Within minutes of Theresa May announcing a snap general election, the lines detailing how MPs should speak to the media about her surprise decision were leaked. “Every vote cast for Theresa May and the Conservatives will count to strengthen Britain’s hand in the Brexit negotiations.”
The mainstream orthodoxies on what form the Brexit negotiations will take are so entrenched that few have sought to question this premise. Will a June poll really strengthen her hand?
In reality, May’s decision has thrown away one of her last remaining cards from what was already an astonishingly weak starting position. The irony is that those who oppose Brexit the most are the ones cheering her on.
“Brexit means Brexit,” Theresa May’s much mocked epithet when initially asked what our negotiating strategy might be, was actually one of the more accurate analyses of 2016.
The illusory debate still rages on in this country about whether a “hard” or “soft” Brexit will be better for Britain. May at least seemed to realise there was little difference between the two.
Any reasonable observer of European rather than just British politics would surely conclude that excited discussions in Westminster have almost no bearing on what kind of Brexit is on offer.
The most ardent Brexiteers have long insisted that economic concerns from the EU27 will mean the UK should get a better commercial relationship with the EU than we have until now enjoyed.
The reality is that selling a handful fewer BMWs each year is a decent price for keeping the European Union together, or at least Merkel and her allies believe. This is particularly so given the history of oppression and bloodshed that few Britons seem to realise are within living memory for so many continental Europeans.
The European Peoples Party, the transnational centre-right behemoth led by Angela Merkel, are effectively running the negotiations. They worry far more about Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen and the prospect of future departures, than they do about giving Britain a “soft Brexit.”
The only chance May had to gain minor concessions – perhaps on tapering down our involvement rather than a “cliff” deal, was to plead to EU negotiators that so harsh were their terms she would have difficulty passing them through the UK Parliament upon her return. In her defence, May might cite to Brussels her only slim majority of seats – which today stands at just twelve.
If polls are to be believed however, May is likely to walk away from the June polls with a majority of up to a hundred and thirty MPs – having gained up to sixty constituencies. Most of these are predicted to come from Jeremy Corbyn – the leader of the Labour party whose left-wing policies on minimum wage, free school meals and corporate taxation are extremely popular, but whose image of fuddy-duddy incompetence has, to date, left all but the most ardent unmoved.
Flanking Labour is the possibility of a Liberal Democrat revival based on their pitch for a second referendum, a move supported by the metropolitan centrist wing of the Labour party. Previously in coalition with May’s own party, the Liberals were demolished at the last election. Under a new leader, Tim Farron, they are strongly positioning themselves as the only party that truly opposes Brexit, and the epitome of the liberal elite.
“If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit. If you want to keep Britain in the Single Market. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance,” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron declared in a statement responding to May’s election announcement. He is joined in this suicidal crusade by the indefatigable Labour centrist Tony Blair, who in February called for Britons to “rise up” and reject the referendum result.
This strategy of ignoring a referendum result will not work. Farron, hypocritically, was amongst twenty seven MPs who had voted for a referendum to take place, and campaigned vigorously during it, but who now wants to ignore its outcome – something he surely would not have done had his side won. The wider British public seem more reasonable. Even by November, twenty percent of those Britons who voted Remain said they had already “come to terms with the result.”
According to Britain Thinks last month, “67% of the population – now either actively embrace leaving Europe, or reluctantly accept leaving,” (based on a sample of forty eight remainers and fifty two leavers who have been keeping a diary since the result).
YouGov, who correctly predicted Brexit, say that only twenty percent of people wish to see the result over-turned.
Campaigners for a “soft Brexit” are not just out of touch with voters demands. They are chasing an option that is scarcely available – the imaginary “soft Brexit.” Then as May announces her snap election, the so-called “Remoaners” are leaping to endorse a development that will make their own preferred outcome even less likely, because with such a decisive lead in the offing, May will no longer be able to claim in Brussels that she must balance the needs of the Remainers versus the Brexiteers.
Her counter-parts will be even more free to push through any deal they want. Just ask Alexis Tsipras if winning a snap election and then going to negotiate with the EU strengthens your hand. It doesn’t.