You could spend a lot of time wondering what makes Theresa May tick.
She says she supported remain and voted to stay in the European Union. So her increasing fervour for Brexit has been one of the most confusing factors in British politics over the last two and a half years.
Taking over the Tory leadership after David Cameron resigned was always going to be a poisoned chalice. No-one would have had a good time in that position, except maybe a genuine hard quitter like Jacob Rees-Mogg. That’s probably why Gove and Johnson pulled out.
If she truly believed that staying in was best, though, she would not have rushed into triggering Article 50 (nor would she have gone to court to fight for her wish to do so by diktat; luckily National Hero Gina Miller had the nation’s back on that one).
If she had used more care, collaboration, and consideration, she might have had an easier time when Article 50 finally was triggered and the negotiations started. In fact if she had been more thoughtful in the first place she might even have said something like, “The vote was close; the country is clearly divided. We will discuss the possible ways forward in parliament and with the rest of the EU, and come back to you, the people, for confirmation when we better understand what Brexit means.”
But no: “Brexit means Brexit”: she knew up front what it meant, and never deviated. Even if the majority of the country had no idea what it would mean.
She then proceeded as follows:
- ignore any idea of cross-party talks and so involving parliament (the UK’s sovereign body) in the negotiations;
- trigger Article 50 as soon as she could;
- negotiate with the EU27 almost in secret;
- have inflexible “red lines” to appease the hard quitters, leaving herself no room for compromise in the negotiations.
It’s a truism, even a cliche, to say that she puts the Tory party before the country. But the only way I can explain such a dramatic change of heart is that her love for the Tory party overruled her knowledge that being in the EU was, is, and will be the best situation for the UK. And that she somehow convinced herself that she could heal her fatally-divided party.
In fact, the very thing that Cameron was trying to do by calling he referendum in the first place.
“Tory eurosceptics” used to be a common enough phrase, but it denoted a tiny fringe of the party: a few loons like John Redwood. But in trying to appease them, two Tory leaders and prime ministers have turned them mainstream and brought us to where we are today, on the brink of leaving the EU without any kind of agreement for our future relationship.
And their party is as divided as ever.