Brussels has no interest in throwing the UK off the cliff—unless we insist on jumpingby Jonathan Lis / October 27, 2017 / Leave a comment
The leaked details of Theresa May’s recent dinner with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivered a vintage artefact of political gossip: a traditional mix of policy and personal drama. In these uncertain times, equally reassuring was the familiar, subsequent post-mortem, questioning who had leaked the account and why. Predictably, EU officials were accused of attempting to smear or weaken the prime minister. But whoever was responsible, the past few months have illuminated far deeper truths. First, the EU has no interest in weakening us. Second, we are critically weak without any intervention from the EU at all. Third, changing our leaders and negotiators will fundamentally change nothing.
Perhaps the most overwhelming aspect of Brexit is not its enormity—which is of course real enough—but its unfamiliarity. Brexit lacks a modern precedent in both its intricacy and legally imposed urgency. While this produces fear, confusion and, at the very height of government, paralysis, the media attempts to make sense of its new environment with old language and old tropes: the weak leader (May), federalist villains (Juncker and his chief of staff Martin Selmayr), and plotters and alternative leaders who may yet save the day with their superior abilities (ranging from Boris Johnson to Jeremy Corbyn). This approach both exposes our lack of understanding and conceals a basic fact: personality is entirely secondary to the Brexit process. The problem is not the weakness of Theresa May, but of Britain.
To be clear, Theresa May, and by extension the British government, is profoundly weak. A toxic fusion of personal deficiency and repeated strategic error has led the prime minister to the brink. This has nothing to do with Britain, the EU or indeed the Brexit vote. It was May who imposed the impossible red lines of ending free movement of people while retaining all the benefits of the single market, leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice while participating in areas under its purview, and exiting the customs union while denying the need for new customs posts on the Irish border. It was also May who hubristically taunted the EU and Remainers in her 2016 conference speech, rashly called an election to boost her power a few months later, and who…