Prior to the General Election – and when she bravely called it – we have fully backed Theresa May on the pages of this magazine. Ever since, we have not been kind to, or supportive of, our Prime Minister. Not since the Prime Minister imploded in the General Election campaign, threatening the country with the appalling Corbyn and making the UK seem a chaos to foreigners who sought to exploit any national weakness after our referendum choice. Further blows, seemingly self-inflicted – her inability to mount a coherent or compassionate response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, her disastrous conference speech and Universal Credit climbdowns – all combined to make the May Premiership seem like a luckless one for the country and a personal tragedy for her. One of our writers seemed to sum up the national mood in gloomy October describing May as the school prefect who just wasn’t up to being head girl.
However, Friday’s Brexit “deal” has changed our opinion of Theresa May.
While May is the wrong person to lead the Conservative Party into another General Election (the risk is just too high after June’s irredeemable disaster), May, amazingly, has proven herself sufficiently Teflon to continue as Prime Minister until the point when the UK leaves the European Union. She has shown in Friday’s agreement that she has the guts to get a deal done when it is vital to the national interest (keeping Corbyn out is vital to the national interest) and she has demonstrated that she possesses the political sophistry required to keep all relevant parties on board as the country heads for its preferred destiny of Brexit.
The terms of Friday’s heralded EU Brexit agreement and its non-binding nature have resulted in a brilliant Christmas fudge which has simultaneously allowed all sides to claim victory – Varadkar in Dublin claims a fine win, Foster in Belfast is jubilant and beating her chest at DUP power, Brexiteers are prepared to give May the benefit of the doubt (even Nigel Farage is left with mere suspicions) and Remainers chirp about full alignment as if Brexit will be Brexit but only in name. What an achievement!
Friday’s fudge is as sweet and moist as anyone could have hoped for. May has shown the talent for cobbling together a deal which the key sides can display as a victory – a talent that will need to be replicated in a final Brexit deal if the UK and EU are to have good relations, as is hoped, for the foreseeable future.
Putting things into perspective makes May’s success even more remarkable: Labour were expecting the May Government to have come off the rails by now. When Jeremy Corbyn was asked by Glastonbury Festival owner Michael Eavis on Saturday June 24th when he’d be the UK Prime Minister, Corbyn replied “in six months”. May should be congratulated for ruling out that particular delusion ever becoming a 2017 reality. At the time of the exit poll in June, the former Chancellor described Theresa May as a “Dead Woman Walking” – one hell of an achievement since for a mere corpse, Mr Osborne?
As a Brexit-supporting magazine, we can just about live with the money, citizens and sunset ECJ clauses of Friday’s show of intent but ‘full alignment’ must be explained in time. We cannot have the single market or customs union by the back door.
2018 will be just as tricky as the last six months for Mrs May but at least now she has some wind in her sails – and the City behind her – as the UK attempts to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union and gets the wording together on a whole flotilla of other international trade arrangements across the seas. The UK has huge leverage in such talks, most of which emanates from the Square Mile, and there is no sign that the City will back Corbyn ever, so there is a tight bond to be used there. Britain cannot afford to lose its economic advantages just as May cannot fail to rule out the massive potential advantages that Brexit could bring.
The Prime Minister’s balancing act is an unenviable one. In negotiations there are winners and losers. But May has proven she has strength amidst turbulence and just maybe she will pull off a blinder of a Brexit deal – with the UK leaving the single market, customs union and jurisdiction of the ECJ as we voted to leave.
Pulling the Conservative Party together is another balancing act to which the Prime Minister should pay appropriate attention. There are two significant problems on the ground: First, the policies being churned out by the Government are seen as more Corbynite than Thatcherite and will only lead to increasing numbers of Tories hoping for and sparking a revival of UKIP. Second, there is an unhealthy preponderance of Remain support in the Cabinet. The winning Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg – so admired by the British public – is without a job. There is a heavy suspicion on the street, wrongly, that the Prime Minister is an arch-Remainer and her cabinet reflects a likely Brexit stitch-up. Theresa May could reshuffle intelligently in the new year to calm some of those public nerves and the promotion of the Moggster would go a long way to making Brexiteers on the street feel that they were represented on the Cabinet table, such is his class-cutting, public support base, especially among Brexit voters. Mr Rees-Mogg would be a useful lieutenant and public address system.
There are many crocodiles in the water out to gobble Theresa May. So far, the Prime Minister has sufficiently nourished them and kept them at a distance.
So, Mrs May, well done. Happy Christmas, Prime Minister. Enjoy as many walks as you can this Christmas in the Great British Countryside and make sure you practise your juggling for 2018.