Theresa May could have minimised the damage by listening to the expertsby Guy de Jonquières / July 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
Theresa May has survived—for now—the biggest challenge of her two turbulent years as prime minister. She has seen off the Brexiter rebels in her cabinet, regained a measure of control over her party and called a shaky truce in its internecine warfare over her handling of negotiations on Britain’s departure from the European Union.
However, at best her White Paper setting out Britain’s Brexit negotiating position only gets her government to the starting grid—which is where it should have been when she triggered Article 50 16 months ago. And with less than nine months left to strike an exit deal, the obstacles ahead remain formidable.
Not only must the White Paper paper win the backing of parliament, where its Tory critics lie in wait to ambush it; it falls well short of meeting the demands of the EU’s 27 other governments that May make further politically painful concessions in order to satisfy them and the European Parliament, which must ratify any deal. For May, the light at the end of the tunnel still looks ominously like an approaching train.
Could she have avoided this predicament? In fairness, “delivering Brexit” would present a monumental challenge for any prime minister. However, May’s limited ministerial experience (she served for a long time but only in the Home Office), her even more limited experience of international diplomacy and of dealing with the EU, combined with a reputation for stubborn obduracy ill-equipped her for the task ahead.
As a result, she has made mistakes that have greatly complicated that task. Another politician, more aware of his or her limitations, might have sought expert advice on how to handle it. However, May froze out those with the greatest relevant expertise, the Foreign Office and Ivan Rogers, Britain’s seasoned permanent representative (ambassador) to the EU.
Instead, she relied heavily for guidance on Nick Timothy, her powerful joint chief of staff during her first year in office and a man with a background entirely in domestic policy-making. He had a nationlistic mindset to match. Her first appointees as Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, meanwhile, were distinguished more by their enthusiasm for Brexit than by their grasp of EU legal and political realities or by their diplomatic and negotiating skills.
“For May, the light at the end of the tunnel still looks…