Theresa May's half-Brexit party does not appeal to Leavers or Remainersby Justine Greening / May 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Margaret Thatcher once said “standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.” It’s a tough message, but she was right. Politics is about choices. The harsh reality is that the PM’s Brexit deal is political roadkill and parliament is in gridlock. For the sake of the national interest, ministers must decide on an alternative route, one that best brings the British people with it.
The parliamentary maths means paralysis will remain whoever is running the Tory party after Theresa May. But Conservatives must recognise why the PM’s deal has suffered historic defeats on three occasions. Her strategy was a misjudgment of how Brexitland politics works differently from our conventional party system. In Brexit Britain, the conventional parties don’t function. Instead, the parties are Leave and Remain. Until last July, the prime minister strongly represented the Leave “party,” in policy and rhetoric.
Yet without warning, she switched and effectively created a new third force—the half-Brexit party. Having disenfranchised Remain party voters with “Brexit means Brexit,” the PM’s new half-Brexit party then systematically disenfranchised previously loyal Leave party voters, which has left a wide open gap in the European elections for Farage’s self-styled “real” Brexit Party.
It was unrealistic to expect millions of voters to smoothly switch from their referendum Leave or Remain party to a new, unknown half-Brexit party. The best part of a year on from Chequers, just 12 per cent of people support the PM’s deal. The half-Brexit party has failed to carry parliament—it’s essentially lost three no-confidence votes.
So where next? There are no easy answers for the Conservatives or Labour, though a fudged choice is costlier for the Conservatives because we’re in government.
I fully recognise that many Leave voters see a clean-cut, hard Brexit as more in line with what they voted for in 2016. A Tory leadership contest looms that could produce a hard Brexit leader, followed by a reversion to being the “real” Brexit party. But will that deliver success at the next general election? We tested a hard Brexit strategy in 2017. Even with Ukip sometimes standing helpfully aside, the Tories shed seats in parliament. That’s because the combined “Brexit means Brexit” Conservative/Ukip vote share, taken as a whole, declined from 2015…