May’s Legacy Will Be that She Nearly Killed Brexit
1,300 – a number that might not mean much to you, but if you are an ex-Conservative councillor like me who lost their seat this year, it will mean an awful lot. This year, the Tories lost more than 1,300 councillors, which localgov.co.uk described as the Conservatives’ worst local election defeat since 1995.
Furthermore, Britain had to participate in the European elections, something our former Prime Minister promised would not happen, and the Brexit Party won 29 MEPs out of a total of 72. Many Tory activists proudly boasted that they voted for them in protest at Theresa May’s dismal performance in her negotiations with the EU. Her legacy will be that her premiership nearly killed Brexit.
When she came to power, May emerged as the compromise candidate who could unite both sides of the party. With Labour in an utter shambles, she had a golden opportunity to also unite the country behind her original Brexit plan. The UK could have left the EU on March 29th 2019. Her predecessor, Cameron, left her in an unenviable position and it was clear he made no contingency plans for all the EU Referendum’s possible outcomes. But the new Prime Minister appeared to have a plan when she made her Lancaster House speech. Her vision included a free trade deal with Brussels, guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights, ending the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) jurisdiction, creating a ‘Global Britain’ by negotiating trade deals throughout the world, and ending the free movement of people. Even Nigel Farage could not believe a British politician was uttering these words.
To be fair, anyone in her position would have called a general election given what the polls were saying. May’s ideology was different to Cameron’s, and she needed a mandate to pursue new policies like reintroducing grammar schools. However, the way she handled the election was appalling. The former Prime Minister was complacent. She spouted the ‘strong and stable’ mantra, but failed to muster the courage to battle Corbyn during the 2017 General Election Leadership Debate. Instead, Amber Rudd was left to step in. A series of campaign blunders and policy errors forced the Tories to lose ground to Labour, and the government lost their majority.
In hindsight, May should have focused on preparing for all Brexit outcomes instead of fighting an election. She said from the beginning that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, but no slogan of hers summarises her duplicitous and deceitful nature better than this one. The election was nothing more than a distraction to prove that the government failed to plan for leaving the EU. May never wanted a no-deal Brexit. In fact, given how she behaved after the election, it is doubtful she ever wanted it at all.
Her Withdrawal Agreement (WA) was a stitch-up designed to reduce Britain to the status of an EU colony, which is far worse than EU membership. Whilst the WA ended the UK’s participation in the CAP and the CFP, and ended the free movement of people, it failed to understand the comprehensive reasons why so many people voted to leave. May’s deal ensured the ECJ retained its jurisdiction over the UK, it kept this country tied to ‘a customs union’, which would have prohibited Britain’s ability to trade globally, and it was designed to sacrifice Northern Ireland to prevent a ‘hard Irish border.’ This is despite the fact that the Conservatives depended upon DUP votes to survive following the 2017 election.
Whilst many admire determination in a person, for May, this turned into stubbornness. Instead of sticking to her Lancaster House speech, she betrayed her own words and tried to appease all sides of the House of Commons with her WA. She pleased nobody. Instead of preparing for no-deal, the former Tory leader pushed through a plan that would never have worked and contradicted her own red lines. Britain failed to leave the EU on March 29th, no-deal never happened, this country participated in the European elections, and she was forced to flirt with a second referendum. May said she would never allow any of this to happen. Instead of defeating Farage, she allowed for his resurrection and brought about the Brexit Party’s existence. It is no wonder the Tories’ humiliating local and European election defeats happened this year.
There are many other aspects of her awful premiership that deserve individual columns, like her sacking of Gavin Williamson, her expansion of the nanny state and the way she has ensured that future governments are now committed to her target of eradicating all carbon emissions by 2050. But her inability to solve the biggest constitutional crisis this country has faced for a long time will forever tarnish May’s place in history. Actions speak louder than words, and hers revealed she never wanted Brexit. The new Prime Minister must make leaving the EU an immediate priority. The Maybot nearly destroyed the Tories by failing to solve it, and if her successor does not, the Conservative Party will be wiped out in the longer term.