There has been a lot of speculation as to why Theresa May, upon becoming the prime minister, appointed the “Three Brexiteers” to their respective cabinet positions: Boris in the FCO, David Davis as head of the newly found Department for Leaving the European Union, and Liam Fox as Secretary of State for International Trade. Was she setting them up for a fall, many speculated? The idea here being that the three of them, being as they were, all visibly pro-Leave, would be tasked with making Brexit work. If they failed, she would have scapegoats.
I am now starting to think that Theresa May has begun to play herself into a corner on Brexit, one she better find a way out of quickly. Even though Labour have meanwhile played themselves into the worst position imaginable on the topic of Brexit, others are setting themselves up nicely. As I wrote yesterday, UKIP’s “don’t invoke Article 50” means that if she has any bumps in the road post triggering, she has a party that has set itself up to capitalise. In the Lib Dems and the SNP, you have small and regional but nonetheless significant enough parties who are doom-saying about the whole procedure in advance. Perhaps worst of all for May, there are those in her own party on both Remain and Leave sides of the argument who want to pounce if and when it does not all go to plan.
Theresa May has massive approval ratings at present. But this is partly based on Jeremy Corbyn’s spectacular unpopularity, and partly based on the fact that she has convinced enough people that she is intent on making Brexit happen – and more importantly, that deep down she knows how she will do this, or at least has the talent to pull off a decent post-Brexit settlement. The problem is, it’s clear she’s still trying to get to grips with it all and doesn’t have a clear plan.
Perhaps she figures it all out at some point and comes up with a brilliant plan to make it all work. Perhaps she gets very lucky. But if neither occur, the wrath awaiting her on all sides is not something I would wish upon anyone.
You can see its basic shape in what UKIP are already saying about her. Bringing up the fact that she had campaigned to Remain, however tepidly. That she couldn’t make it a success either because she secretly wanted it all to fail all along or that she simply wasn’t good enough to pull it off.
Imagine this scenario: it turns out that Article 50 can indeed be reversed after it has been triggered. March 2017: Article 50 is set in motion. Twenty-two months of negotiations produce nothing but stalemate. May knows that she can either reverse Article 50 with the assumption that we try again fresh or let the country fall off an economic cliff. What would she do? What would you do? Either way, her premiership is torched. She gets caught between those who say no one could do it because Brexit was always a terrible idea and those who say it’s only not worked out because it was Theresa May’s fault.
The Prime Minster must already be mindful of all this. And again, I realise that she has massive approval ratings at present. But this time last year, David Cameron looked pretty unstoppable – and look where he ended up.