Mrs May’s axiomatic definition reassured many after the referendum. For some it was a clear statement of a withdrawal from Europe and all its works, for some it was a democrat’s recognition of the will of the people, and for some there was room for hope about how terms would be agreed. There were doubtless some who thought Mrs May was bound to say something of the sort in the heat of the result but that perhaps over time cooler heads would prevail and a route to remaining in would be sought.
What was a stroke of genius in the immediate aftermath of the referendum is looking increasingly threadbare. In the intervening period the Tory party has managed to rub along without undue stress. There have been the occasional spats but a statement that can comprehend such a wide range of policy options from hard to soft Brexit does not provide enough of a target for anyone to secure purchase on for an argument.
At the moment the Conservatives are like a pack of hungry wolves looking for a carcass to fight over, growling at each other but unable to give vent to their growing frustration because no body of policy has emerged. No wonder Mrs May does not want to reveal her hand, it would likely be bitten off. It will be a feat of legerdemain worthy of Dynamo if she can carry out the negotiations without having to reveal what the deal is until it is done. Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, no one is that good.
Over the weeks and months to come, as statements crafted by the finest minds in the university of the bleedin’ obvious start to give way to substantive proposals these will be seized upon by hungry wolves on all sides of the debate. Depending on the level of compromise attempted the policy for Brexit will either enthuse some and outrage others or, more likely outrage all.
Worse for Mrs May, as all this is going on, the settled view of the majority of the electorate may start to change. If inflation and wage restraint take hold at the same time next year, those that voted for Brexit may have second thoughts. (Warning – votes for Brexit can go down as well as up). Given this an early election might be a good call, but then, who knows.
Mrs May seems to have a good way with words. Her promise to focus on those just about managing, her firm line on executive pay and footloose executives treating tax as optional were all launched with rhetorical flourish. The difficulty is when these things have to be delivered. Her political skills do not seem to match her verbal ones.
I cannot however feel much sympathy for the leader of a party whose leadership are able to transubstantiate infantile ambition into gravitas and lift party interest and power above the interests of the nation. A leadership which has almost destroyed the Union of the United Kingdom, indeed may still yet, and has put at risk the European project which, for all its faults, represents a way to unite in opposition to global forces which threaten the livelihood, and indeed the lives, of its citizens.
There is some way to go in the process of Brexit and better counsel may yet prevail. With all the challenges that exist in the world at the moment having the whole of the British political elite and public administration focused on taking the UK out of Europe is an error of political leadership of the highest order. Tony Blair’s premiership will rightly be forever blighted by the decision to take us into Iraq, David Cameron’s will surely be the same over taking us out of Europe.
The decision on Iraq casts a long shadow, down to the fate of the people of Aleppo and beyond. Brexit does not mean Brexit, it means a whole lot more. If the vote for Brexit was a protest vote against the incompetence of the political elite it cannot be dismissed as completely irrational.