One of the strangest things about the current political era is that we have a prime minister who campaigned (however weakly) for Remain, yet has (in public rhetoric terms anyhow) become the one who has set out a hard Brexit path. It has been widely speculated that the reason hard Brexiteers have been relatively loyal to her (they could have ended her premiership several times in the last few months had they really wanted to) is precisely because she was once a Remainer; her zeal as a born-again Leaver having a zest that a proper Eurosceptic would be wary of combined with the positive optic of having a convert leading the charge. However, I think there is a another, deeper reason why the hardcore Tory Brexiteers have stuck by Mrs May, and will probably continue to do so.
These guys actively want a “no deal” Brexit. Yet they are rightfully worried that the first year of such a thing would be a little bumpy to say the least. Therefore, they want a “no deal” Brexit to have been seen to be the consequence of having no real option otherwise (other than reversing Article 50, but the will of the people and all that). They want the talks to fail, in other words, and for that failure not be seen as their fault. Or indeed, for everything that happens afterwards – the massive scaling back of public expenditure, as a for instance -not to be seen as something they were complicit it in directly.
What I’m coming to is this: the hard Brexiteers aren’t chucking May aside because she has proven to be a terrible negotiator – rather, they see her inability to negotiate as a huge plus. The fact that she’s screwing it all up means everything is going to plan, from their perspective. They actively want someone who will bungled it with the various parties involved and have thought for a long time that she is the perfect candidate.
This is why I think they’ll stick by her for the time being. There’s every chance that the situation becomes unsustainable, but from the hard Brexiteers point of view, the longer May stays in the job, the better. Then when “no deal” arises, they can simply blame her for being rubbish, the EU for being obstinate and greedy, all for getting us all into a situation they wanted from the get go. Singapore on the Channel, here we come.
Mark Thornton says
This conspiracy theory plays both ways though. The Remainers in the Tory Party hope that Theresa screws up the negotiations, we get a no-deal Brexit, the economy tanks, we get a pro-EU takeover of the Tories, and we rejoin the EU in 5-10 years because after the hell of post-Brexit…
A no-deal Brexit was always guaranteed, though, because the EU was never going to negotiate in good faith; indeed, the EU never negotiates at all: it simply states and re-states its position and waits for the other side to back down at the last minute. Nothing short of rescinding Article 50 (or, just possibly, complete membership of the single market and customs union, acceptance of the supremacy of the ECJ, and a commitment to reconsider the matter next time th treaties are renegotiated) would have been acceptable to the EU as a deal.
No Prime Minister could have got a deal.
But, as for the idea that they are keeping her on so that when that inevitably happens she can be replaced, and someone new and untainted can come in to fight the next election… I think there might be something in that. Though I’d see it less as an organised conspiracy and more as each individually making the decision that they would rather wait than grasp the chalice while it still has some poison left in the bottom.
(A bit like how there was no rush to replace Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader before the 2015 election).
No need throw the leader under the bus when she’s already laying in the bus lane around a blind corner.
Toby Fenwick says
You couldn’t be more wrong: the EU would very much like a deal, but it has to proyect its own cohesion and rules, and in any case ir is far from clear what London wants.