The biggest lie in 21st century politics is unravelling, and the lie is that Britain can negotiate a form of brexit that satisfies the Tory right whilst not hugely damaging the British economy.
By some quirk of fate the electorate saw through Theresa May's refusal to lay out her Brexit plan or debate in any meaningful form (on any topic) as perhaps indicative that she doesn't have one; at least a plan that bears public scrutiny.
Or maybe it wasn't a quirk of fate but a natural electoral outcome for a democracy that, despite all its flaws, has evolved over centuries to maintain the balance between the people and their government.
And the people want to see what they're voting for.
The lie is simple. So simple in fact that once you see it you will cringe at being misled. It is embarrassingly simple.
The lie is that a comprehensive deal on withdrawal from the EU that gives Britain any meaningful control over its borders and emancipates it from EU law and the ECJ is somehow possible within the 2-year negotiation limit; at least without unleashing an abrupt disjunct in the economy that will cause untold damage and cost the country many billions in lost growth.
It's simply not possible.
There's only three ways brexit can pan out:
- UK remains a member of the single market (e.g. EEA or so-called Norway model)
- UK strikes a comprehensive free trade deal
- UK leaves the single market and frictionless trade becomes a thing of the past.
The first option requires freedom of movement, but that's not acceptable for a Conservative party that has consistently campaigned on the convenient scapegoat of immigration, immigration, immigration.
It also requires conforming to much of EU law and signing up to the ECJ - something else Tory brexiteers are adamant can't happen.
The second requires time - far more than the 20 months or so we have left. Why so long? Because it needs to deal with everything, from the free movement of truck drivers and transport workers (whilst 'defending our borders'), agriculture, fisheries, financial services, telecommunications, science and engineering joint research, etc.
We've already seen how some areas can be politically sensitive, like the Irish border. It's not possible to have free movement between part of one country (Northern Ireland) into part of the EU (Ireland) whilst restricting movement from Bulgaria to England via Dublin and Belfast without introducing some form of border check on at least one of the borders Northern Ireland shares with either Ireland or the rest of the UK.
It's also not ideal to have free trade between part of the UK and Ireland due to the practicalities preventing those goods then finding their way into Europe, as Irish companies can trade freely with all other EU countries.
It would take way more than 2 years to deal with the basics, and that's without considering the wanton vandalism vindictive brexiteers attempted to inflict by insisting the UK leaves other shared regulatory bodies such as Euratom, EMA, EASA, EMSA, ECA, EUROPOL, EFSA, etc...
Yes we could do all this alone, but it will take time - and effort - at a time we're focused on striking a deal for the basics. What can be gained by creating a new UK medicines regulator?
Plus, if the aim is a comprehensive free trade agreement with Europe, then the UK's regulators will be required to meet similar standards to the EU's own so that UK suppliers are not unfairly advantaged in the market. So why leave these EU bodies in the first place, other than for ideological reasons crafted by isolationists who believe that somehow our nation is stronger alone?
So the second option can only be achieved quickly if the EU bows to all our demands. And why would they do that? They wouldn't - because it's not in their interests.
And so I am absolutely convinced that such a trade deal cannot be achieved in 2 years.
Which leaves only the third option, and with highly integrated economies this will suddenly affect nearly every aspect of business in the UK.
Not just the well-publicised areas like financial services but manufacturing, where the supply chain for all but the most simple products tends to sprawl across Europe. UK firms would be left to pay import duty on components manufactured in the EU for products assembled in the UK, and then see tariffs applied on the finished product whenever it is sold back into the EU.
It's simply not a viable option and will wreck our economy for years. This is why the pound crashed when the UK voted for brexit - the risk of untold economic damage through the "no deal" scenario.
The only viable path open to the UK to deliver brexit will require a period of transition long enough to agree a comprehensive free trade deal that the country needs to survive economically.
Forget the jolly japes of Boris about how the UK's thirst for Prosecco combined with the Indian market for Scotch whisky will save us. This is a smokescreen.
We are being sold a fantasy and it's only now, a year on from the referendum, that we're starting to see that fantasy unravel.
Theresa May hoped to have such a thumping majority that she could hide the truth from us until it was too late to do anything about it. "No deal is better than a bad deal".
No, it's not. No deal is terrible - especially given the worst deal currently on the table is pretty much carry on as we are.
We could reverse article 50 if it came to it, although politically that seems pretty much impossible right now, and so the UK will be dependent upon a transitional period and that transition will look very much like the EEA/Norway model.
We don't have a trump card, we can't twist the EU's arm into agreeing to our demands and so we will be forced to accept on a transitional basis: freedom of movement, jurisdiction of the ECJ along with the majority of European law and most probably be required to remain a signatory of the European Convention on (and Court of) Human Rights.
This is the truth that hardcore brexiteers within the Tory party refuse to accept and ministers have been running scared of. This is why the PM set out to gain a 'mandate' for whatever she had to do, without telling us what had to be done.
The truth is that brexit will necessarily be a long process that cannot possibly deliver all that we were promised during the referendum campaign.