While much of the weekend’s focus has been on what Theresa May could announce in her big Brexit speech tomorrow, it was her chancellor, Phillip Hammond, who made one of the more interesting interventions of the weekend.
In an interview with a German newspaper Hammond poured cold water on the idea that the UK might (as the interviewer put it) “come to its senses” and decide to remain in the EU after all. “That is not going to happen,” said Hammond, adding “those of us...who campaigned to remain in the EU... have moved on.”
This isn’t entirely true, of course: there are a handful of diehard Remainers who, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, still believe there is a chance that somehow the UK will cobble together a deal that keeps us inside the Single Market, subject to EU law. In truth, these voices are becoming less and less relevant. Indeed, as Hammond says, without the UK as a member the EU will likely “move in a direction that will make it less attractive to people in the UK.”
Hammond even comes close to sounding like a proper Brexiteer, warning that “since the referendum we have seen on the European side movement away from the UK positions” and towards “things that are anathema to the UK.” This is an important point from Hammond, coming as it does just a day before the Prime Minister finally fleshes out what kind of relationship she intends to seek with the EU. Hammond has long been a source of reassurance for those, particularly in the City, who were uneasy about May’s hardline approach to immigration.
But it seems as if the chancellor and the PM may at last be on the same page. Downing St has briefed that May’s speech will present the UK as an outward-looking, global, trading nation. In his chat with the Germans, Hammond also stressed that the Leave campaign stood “on a platform to build free trade agreements...with other countries around the world” and that “our destiny is an engagement with the wider world.”
With this week set to be a turning point in the UK’s Brexit story, we must all hope that Hammond’s vision of the future is echoed by Theresa May.