The Home Secretary made her first intervention into the EU referendum debate yesterday with a sizable speech on the topic. Given many had assumed she would be on the Leave side of the debate a few months back, the substance of the speech made for an interesting listen.
I’ll start with the positives. I liked that May has been the only person thus far on the Remain side to point out that the sovereignty question is actually not as simplistic as it is often made out to be:
“…..no country or empire in world history has ever been totally sovereign, completely in control of its destiny. Even at the height of their power, the Roman Empire, Imperial China, the Ottomans, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, modern-day America, were never able to have everything their own way. At different points, military rivals, economic crises, diplomatic manoeuvring, competing philosophies and emerging technologies all played their part in inflicting defeats and hardships, and necessitated compromises even for states as powerful as these.”
This is a key point I have been waiting for a major figure to make – the fact that it has come from Theresa May is fortuitous to the Remain campaign for obvious reasons. Another plus is that in another portion of the speech, May finally pointed out that there is a difference between being a member of the European Union and being a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights – the two get conflated on the Right so much it drives me crazy.
She also made a case for the European Arrest Warrant, one of the stronger “security” arguments Remain has to offer:
“Outside the EU, for example, we would have no access to the European Arrest Warrant, which has allowed us to extradite more than 5,000 people from Britain to Europe in the last five years, and bring 675 suspected or convicted wanted individuals to Britain to face justice. It has been used to get terror suspects out of the country and bring terrorists back here to face justice. In 2005, Hussain Osman – who tried to blow up the London Underground on 21/7 – was extradited from Italy using the Arrest Warrant in just 56 days. Before the Arrest Warrant existed, it took ten long years to extradite Rachid Ramda, another terrorist, from Britain to France.”
This point has been made before, but having a Tory Home Secretary not known as a wet softie delivering this message should prove helpful.
Of course the big thing I didn’t like about May’s speech was her bit about Britain leaving the ECHR. I disagree with every fibre of my being with her on this one. I even wonder whether withdrawing from it is legally possible, beyond its undesirability. But that’s the thing about referendum campaigning: you have to put those disagreements to one side and focus on winning the one question at hand. I disagree with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on a lot – but I appreciate that they have both now given good speeches advocating a Remain vote, despite both having a Eurosceptic history, and that both of the speeches in question delivered what they had to for the audience it was aimed at.
I suppose for May, trashing the ECHR gave her more scope to explain why she wanted us to Remain. She’s probably, sadly, correct on that front. So for now I’ll thank her for the speech – landing another killer blow on the Leave camp – and steel myself for when I have to rubbish her claims about the UK withdrawing from the ECHR when the time comes.