It’s well established that as recently as last April, Theresa May was strongly against leaving the EU. The BBC reports, for example, that in a speech to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers on 25 April 2016, she said:
If we do vote to leave the European Union, we risk bringing the development of the single market to a halt, we risk a loss of investors and businesses to remaining EU member states driven by discriminatory EU policies, and we risk going backwards when it comes to international trade … It is not clear why other EU member states would give Britain a better deal than they themselves enjoy … We export more to Ireland than we do to China, almost twice as much to Belgium as we do to India, and nearly three times as much to Sweden as we do to Brazil. It is not realistic to think we could just replace European trade with these new markets.
(There is much more: you can read the speech for yourself and reassure yourself that none of this is taken out of context.)
We all understand that she reversed her position less than two months later, when the referendum result was in, and she realised she had a better shot at becoming PM by abandoning her previous reasoning. She reasoned that pretending to agree with arguments she had previously opposed was the way to ascend to the throne — and it worked.
So far, so opportunist. But what I don’t understand is this: why, having assumed control, is she now pushing for the hardest possible Brexit, and actively wanting to leave the Single Market? It can’t be an attempt to align with the will of the electorate, because 90% of Brits favour staying in the Single Market — even 90% of those who voted to leave.
As a result, she is left advocating a position so extreme, and so economically foolish that even as sober a journal as The Economist commented “Forget “having our cake and eating it”, now Britain will eat its cake and live with an empty plate afterwards.”
I can only think of two reasons, and they both horrify me.
One is that she herself — far from providing leadership — has been swept up by the irrational jingoism of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. That our leader is in fact a follower of whoever shouts the loudest and gets to be on TV most often.
And that is the good option.
The other is worse: it’s that she is scared that what happened to Jo Cox might happen to her if she “betrays” the most extreme elements of the pro-Brexit camp. If that’s right — if the Prime Minister of the UK literally fears for her life if she doesn’t do exactly what the most deranged and xenophobic people in our society want — then the terrorists really have won, haven’t they?
Just as the 9/11 bombings went on to have a far greater indirect effect that their direct effect — resulting for example in the growth of universal surveillance of citizens in both the UK and the US — so our own politically motivated terrorist outrage may end up having a far, far greater effect than the premature death of one MP.
Apart from anything else, it will teach other extremists that terrorism works.
Well, she is a scum-sucking politician. They will change their position of the phase of the moon if it suits their political ambitions. Now, you just need to figure out what they are.
I don’t think there is such a thing as soft Brexit. There is no reason to expect the remaining members of the Union to allow the UK to leave the EU, but retain the benefits of the single market.
Well, dinnerpartylog, you may be right that there is no Soft Brexit. But it is certainly what a pro-Brexit government should be trying to negotiate. And if there is no Soft Brexit, then that is merely another lie that the Leave campaign told during the referendum, where there was an enormous amount of talk about how we could leave but still retain the benefits of the Single Market.
(But all of that is tangential to my point in this particular post, which is more about the tone and intention of the discourse, rather than its content.)
Here’s a 3rd option: she wants to stay being PM, which means she can’t be seen as being only tentatively for Brexit. Any wavering, especially for a previous remainer, would invite the wrath of the far right of the Conservatives down on her, and she’d be out for “betraying the will of the people”. She has no choice but to take a hard line on Brexit now.
The upside to a hard Brexit is the wide-ranging possibilities for the Conservatives to break up a whole pile of things that they seem to regard as anathema. May has been in the Home Office far too long to miss some of the more authoritarian possibilities too. Plenty of red meat to keep the party happy, unfortunately.
mhp, sorry but I am not seeing what part of this is upside. Please explain?
I’m only using “upside” from the perspective of the Conservative Party. I doubt the rest of the country will see it in the same terms!
Gavin: thanks for your post, and for linking to it. I’ll get over there right now!
mhp: thanks for clarifying — that makes more sense!
Kent: there is a real issue in How Trump Happened, for sure. But my sense is that those circumstances could have led to the election of any right-wing ideologist. What we’re seeing here is something qualitatively different from that — in short, the establishment of a dicktatorship. Not seen Man in the High Castle but I am nearly ready to start on something new, so that might be it. Stay tuned!
Jeff: I think your diagnosis is correct; but since it amounts to “My car has developed a squeaking sound and the passenger-side window no longer opens, I’d better crash it into a lamp-post”, I am not sure how much it helps.
There is another option. She wants to keep this up until it is clearly disastrous, neutering her Brexit colleagues — and then blame it on her ministers for Brexit, the Leavers she stuck with the job, and call a fresh election and call for going back in, neutering the Lib Dems. Massively damaging to the country, but helpful to the Conservative Party!
It’s a nice theory, but any plan that involves “going back in” would be a complete non-starter, and May would know that. There are numerous criteria to be met that Britain is nowhere close to.
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