Sunday, 26 May 2019

The unforced, fatal mistakes that Theresa May made

Whoever had been British Prime Minister after the referendum would have had a terribly difficult job - no one disputes that. But Mrs May brought to the job very low self confidence, very little imagination, no leadership skills and a second-rate mind. She made things very much worse for herself and her country than they need have been.

Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times writes today about the five crucial, unforced, strategic errors that everyone agrees Theresa May made: setting unnecessary red lines and then saying they were not red lines; triggering Article 50 without any plan; fighting the election abysmally badly; lamely agreeing to settle the EU divorce settlement before settling anything else; and making the withdrawal agreement with the EU in secrecy from not only the cabinet but even her Brexit Secretary. 

I would add a sixth, the biggest mistake of all: promising Enda Kenny within days of becoming Prime Minister that there would be always be a frictionless border in Ireland.

She should have resigned immediately after the 2017 election - if necessarily forced out by her MPs and cabinet. They were supine. Eunuchs.

Instead, before the election she did what Nick Timothy (a Leaver) and Fiona Hill told her, afterwards what three Remainers told her: Olly Robbins, Gavin Barwell and David Lidington

After the resignation of Boris Johnson her deal probably had little chance (George Osborne thinks none), but there was still a hope for it had something been done about the Backstop, which Olly Robbins had persuaded Mrs May to accept. 

He, as a civil servant, did not know what the House of Commons and Tory MPs would accept. That was her job and she had no idea. How could she? She lived inside herself.

The new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab was sent to reopen negotiations with Brussels.

According to Tim Shipman,

'He says that in his first talks with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, he made the case that Britain needed a way to leave the backstop. Barnier replied: “I understand that it needs to be short.”

'Government lawyers drew up two proposals. May’s Brexit war cabinet agreed that the UK should demand option two, which would give the UK the unilateral right to leave the backstop. But Raab says: “I was undermined by others in government. There was a huge opportunity there, but we were not robust or resolute enough.” In private he has told friends this was a “sliding doors moment” when the course of Brexit changed.

'May, who had lost her political consiglieri — Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill — after the general election, did not authorise her civil service negotiator Oliver Robbins even to demand a unilateral exit clause.' 
Please may Olly Robbins be sent to govern an island somewhere, immediately, without a knighthood or gong. Barwell, who is a spad since losing his seat, can be left out of the next government completely.

Theresa May will rank as the most incompetent Prime Minister England ever had though, in terms of results achieved, Sir Edward Heath and Lord North were even worse. 

Neville Chamberlain was a very good, highly competent Prime Minister at the wrong time. Everyone agrees that Gordon Brown was not up to the job but he did much less harm than Neville Chamberlain or Theresa May, despite being a social democrat and a liberal. Most of what he did was bad (his lax immigration policy worst of all) but he saved Britain from joining the euro. Had he allowed the UK a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, Brexit would not have happened. 

That was the genesis of the Brexit referendum.

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