The much-anticipated Brexit Speech by British PM Theresa May yesterday was dubbed the biggest speech of her career. But if there ever was an overhyped media event, this was it. In fact, even the annual State of the European Union addresses by Jean-Claude Juncker have more zest (especially when he goes off-script). But the fact that she basically reiterated that Brexit means Brexit, only in longer sentences, should surprise nobody.
PM Theresa May using longer sentences to say that Brexit still means Brexit (source)
To be fair, May did try and put some meat onto the shaky English skeleton flipping the bird to Europe. She has, for all intents and purposes, outlined the UK’s opening positions when and if Article 50 is triggered. The meat being so-called Clean Brexit.
OT: Did you notice how the narrative has changed? It’s no longer Hard Brexit versus Soft Brexit (with soft being instinctively preferable) but rather Clean Brexit versus… Muddy (Dirty? Unclean?) Brexit. The name alone is designed to make it instantly more appealing to the masses. So, expect this Clean Brexit narrative to be pushed, well, hard, for the next couple of weeks until the March/April deadline for triggering Article 50 (or will that be rebranded as “launching Article 50”?) starts to loom large.
The 12 points of Brexit are, of course an opening negotiating position only until they are not any longer. If anything, the Brexit Speech has confirmed the validity of the old adage that foreign policy is only a continuation of domestic policy. Doubly so in this re-emerging world of geopolitics and Realpolitik.
You see, soft Brexit was, in all honesty, never anything more but a pipe-dream of the not-so-euro-sceptic camp (I imagine true Europhiles in the UK are few and far between). After the Tories briefly but oh-so-dramatically went to the mattresses over the Brexit Ka-Boom, it was clear that it is the hard-liners who run the show. And it is them that May has to appease. Which is precisely what she did with her 12-point plan (also, re narrative, note the biblical numeral reference).
And just in case she had any doubt as to who was calling the shots, Michael “People-Have-Had-Enough-Of-Experts” Gove went over her head and behind her back to do a cock-sucking interview with Donald Trump only days earlier. Well, the part that Gove did was pure fellatio. The other guy was a proper German journo for Bildt and they’re just too, well, proper.
Anyhoo, point being that this effectively makes Gove the first notable UK politician to have scored eyeball time with The Donald and also the one to have extracted the “UK will get to the front of the queue” pledge from the man. That is, until the man shifts positions as he is prone to do. But in terms of putting Gove on the map and May in her place, the slimy back-stabbing weasel could hardly have done better. At least Boris is playing ball and executing a fairly effective charm offensive all across the EU, as he did in Ljubljana the other day.
— pengovsky (@pengovsky) January 11, 2017
While we’re on the issue, much was made of May’s supposedly thinly veiled threat of not wanting to have negotiation details leaked to the front pages of the newspapers. But what if is this was read wrong? What if is this wasn’t a warning to the press but rather to her own people to shut the fuck up and toe the line?
You see, May’s problem are neither the EU27 nor the press. The latter is predominantly euro-sceptic as it is and the member states are playing defence until shots are actually fired. Theresa May’s problem are rabid Leavers and resentful Remainers within her own party.
At the same time, however, she needs to take stock of both the UKIP and the Labour party. While the former are being their usual xenophobic self led by a man who resigned and then rescinded his resignation more often than high-level apparatchiks in latter-stage socialist regimes, the latter are apparently going full Trump. And you never go full Trump.
Jeremy Corbyn (re)discovering populism will inevitably mean Labour competing for votes with UKIP. Insofar they’re not doing it already, that is. The problem for Jezza is that Nigel was there first and the people tend to like the original. Even if he is a former trader who hasn’t held what he’d call a real job in the last two decades.
Enter PM May with her
hard clean dogmatic Brexit which will inevitably be denounced by Farage as too little too late (even though it is exactly what he demanded) and you’re in a situation where both major UK parties are sleep-walking into a UKIP electoral upset sooner rather than later.
This, of course, leaves a gaping hole on the Remain side. Whether or not this will be filled with resurgent LibDems or is there a bigger upheaval in the cards, remains to be seen.
But the fact remains that short of a few basic but inevitable positions, May’s Brexit Speech was short of details and long on bravado. Case in point being the threat to walk out of negotiations if the UK (or, what’s left of it) doesn’t get what it wants. Which is nothing more but London talking itself into a position it will find hard to get out of later in the process. And it is also precisely where the EU leadership wants it: furiously demanding that which it once already had.
And if you want more indication that yesterday’s talk of a global Britain was mostly hot air, take a look at the dramatic ending. History is being made. Posterity is being considered. Think of the children. All that jazz. Because if she had anything substantial to offer, she’d be doing it in the here and now.
In short, Theresa May’s Brexit speech may have been a strategy outline but underneath it sounded a lot like a cry for help.