The Invocation of Article 50 and Collective Security

Prime Minister May's letter to the President of the European Council, invoking Article 50 and ending months of uncertainty, represented the very best of civil service drafting.

It was as long as it needed to be in order to deal with a raft of issues arising from the decision on June 23rd but dealt with each in concise and clear terms. It laid out the basic negotiating position of the United Kingdom in a diplomatic way that started with the assumption that the two sides were, at heart, friends and would remain friends - even if some in the European Parliament certainly do not take that view.

Indeed, once Brexit is accepted as policy (which Labour as the Official Opposition do), it is hard to see where that Opposition can oppose the Government on principle without being accused of being a 'wrecker' or, if things do turn unpleasant, giving aid and comfort to what may then be presented in the tabloids as an enemy. The Opposition is reduced to squabbling over the meaning of statements it cannot fundamentally disagree with without appearing to reverse position on Brexit itself. The mood of the nation would not reward that. It wants stability and progress.

There are points of potential criticism but these now come from the political margins. Obviously die-hards, like Jacobites under the Hanoverians, will continue to fight against a decision recently endorsed by Parliament itself. They are now irrelevant. But all other criticisms are really criticisms of Tory ideology and of the State. These two would exist inside or outside the European Union. Some Brexiters will be wincing at the diplomatic hope that the European Union will prosper. Leftists will be cringing at the idea of joint efforts to promote values globally that they would see as neo-liberal or Blairite.

The most interesting outsider criticism might be of the ambiguous but repeated messaging on collaboration over security. The British Government's only truly radical proposal (given nine months of preparation) is to appear to link indissolubly security and economic issues. But is it a homeland security-type operation where the enemy is (in practice) Islamist, Far Right or some potentially violent anarchist ideology? Or is it an attempt to control the security structure that ultimately targets the Tory State's bete noire, the Soviets (oops, we meant Putin)? Or is it both?

This inclusion of security alongside economics subtly gives the lie to the distinction made by right wing Brexiters between the pure free trade (and simple sovereignty) model of their form of nationalism and the claim that the UK is leaving an institution whose primary purpose is not economic but political and so is doomed to failure. Prime Minister May is not only saying that the UK does not want the European Union to fail but that it still has a political purpose in the eyes of her Government - viz. that 'security of the free world' which has driven British State policy since the collapse of empire.

It might be said that this is the point where, once again, the State has captured the Party, offering fealty to the decision of the People and sacrificing some pawns who cannot make the transition in return for acceptance (embedded in the letter to Donald Tusk) of the two essential priorities of that State - both free trade and collective security. The migration issue and the taking back control argument which actually drove the June vote will be worked around as necessary but, if there is a deep state, its needs were central to the letter. The more things change, the less they change.