By our branch blogger, Cliff Edge. Blogs are the views of the authors only and are not necessarily representative of the views of branch members.
It is heavily ironic that whilst we are in the process of remembering the signing of the Armistice 100 years ago which brought an end to the First War, our Prime Minister has been trying to agree a draft deal with the EU that is, in geo-political terms, as humiliating as that which the Germans were forced to sign in the clearing in the forest in Compiègne on 11th November 1918.
Who could have predicted this in July 2016 when Theresa May took over leadership of the Tory party and became our Prime Minister, saying Brexit means Brexit
with apparent conviction? We Brexiteers were further encouraged by her Lancaster House
speech in January 2017 in which she stated that the UK would leave the Single Market and ECJ jurisdiction and have a customs deal whilst still being able to negotiate our own trade agreements. Despite this ‘cake and eat it’ position being quickly dismissed by the EU, we lived in hope. Had May, that enigma of British politics, been hiding the mettle of Thatcher? It turns out that we have been disappointed and deceived.
In reality, the whole negotiation process has been a humiliation of our nation. Our supine approach has led the EU – encouraged by its Quisling allies in this country – to be emboldened, unreasonable and intransigent. Our once-great nation – still the 5th biggest economy in the world – has been continuously on the back foot and giving ground. May has been openly ridiculed and humiliated by the ‘star chamber' of the 27 other member countries at successive summits. It is clear that we are heading for BRINO – Brexit In Name Only. The blame for this can only be laid at the feet of May.
Theresa May has made error after error over Brexit since taking over from Cameron. Let’s examine each one:
Error 1: Agreeing to the three-stage negotiation process
We should never have agreed to separate out the negotiation of the terms of our exit from the EU with that of our future relationship. As we are finding out, the two are inextricably linked. As it is, the negotiations are actually a three-stage process – our withdrawal terms, our future relationship, and settling the terms of that relationship (transition period). To those who argue that the EU can dictate the negotiation terms of members which choose to leave their ‘club’ – that is true. But it is equally true that we could have refused to march to its tune and insisted on combining the first two aspects of leaving into one. If the EU had refused to agree, we should have stopped any negotiations and overtly begun preparations for a No Deal Brexit. It’s unlikely that the EU would not have re-considered their policy once they knew we were serious. It’s called ‘Trump diplomacy’. And guess what? It works. And if they would not have ‘played ball’ then at least we would have been preparing for No Deal at a much earlier stage, giving business and government much longer notice.
Error 2: Failure to prepare for No Deal
The very failure to make early preparations for No Deal is a failure of negotiation strategy and to fulfil the government's responsibilities to protect the people of the country from a bad deal. We must have this option, firstly because in Theresa May’s words No deal is better than a bad deal
. Secondly, because the other side know we are bluffing when we threaten it because we haven’t prepared for 'no deal'. As a result we have left it too late – the EU have us over a barrel.
Error 3: Appointing Olly Robbins
May appointing a known Remoaner to head our negotiations with the EU was even more foolhardy from a Brexiteer’s point of view than the Conservative party appointing a Remoaner PM to take us out of the EU. It's akin to letting the fox guard the henhouse. Robbins’s Europhile sympathies are public knowledge. He was a pro-EU activist who fought for a federal Europe during his days at Oxford University
after all and his reported behaviour and output since then has done nothing to dissuade us otherwise.
Error 4: Calling a General Election
On taking power in 2016, May had a slim majority of 20 seats. In a moment of hubris she then decided to have a snap election in June 2017 resulting in the loss of her majority and a necessary deal with the DUP to prop up her government. We hear that tears flowed on the morning of the election result in No.10 and well they should. There was a Tory failure to understand and recognise the threat that posed by Corbyn who had made huge gains prior to the campaign in appealing to the youth vote and in re-engaging with party members, both groups sick of old-style politics. This was compounded by a lacklustre Tory campaign which failed to convince enough of the voting public, who were irritated with the Maybot and her mantra of ‘strong and stable’. They were also sceptical about the suitability to lead of a media-shy woman. This was best demonstrated by her being too timid to appear in the live TV leadership debate (sending Amber Rudd, grieving over the death of her father, in her place). The election was poorly-executed and an unforgivable miscalculation of strategic importance which crippled May's government and personal authority at a stroke.
Error 5: Agreeing to pay £39bn and to the Irish backstop
In our Withdrawal terms agreed in December 2017, we agreed to pay the EU £39bn as part of our financial settlement (along with agreeing citizens’ rights and the Irish border ‘fudge’). To agree to pay this is bad enough – it is generally accepted that legally we have no such obligation. But to agree such a huge sum without getting anything promised in return is a total abrogation of the Prime Minister’s duty to the UK. It is a huge bargaining chip given away and a poor deal for the taxpayer who desperately wants this money for our schools, hospitals and infrastructure.
The Irish backstop was a mutually-agreed fudge by both sides in order to move negotiations onto the next stage. But it has come back to haunt May. She has been cornered by her own cop-out. Those who kick the can down the road eventually run out of asphalt. Now we hear the latest plan is to keep the WHOLE of the UK in the/a Customs Union during the transition phase whilst a final solution to the Irish border is found. But both Leave and Remain leaders worry that this could lead to a neverending transition period - a neverendum. Has May been making this up as she's gone along or was it always part of her grand plan
Error 6: Failure of statesmanship
It has become apparent that Theresa May has a particular leadership style. Lacking in emotional intelligence, she is painfully shy and brittle, as her initial failure to meet the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster
showed. It was more than just a PR mistake. It is symbolic of her not being cut out for the key leadership role of PM. The public don’t like cold fish. May’s leadership style is to surround herself with a Praetorian Guard of advisors as a human shield. One wonders whether it is they or she who is in charge. She lost the first pair – Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill – after the election debacle and now relies on Gavin Barwell, her Chief of Staff, and Robbie Gibb, her Director of Communications. They have carried on where Timothy and Hill left off, insulating her from those outside her inner circle and the public. But there are times when a leader has to overtly lead and communicate and here May has failed. Thatcher and Blair were experts at it and the contrast with May is glaringly obvious. The best she can do are her politically-correct, pre-recorded social media videos where she virtue-signals to minority religious groups, gushing about their equivalent of Christmas.
May has either been easily manipulated by Robbins to embrace his Europhilic vision of Brexit or she’s secretly leading the BRINO agenda. Given that she seems to lack cojones
and vision I'd wager the former. It’s also clear that she’s been ‘got at’ by Big Business with their ‘gloomsday’ scenarios of the UK being outside the Customs Union. A true leader would have challenged business leaders to embrace Brexit and look globally, and shamed those in the CBI and other organisations with undeclared interests in staying in the EU, or as close as possible to it. A reed in the wind, possibly a captive to her inner circle, May is a failure as a leader.
Continually battered by bad news over Brexit, May has failed to communicate what she wants from Brexit. Forever on the defensive, made to look weak and ignoring the many opportunities to state her case, no one aside from her inner team and that of Olly Robbins knows what her Brexit agenda and strategy is. That is no way to lead a country into the biggest geo-political event this country has had since joining the EU in 1973. After the vote in June 2016, our country needed a statesman. Instead we got a 'statebot'.
Out of her depth or deceiving us in plain sight?
Theresa May has been described as a ‘bloody difficult woman’ by Ken Clarke. That she may have been as Home Secretary, a job which probably suited her talents more, and when protected by her Janissary guardians. She has not, to date, shown this side to the EU as Prime Minister. Out of her depth or deceiving us in plain sight, May is leading us to a final humiliation over Brexit.
Harold Macmillan’s response to a journalist when asked what is most likely to blow governments off course was “Events, dear boy, events”. The only salvation for us Brexiteers is an unforeseen event. The surprise resignation of Jo Johnson may have rocked her, but she’ll have discounted for this and more resignations. It’s tempting to believe the latest declarations from both Leave and Remain camps that May will never get her Chequers deal through the Commons. But she has shown that she has been able to outmanoeuvre the Brexiteers time and again. It’s likely that she’ll do the same to the Remainers. Conspiracy theories abound that she's working with the EU over Brexit via her intermediary, Robbins, rather than with her Cabinet.
If we do not have an 'event', it is likely that we will suffer the same ignominy as the German delegation in the railway carriage on 11th November 1918. After signing their surrender, they were told by Marshal Foch, “Eh bien, messieurs, c’est fini. Allez.” (“Well, gentlemen, it’s finished. Go.”). We will know soon enough.