Historians may one day say Brexit was won and lost in those three or so months between the referendum and May's October 2016 conference speech.
Everything after that has been an aftershock of the decisions made in that period.
Before the October speech, there were no "red lines" and no absolutes.
There was only the referendum mandate that UK should leave the EU.
There were nothing more specific.
In particular, the referendum question (and hence the mandate) was silent on:
- date of leaving
- method of leaving (Article 50 was not mentioned)
- whether UK would leave Single Market, Customs Union, Common Commercial Policy
- whether ECJ would lose jurisdiction
- whether UK would pay any amount to EU
- what would happen to EU citizens in EU, and UK citizens in EU
- whether UK left Euratom
- whether UK would have a Free Trade Agreement with EU
-whether UK went onto WTO terms
And so on.
Not one of these issues were in the referendum question. There was no (express) mandate on any of these issues.
Between June and October 2016, all were still in play as issues yet to be determined.
And then: the conference speech.
A red line for ECJ jurisdiction - as if from nowhere, as it had been hardly mentioned in the campaign or after the referendum. (See my post here on its genesis as a red line: https://www.ft.com/content/32cd1e87-c7d ... e5229711d1
The referendum result was converted into the formulation of control over laws, money and borders.
What was an ultimate objective of UK leaving the EU also became three more concrete aims.
But the crucial point is that the intended primary audience for the speech: Brexit political supporters and the Brexit supporting press.
The impact of these demands on the actual exit negotiations was not so important.
At the time there was tomfoolery from Brexit supporters about "not revealing our hand" and "no running commentary".
But in fact, UK not only revealed its hand but played it.
This is because the necessary implication of the lines in the crowd pleasing Conference speech was that the UK would have to leave the Single Market, the Common Commercial Policy, and the Customs Union.
The open admission by May in her January 2017 speech at Lancaster House that UK would leave the Single Market, the Common Commercial Policy and the Customs Union was a foregone conclusion.
So the die was cast in substantive terms.
But in terms of process, the priority given to domestic consumption meant that UK was undermined in preparation.
The Rogers resignation aloe in January 2017 was significant here.
13. By December 2016/January 2017, the EU had formulated a negotiating strategy which they have kept to since.
In contrast, the UK never had a negotiation strategy.
Improvisation and playing to the crowd.
The Article 50 notification was more of the same. Six pages of waffle and an implicit threat about security cooperation.
Euratom departure thrown in as well.
Sent prematurely, just to please political and press supporters.
But the fatal error was that Article 50 commenced a hard legal(istic) process.
The Article 50 letter was not a press release but a formal legal instrument. It mattered.
Handle with care, keep out of the reach of children.
The EU knew this. They always knew this. They had prepared for it. They knew all the pressure points.
By April, EU27 had unanimous guidelines. They were ready.
And the UK?
Red lines for domestic consumption that strangled any bespoke possible options re single market and customs union.
No agreed post Brexit position.
Could not have been worse.
And why had the UK ended up in this predicament?
Because of the decisions made in the lead-up to the October 2016 speech and what was said in the speech itself.
Everything since is a ripple.
The UK now will leave the EU on 29 March 2019 by automatic operation of law.
(Unless something exceptional and unexpected happens.)
Deal or no deal.
Beyond UK parliament's direct control.
And the UK faces the offer of a mere Canada-style Free Trade Agreement, with no special carve-outs.
Just because of May's red lines on the Single Market, the Common Commercial Policy, and the Customs Union.