By Jamie Grant
It’s been a winter of discontent for the PM. Union strikes, a collapse of NHS Ambulance services, a Civil Service in disarray and revolt, more types of Brexit favoured and mentioned than McDonald’s breakfast options. Alas, spring won’t bring much relief.
Theresa May has played the long-game her entire political career. Quietly at the sidelines, attempting to implement unrealistic immigration quotas, harass members of the public to ‘Go Home’, or spitting in the face of international student visas, she had a good ol’ run for the office of PM.
Famously tight-lipped and ambiguous, what began as a strength in the immediate wake of the Brexit vote has evolved into a type of Monty-Pythonesque joke. Three months until the triggering of Article 50, and the beginning of the long, arduous process to leave the European Union, and we are no clearer on her negotiation stance than we were all those months ago.
Whilst supporters of her approach will claim this is a sensible negotiation tactic, they are ignoring the reality of the political situation. Subtle overtures from British politicians to their European counterparts of cherry-picking aspects of memberships have been rebuffed. Arrogant overtures have been slapped down even harder. We have burned through what little goodwill remained in Europe’s capitals, with May and co giving European leaders all the political ammunition and opportunity needed to quash their own domestic populist rebellions.
With French, German and Dutch elections looming in the coming year, the attitude of the Brexiteer anti-European Union UK government will, perhaps ironically, prove to be the project’s saving grace. In the post referendum fallout, support for continued EU membership across the continent has largely increased. Britain is proving to be every bit of the example of what not to do when wanting to butter up your colleagues across the channel.
Some may claim this too is part of a more wider strategy May is following to solidify Conservative rule for years to come. By botching the preamble to what will prove to be the greatest political challenge of a generation, May has positioned herself and her government to play the ‘nasty EU card’ rather well. Perhaps anticipating a backlash from Paris and Berlin, the Conservatives have provided themselves an everlasting get-out-of-jail-free card from any negative consequences of a hard Brexit. Putting party over country appears to be all the rage these days.
So despite the gloom, what is the next twist in the long rollercoaster of Brexit? March will see the formal triggering of Brexit, beginning a two-year countdown to the departure of the UK from the EU proper. Since May cannot decide within her own party what Brexit means, how this messy intent of departure will translate to the capitals of Europe are anyone’s guess. Retaining Single Market membership will involve meeting the very regulations we were told Brexit would alleviate us from, whilst the indivisible nature of Europe’s four freedoms will result in either two things: we maintain our current set of affairs, at the cost of electorate anger and a loss of political capital and representation in the EU; we accept the mutual exclusivity of wanting to maintain the benefits of market membership, but not accepting the responsibilities this imposes, and we go for the hardest of hard Brexits. We’re talking stale toast and rotten eggs Brexit.