The Brexit nobody voted for

Jon Danzig |

After Theresa May became Prime Minister in July 2016 she said, “Brexit means Brexit”. It was gobbledegook.

Brexit at that stage didn’t mean anything. Nobody, let alone the electorate, had agreed what it could or should mean.

There was no consensus – not even among prominent Brexit campaigners, who couldn’t even agree with each other.

But by January 2017, Theresa May took it upon herself to unilaterally and starkly spell out what Brexit meant – even though nobody else had, certainly not voters.

In her speech of Tuesday 17 January 2017, she announced her version of Brexit that ‘astounded’ the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. He questioned whether the referendum had given the UK government ‘carte blanche’ for “such a total break” from the EU.

Monsieur Barnier’s entry into his ‘Secret Brexit Diary’ for 17 January 2017 is revealing, especially now, when we can look back on what happened with more knowledgeable eyes.


My Secret Brexit Diary by Michel Barnier – 17 January 2017, Lancaster House


Standing behind a lectern bearing the words, ‘Global Britain’, the Prime Minister begins her address in a resolutely optimistic tone, praising the merits of a United Kingdom at the forefront of tomorrow’s world, of a ‘great, global trading nation that is respected around the world and strong, confident and united at home’.

I can’t help but notice the paradox when she claims that the referendum ‘was not a decision to turn inwards’ but ‘the moment we chose to build a truly “Global Britain”’.

However, it is not this optimistic – and somewhat debatable – message that really catches my attention, but three sentences that suggest to me that the content of this speech is far more significant than what has been said so far:

‘Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out.

‘We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries.

‘We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave.’

In fact, Mrs May is about to do nothing less than set out her red lines in their entirety, even though we have not yet opened negotiations.

And she does so in surprisingly specific terms:

  • the UK will ‘bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice,’ she says;
  • and will end the free movement of people so as to ‘get control of the number people coming to Britain from the EU’; 
  • ‘we do not seek membership of the Single Market’; 
  • ‘I do not want Britain to be part of the Commons Commercial Policy and I do not want us to be bound by the Common External Tariff.’

I am astounded by the sheer number of doors she is closing here, one after the other, by enumerating all of these points…

Have the consequences of each of these decisions been fully thought through, assessed and discussed?

Does she realise that, in doing this, she is excluding almost all the models of cooperation we have managed to construct up to now with our partners, even the closest among them?

Can we be sure that the referendum vote gave the British government carte blanche for such a total break?

In fact, for her to say all this amounts to writing off not only membership of the European Economic Area – of which Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are members – but also the kind of partnership we have with Turkey, which has a customs union agreement with the EU…

  • Theresa May’s Brexit – 3-minute edited extract of her speech


If you voted for Leave in the referendum, which version of Brexit did you opt for on the ballot paper?

The honest answer is that you didn’t. Although there were several different Brexit versions possible, the electorate on 23 June 2016 wasn’t given a choice.

It was ‘Remain’ as we were (something we’d had for 43 years) or ‘Leave’ for something else, unknown. That was it.

So, when Theresa May, the ex-Remainer who became the Brexit Prime Minister announced HER version of Brexit on 17 January 2017, it wasn’t a version agreed by the electorate.

It was how SHE had interpreted the minds of 17.4 million Leave voters.

She closed so many doors with the EU even before negotiations had begun. That’s not how clever negotiations are conducted.

Single Market? Nope, said Theresa May. She said it was made clear during the referendum that voting for Leave would mean leaving the Single Market.

No, untrue!

Asserted ardent Brexiter, Tory MEP Daniel Hannan in the leadup to the referendum.

“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market.” 

Said Tory MP, Owen Paterson, Vote Leave supporter

“Only a madman would actually leave the Market.” 

Even UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, indicated that staying in the Single Market could be a good idea, by pointing to non-EU members in the Single Market. He said:

“Wouldn’t it be terrible if we were really like Norway and Switzerland? Really? They’re rich. They’re happy. They’re self-governing.”

And Arron Banks, Leave.EU founder said:

“Increasingly, the Norway option [being in the Single Market) looks the best for the UK”.

The pro-Remain pamphlet sent by the government to every household just before the referendum stated that leaving the EU meant there was a risk the UK could lose “full access” to the Single Market, but it didn’t specify that this would necessarily be the outcome if Leave ‘won’.

Indeed, the Conservatives 2015 manifesto – which still applied at the time of the EU referendum a year later – specifically stated:

“We say yes to the Single Market.”

As for being in the EU customs union after Brexit, it was barely mentioned at all in the referendum.

Theresa May said staying in the Single Market would mean continuing to be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

But even after Brexit, the European Court of Justice still has jurisdiction in the UK in some areas – such as the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol.

In any event, the EU court only decides on matters specifically related to EU law, not national law – EU laws that all member states had democratically agreed.

Before Brexit, Britain had its own judges at the European court, but no more.

Even after Brexit, the UK is subject to thousands of international treaties and other international courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice.

After Theresa May’s speech on 17 January 2027, EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, was “astounded”.

He questioned whether the referendum had given the UK government ‘carte blanche’ for “such a total break” from the EU.


▪ 𝗠𝗬 𝗩𝗜𝗘𝗪 𝗧𝗢𝗗𝗔𝗬: Neither Theresa May’s Brexit, nor Boris Johnson’s Brexit, nor Liz Truss’s Brexit, nor Rishi Sunak’s Brexit, ever had the consensus support of the electorate.

We’ve been had.

Our political masters unilaterally seized one word – LEAVE – and pushed for their interpretation of it, not ours. (But in the end, none of them got what they really wanted: EU membership benefits without being a member. On that, the EU stood consistently firm.)



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