Theresa May’s journey towards a bleak, deluded UKIP view of the world continued today as she abandoned key areas of potential negotiation over the Single Market (favoured by most businesses, trade unions and economists) and instead moved the battleground to an ill defined (and unlikely to be agreed) partial membership of aspects of the Customs Union.
She fell into easy but meaningless tropes about a “Global Britain” – the EU does not prevent the UK from trading with the rest of the world, although you wouldn’t have guessed it from this speech. In reality, our trade with the rest of the world will suffer if we have to negotiate quick new deals with other countries to replace the EU deals that we already have. Nor did she evaluate the economic costs of losing market share in Europe itself. Instead, she pandered to the small minded, nationalistic right wing of her party who still seem to think that Britain should have an Empire compliant to all our desires
She did not mention what she intends to do about British participation in the various European agencies through which we jointly check the safety of medicines, aircraft and chemicals, and authorise their use. We cannot simply drop out of these systems with no alternative arrangements in place.
And while claiming that she wanted to maintain friendly relationships with the other 27 countries in the European Union, she implicitly threatened them if they won’t let her have her cake and eat it.
The nature of these threats are particularly unpleasant – both for europeans and for most ordinary people in Britain. She repeatedly emphasised the strength of British intelligence services, while implying that if she didn’t get what she wanted, they would not collaborate with our european allies. Just think about this for a moment: this is effectively saying if you don’t give us the deal we want, we will not help fight terrorism on the continent!
Further, she explicitly said she would walk away from any deal at all if she doesn’t get her way and, echoing Philip Hammond’s speech in Germany at the weekend, fundamentally shift the UK economic model into an offshore corporate tax haven. This would jumpstart a debilitating race to the bottom that would destroy jobs, security and public services within this country. Although it would be welcomed by huge global corporations who can easily move capital and nominal headquarters from one country to another, it would turn the UK into a bargain basement economy. Despite her promise to protect ordinary working people, employment rights would be swept away, industry would suffer, and there would be less and less money to pay for vital infrastructure and service such as the NHS.
How can she think that this is the right deal for Britain?
Granted, she finally accepted that the Brexit deal would be put to a vote in both Houses of Parliament. But she is not being generous or conciliatory here – Parliament is after all the sovereign power in the UK – so to present this as some sort of gesture towards democracy is duplicitous. Furthermore, she will no doubt try to hold a gun to the head of MPs and Peers who would disagree, saying “this deal or we’re out with no deal”, which would be a legal nightmare – though Parliament might yet call her bluff if faced with a bad deal, and choose to block Brexit.
May has long insisted that she would not give a ‘running commentary’ and this was reinforced today, again with darker overtones. ‘Those that ask for more detail,’ she said, ‘will not be asking in the national interest. Every stray word will make it harder.’ At best this is an attempt to impose a national gagging order on at least 48% of the population. At worst it implies that anyone who dares to challenge her new brand of UKIP-lite conservatism is a traitor. She is descending to the level of the social media trolls, who think democracy is not about debate but about putting up and shutting up, no matter what happens.
These are the tactics of the playground bully, not a unifying head of government.
May finished her speech in full self-delusional fantasy. “The country is coming together” she asserted. The victors “should be magnanimous” (there has been remarkably little of that) and the “losers must respect the result of the overwhelming majority” (48-52 is hardly overwhelming). The irony of her describing the country as united while she divides them into victors and losers should not be missed.