Theresa May: “We can choose to leave with no deal… risk no Brexit at all… or unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated”
PM defends draft #Brexit deal in the Commons
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) 15 November 2018
I doubt Theresa May began her statement to the Commons yesterday expecting to receive any cheers. So it must have been a pleasant surprise to her when positive noises did indeed echo forth at one point.
Before banking applause, however, it’s important to look at who it is coming from and why. Yesterday, her vocal supporters were those on the Opposition benches who want to prevent Brexit entirely. The most implacable opponents of your Government’s most fundamental policy are probably not the group any politician ought to seek to please. So how did the Prime Minister come to delight them?
Their joy came at five simple words in her statement: “risk no Brexit at all”. It’s easy to see why this caused excitement: here was Theresa May, the person overseeing the whole process, giving succour to the most hardcore Remain hope that we might simply call the whole thing off.
It was damaging enough for Labour and Lib Dem politicians to tout that possibility from the fantasy-pulpit of Opposition. Doing so fuelled divisions in the country that might otherwise have been healed in time, and simultaneously encouraged EU negotiators to believe that their best interests might be served by treating the UK as harshly as possible. The Government itself argued this in the past, and May must surely remember that critique; for the Prime Minister to now contribute to such harm herself is irresponsible at best.
The strategy which led her to do so rests on making two contradictory claims. She hopes to terrify pro-EU MPs into backing her deal by threatening that the alternative is No Deal, while simultaneously terrifying anti-EU MPs into backing her deal by threatening that the alternative is no Brexit.
By implication, she seems to believe not only that each group will believe her, but that neither will ever hear the message intended for the other. Neither of these assumptions seems entirely wise.
The damage threatened by such an approach should be evident, and if it is not then she should observe who cheers her on when she deploys it. Their applause did not come because they sought to help her in delivering Brexit, but because they believe she is helping them in cancelling it.
The Prime Minister has recently started to claim that she ignores her colleagues’ concerns about her approach because she serves “the national interest”. This is a dubious basis on which to assert unassailable authority, as though it were a motivation unique to her. As Iain Martin points out: ‘Everyone involved thinks they are operating in the national interest, they disagree about what that is. Hence, politics.’
Touting the possibility of “no Brexit at all” in a desperate attempt to force her proposal through does not serve the national interest. Indeed, it looks like self-interest has taken priority.