BY JAMIE FOSTER
There is an air of desperation that surrounds Theresa May’s letter to the people of the UK, published on the 25th November. It is a call to join her in support of the deal she has made with Brussels sent over the heads of her MPs. It is hard to think what she believes it will achieve.
Is it designed to cause ordinary people to gang up on MPs and force them to support a deal they clearly hate? If so it requires the people to believe what is in the letter over what MPs themselves are saying about the deal. In the letter she claims the deal is in the best interests of the whole of the UK, including Crown dependencies like Gibraltar. This appears to be at odds with the concession made to the Spanish Government that Gibraltar would not automatically be covered by any deal with the EU which persuaded the Spanish not to veto the deal.
The letter claims the deal will allow us to make trade deals of our own with other countries. This is the opposite of what her MPs are saying about it. It is also the opposite of what Donald Trump said about it when he commented that the deal would not allow a trade deal with the US and added that this can’t be in the UK’s interests.
Who then are we supposed to believe? The Prime Minister in her letter or her MPs and Donald Trump? In essence they are both right depending on what happens.
The deal would allow us to make our own trade deals as long as we don’t end up in the backstop of being part of the customs union, in which case we couldn’t. The Prime Minister’s letter avoids thinking about the backstop and treats it as if it doesn’t exist. This is an odd way to communicate with the people who deserve a fuller version of the truth.
The letter is written to placate all factions no matter how they voted in the referendum. It tries to appeal to Brexiteers by referring to taking back control of immigration, agriculture and fisheries policy. The letter claims that we will take back control of our coastal waters. Unfortunately it is by no means clear that fisheries wont be given away to try to secure a deal. The French are very keen to retain the right to fish UK waters and it may turn out to be a concession that is made to them.
The letter also attempts to appeal to Remainers by talking about security cooperation with ‘our European friends’. Again, while the letter implies that the deal has secured security cooperation this is by no means certain.
One eye catching aspect of the letter is the claim that we will invest £394 million per week extra in the NHS when we have stopped paying the EU. This is £44 million up on the Boris bus pledge to give £350 million per week extra to the NHS. This is clearly targeting Brexiteers who are sick of hearing the Boris bus figure described as one of the big lies of the referendum campaign.
Throughout the letter Mrs May refers to herself as a Prime Minister with a duty to perform in regard to Brexit. There is something almost sacred about the tone the letter takes when referring to this duty. Mrs May promises to put her heart and soul into campaigning for the deal she has negotiated. It is as if she is telling us we have a moral obligation to support her as her cause is just.
It is hard to know what to make of this letter. There is so much in it that appears to be half truth. It is dressed up as noble sentiment but there is something cynical about writing directly to the British people and then not being entirely straight with us. It seems unlikely the ploy of writing over the heads of MPs will work. MPs are unlikely to be persuaded to fall into line behind this deal which they clearly despise. The most likely outcome now is that this deal will be voted down and we will be heading for a no deal Brexit on 29th March. The letter doesn’t refer to this possibility. Maybe it is just one more truth the letter glosses over.