While it still seems likely to me that the withdrawal agreement will be ratified, in the absence of anything clearer, the current government bears a heavy responsibility for a botched negotiation. Regardless of whether one supports the principle of leaving or staying, the government has made a series of unforced errors. They include:
- giving notice with no prior negotiation and no plan – they were warned against this by Ivan Rogers, the lead diplomat at the time;
- agreeing to a timetable, in breach of the EU’s treaty obligations, which precluded adequate discussion of the future relationship;
- going into the negotiation without any prepared documents, position papers or proposed legal texts;
- refusing to discuss the issues with other parties or outside contributors – a process fundamental to building consensus;
- the ‘red lines’, and the withdrawal from other agreements such as Euratom, which were not part of the brief from the referendum;
- the abandonment of considerations of citizenship, which were treaty obligations on the EU rather than for the UK;
- failure to engage the devolved governments in questions relating to devolution (the obvious way to avoid differentiating Northern Ireland from other assemblies within the United Kingdom); and
- repeated attempts to prevent Parliament from debating the issues, to the point of being declared in contempt of parliament.
To make one such error is unfortunate; to make eight stretches some way beyond carelessness. This is, in sum, the least competent administration of my lifetime.