Until today, Theresa May was sticking to the line that she would wait to see the outcome of David Cameron’s renegotiation before taking a view. Since other senior Ministers have signalled, publicly or privately, that they will support it regardless, her unwillingness to do so was read to mean that she might eventually declare for Leave – indeed, that she might lead the Leave campaign, since she is the holder of one of the four great offices of state.
Today, she has said that the European Commission’s proposals form “the basis for a deal”. And her friends are making it clear that is a very deliberate intervention. In sum, a plausible reading is that while she has not made up her mind what view she will take of the final deal – which is expected to be agreed at the European Council meeting at the end of this month – she is now more likely to back Remain rather than Leave. Here is the core of her statement:
“EU free movement rules have been abused for too long and EU law has stopped us deporting dangerous foreign criminals,” she said in a statement. “That is plainly wrong and it is encouraging that the commission has agreed with the UK that we should take action to address these two issues.
“So we have made progress and negotiations continue ahead of the February council. As the prime minister has said, more work needs to be done, but this is a basis for a deal.”
This morning’s Times(£) reported pressure from the Home Secretary on Downing Street over these issues, in order to ensure that the Prime Minister in turn put pressure on the Commission. Number Ten has been briefing during recent weeks that May has been brought onside. One reading of events is that she is holding precisely in order to hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire, so that any final deal on migration and benefits is to her satisfaction.
My most recent take on her position may be worth repeating:
“A final word on the speculation about her view on EU membership. If she says that she wants to see the results of the renegotiation then I believe…that she wants to see the results of the negotiation: May is a very straight shooter. But there can be no doubt that immigration control has become increasingly important to her – hence her remarkable speech to Party Conference last autumn.
Leave supporters will thus be disappointed if she eventually supports Remain. So there is a sense of her having stirred expectations which may be not be fulfilled, which in turn would not help her leadership aspirations. But there it is. She is rather straight-down-the-line, as I say,and presumably knows what she’s about. The longer she has served in the Home Office, the more she has looked her own woman.”