot at it. This is far too significant a process to be negotiating with one eye looking behind for the wielded dagger, or at least the suspicion of it. That suspicion says much; it says that the divisions within the cabinet are clearly evident, that there is no cohesion of thought within the cabinet, that there is, in reality, no universal game-plan that has the backing of the cabinet and, probably most significantly, that there is both dissatisfaction and a lack of confidence in the PM to effectively manage her team and the diversity of feelings about Brexit strategies.
William Hague puts it succinctly: 'Get a grip on this or else Jeremy Corbyn will be shortly in No. 10' (my para-phrasing). The last time I heard an equivalent declaration of major importance was that reportedly made by the dour but clever Hugh Dowding at the onset of the Battle of Britain: 'This is a battle we have got to win, or else we'll be watching jackboots marching up Whitehall before the end of the month' (again, my para-phrasing). Perhaps not militarily equivalent but Brexit, and the conditions of Brexit represent our current day crisis of national importance. We have to get these negotiations with the EU on a footing where we display the leadership, make the running and get the deal that is good for Britain (without that being callous enough to damage the EU's status with the remaining 27 members).
Mrs May is shortly heading for Florence where, reportedly, she will give some definition to what Britain's game-plan is. That she's going to do this in a sort of neutral political environment rather than in the heartlands of European politics tells us that she is already afraid of confrontation with both EU and other European leaders and perhaps equally afraid of rolling Britain's dice in its one-shot throw and ending up with a dud deal. I've previously joined in the speculation that the deal she'll try for is a continued membership of the single market and customs union over a transitional period beyond 2019 - a strategy that will continue to cost Britain an approximate £40 billion a year and keep us tied to the European Court of Justice's control of our legislative affairs, continue the free movement of labour and, for all practical purposes, keep us within the EU political club and on the road to European federalism. Is this what the 2016 referendum was about ? I think not.
This is, of course, until Friday, speculation. But what if this were to be the game-plan to be presented to the EU ? It would be a major coup for Philip Hammond in The Treasury, and perhaps Mark Carney at the Bank of England as this policy would, in their eyes, offer business the ongoing stability it says it needs to continue trading with the EU bloc and keep confidence in sterling high. This may or may not be the case, the reality is though that they don't know any more than anyone else as to what will happen post-2019 should this be the way the government take us. Their's is speculation just as much as that of the hard Brexit camps speculations on a clean and timely separation and forging a trade path with the rest of the world.
What is key to this as far as I'm concerned is this: 'The referendum was created by the government, approved by parliament, legally put on the statute book and the choice given to the electorate, the outcome of which would be deemed legally binding.' The electorate were asked to make a simple 'Leave or Remain' choice and they chose Leave. That was the majority vote and was a legally enforceable decision. There was no option in the referendum to say that we might like to be half-in or half-out of the EU, we voted to be fully out. With the caveat that there would need to be some provisions of membership that couldn't be exited overnight we have, nevertheless, had since March, 2017 when Article 50 was triggered (and in practise since June, 2016) to formulate a process and exit plan that fulfilled the requirements of the referendum. We, specifically our government, have not done that. What we, again, specifically our government, have done is panic and consult with the vested interests that represent Remain and say 'What do you want us to do !' Why would they do that you may ask ? Well, they do it because that's where their money and support come from. Remember that the financial services sector now accounts for 80% of our GDP (compared with manufacturing industry accounting for that percentage 50 years ago) and as we all know, money makes the world go round.
We should not ridicule the importance of the financial sector too much (though it is saddening to see some of the key architects of the 2008 crash still picking up their substantial pay-cheques) but we could have had the sector encouraged to work with government to formulate strategies for that post-Brexit moment when we would be free to trade with the rest of the world rather than imagining the EU was the be-all and end-all of our existence. But that opportunity has probably slid by now and we await the PM's declarations in Florence.
I am, nevertheless, afraid that we will capitulate to EU pressures. If that is the case it will be a sad day for democracy, honesty and truthfulness. Brexit will not have been delivered as it should and the electorate will have every right to feel betrayed. And it will probably open the path to No.10 for Jeremy Corbyn. And that will just compound the felony.