BREXIT will mean Brexit whatever happens on June 8 – so why is this most thorny of subjects such a stronghold for Theresa May?
Tellingly on last night’s live question and answer debate on Sky and Channel 4, the Prime Minister was heckled on domestic subjects such as police cuts and her social care u-turn, yet immediately won applause from the TV audience for repeating her uncompromising stance on Europe.
Part of the answer is loud and clear. The Conservatives are conveniently regaining the votes they lost to UKIP, largely redundant post referendum and without the one-man show of Nigel Farage that gave them their relative credibility.
UKIP, let’s recall, was mainly a side effect of Tory dithering on Europe and it’s natural, albeit highly damaging in this election to Labour, the majority of their four million voters in 2015 are now resorting to type.
But why does the general public as a whole largely see Theresa May as a safe pair of hands on Europe, so much so she was prepared to go against her often stated promise not to call a snap election and go to the people on the back of this one issue?
The answer lies in our misguided perception of her posturing and an equal misunderstanding of the calmer and more measured approach of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
As voiced by devil’s advocate Jeremy Paxman last night, Mrs May does not actually believe in Brexit at all.
Her position now, however, is given credibility by the fact she was a softish, quiet Remainer, who notably failed to come to the world-will-end-if party when repeatedly urged to do so by former Prime Minister David Cameron.
That’s fine by me and more importantly by most of the electorate. I honestly think many of us get that. Who hasn’t at some time in their lives been forced to take a position they don’t really support for the sake of job security, for example?
What the public seem to have failed to see through is her proposed method of carrying through Brexit is also full of bluster and without true conviction.
For months all we could get out of her was the general slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Problem with that was there is no definitive exit from Europe. The 52 per cent cast their vote for a variety of reasons – immigration, the desire to free the UK from the EU’s rules, revenge for what they have seen as a gradual betrayal since the initial vote in 1975 and the £350m NHS hoax all included.
But what does that all mean now?
It’s one thing filing for a divorce but the degree to which it gets messy is in the hands of the two sides – and this one will very easily get messy!
Leaked documents have told an interesting story. Mrs May’s public view that the UK is the prime card holder in the forthcoming negotiations and can therefore proceed with confidence is not what she feels at heart.
The words of eloquent former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis come readily to mind.
Using delicious word play, he likens the UK’s exit journey to the ‘Hotel California’ – “you can check out, but you can never leave,” he warns.
That I’m afraid is probably closer to the truth. The EU, arguably, holds most of the aces and will do everything possible to make a statement to its 27 existing members – and those still interested in joining the club – that leaving comes at a cost.
They are unlikely to be spooked by the spectre of a ‘difficult woman’ that Mrs May is trying to promote. Still more irrelevant, to them at least, is whether the UK Prime Minister has more backing, or otherwise, from the UK electorate.
If she wants a fight, she”ll get a fight, will be their response – and a fight Mrs May has already admitted she is prepared to lose.
For talk of walking away rather than signing a ‘bad deal’ is again very popular, judged by the reception it got last night, but is a misconception.
Walking away from talks and thumbing our noses to Europe as a tax haven would be a disaster for the UK – on that the majority of experts are firmly agreed.
So what kind of approach do we need?
For ‘difficult, let’s have ‘reasonable’. instead of ‘confrontation’. how about ‘co-operation’?
Don’t fall into a second trap and misread the apparently gentler approach of Mr Corbyn.
Do you think he could fight often as a lone wolf for his many causes over the years without a resolutely stubborn streak?
More to the point, how could he have survived the storm thrown at him by his own MPs, the media and, by proxy, much of the public without being made of something other than yellow?
Here indeed is a man who almost certainly does believe in Brexit. Although he retreated to a soft Remain stance to fit his role as Labour leader, the vast majority of Corbyn’s words in the past have been sceptical of the EU.
Corbyn has been clear from the start that, for him, Brexit also means Brexit – the will of the people can not be denied.
What he wants to do, however, is get into the detail and provide the best possible security for British workers as well as, quite rightly, supporting migrants already doing an invaluable job here.
He seeks to minimise the ugly side of Brexit – the racist undertones that have become more clear since the referendum – and balance the need for and benefits of immigration with the limits of our small island.
Give Theresa May her blue light on June 8 and watch sparks fly. There’s very good reason why she chose to cut and run now and not wait for a bemused electorate to decide her fate – as they should have done under the fixed term act – in 2020.
Finally, if you still don’t get it, think about the ultimate hard negotiator – Nigel Farage.
Nobody could be more difficult and irksome as he, but would he come up with s deal?
Of course, he wouldn’t. The EU would spit him out without a second thought.
This isn’t a battle to be won through Rambo-like aggression and empty threats; it’s better fought with common sense, decency and stealth.
There’s still time to avoid a catastrophe on June 8 – but that time is short.
Wake up and smell the Corbyn coffee – or await a very bitter taste in your mouths in the next oouple of years.