Surveying the wreckage of Theresa May’s premiership and the disastrous wipe-out of the Tory Party in the European Election it is difficult to underestimate the complete horlicks that has been made of BREXIT.
I don’t agree with most commentators however, that one of the PM’s biggest mistakes was to call an unnecessary election in 2017 in which she lost her parliamentary majority.
In my estimate her majority of only 15 was insufficient to negotiate terms with the EU from a position of strength; it was too small to guarantee getting Brexit legislation through the Commons; and she needed to overawe the huge Remain majority in the Lords.
Her mistake was not in calling the election, but in her handling of the election campaign, frankly I’d never experienced a worse one.
All her subsequent problems in the negotiations either stem from, or were exacerbated by, the weakness of her parliamentary position after the 2017 election.
Nevertheless, grave mistakes were made.
First, she began the negotiations under Article 50 of the EU Treaty before we were ready: she had not agreed with her cabinet what exactly it was that she was negotiating for (It wasn’t until the Autumn of 2018 that she secured their -somewhat reluctant- backing for a plan).
Consequently, the Government’s negotiations lacked coherence. The ministerial resignations from the Department of State for Exiting The EU are testimony to the fact that those ministers discovered that 10 Downing Street was negotiating quite separately and keeping them in the dark.
Second, She insisted that ‘no deal would be better than a bad deal’, but to sustain that position it would have been essential to have begun preparations for a no deal Brexit even before the Article 50 negotiations had started. Indeed, a proper analysis of all the necessary measures and the time it would take to implement them should have preceded the Article 50 process. Only then could the mantra ‘no deal better than a bad deal’ have been taken seriously by EU negotiators.
Third, and perhaps the biggest mistake, was to have accepted the EU’s demand for the sequencing of negotiations so that there could be no discussion of future trading arrangements until a financial settlement was agreed: never agree a price before you’ve seen the product.
Whether the Government can now recover the confidence of the nation under a new prime minister, it’s too soon to tell