That Theresa May should come down on the side of the hard Brexiteers should not be a surprise.
As a long serving Home Secretary, she must take much of the blame for setting – and failing to keep – a target of reducing net immigration to Britain to tens of thousands a year. Although more than half of migration to Britain is from outside the EU, and therefore entirely under the control of British rules and regulations, she made hardly a dent in it. As her failure to meet the Tory manifesto commitment became embarrassingly apparent, rather than take responsibility she instead blamed EU free movement for her inability to meet her own target.
She did this despite failing to use the tools and safeguards available to governments under EU law to limit free movement. The right to free movement is not unconditional. It is dependent on having a job, or serious possibility of getting one, or of being financially self-sufficient and therefore not burdening the host state’s welfare system. Other EU countries send back thousands of people who don’t meet these conditions. Theresa May’s record on this as Home secretary was pitiful by comparison.
Long before the referendum campaign began she could have announced measures to better enforce this legislation in Britain. She could have more forcefully endorsed the extra safeguards Cameron negotiated. She could have explained that EU migrants in Britain pay one-third more in tax than they take in benefits and services, and argued for the Treasury to pass some of this surplus on to the local authorities with higher concentrations of migrants. She might even have mentioned that EU free movement is, of course, two-way, with up to two million Brits in other EU countries.
She could have. But she didn’t.
Instead, during the referendum campaign she kept a low profile. Notionally a Remainer, to keep in with the majority of her colleagues she said next to nothing, in order to become the Remainer most acceptable to the Brexiteers when Cameron was a busted flush.
It was a successful strategy – Home Secretary May became Prime Minister May, without even a full leadership election. In pursuing this strategy, she showed her willingness to put her personal ambition above her previously professed political beliefs. She disguised her poor performance on immigration when she had the power, by pretending she was powerless.
And now? She has thrown her lot in with the most hardline Brexiteers.
No honest ‘We’ll try to get the best Brexit deal possible, but it will involve hard choices’.
Certainly no cautious ‘If we can’t get a deal that works for Britain and delivers on Leave campaign promises, we should reserve the right to think again’.
But instead, by rejecting the single European market which is so vital for our economy, she panders to the right wingers who want Brexit at any cost.
Like her predecessors, she is more eager to appease the right wing of her party than to stand up to them in Britain’s national interest, so that she maintains her grip on power.
And the more hard Brexit red lines she lays down, the more she paints herself, and our country, into a tight, uncomfortable corner.