The future of UK is now the plaything of one woman’s determination to cling to power

PUBLISHED: 14:57 18 June 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May

PA Wire/PA Images

What will Theresa May’s legacy be?

When asked Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievements, older Tories can detain you for some time as they trot out their list. But close to the top for a lot of them will be the UK gaining access to the single market.

When asked John Major’s greatest achievements, the list might be shorter, as was his term in office, but right up there for him would be the role he played in laying fresh foundations for the Northern Ireland peace process.

As the word ‘legacy’ already starts to enter the debate about Theresa May’s doomed premiership, there is a clear risk hers will be to destroy those two great advances of her predecessors.

Her Hard Brexit policy commits the UK to the destruction of Thatcher’s single market achievement, though thankfully her botched election campaign means that debate may yet be re-opened. Her dangerous deal with the DUP meanwhile risks the destruction of Major’s great achievement and that of Tony Blair, who built on what Major started and eventually brokered the Good Friday Agreement.

I use the word broker very deliberately. To a large extent that was what he and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern did. Once there was acceptance that any change to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland was a matter for the people there, and not a strategic question for the UK government, and once it was decided that there were huge issues of inequality for the nationalist community to be addressed, the rest was negotiation.

The principles of consent and fairness were the foundation stones. The hundreds, thousands of hours of debate and dealing and negotiation added the bricks and mortar. There have been setbacks and the occasional political crisis since – we are in the midst of one now – but the house is still more or less standing.

So why do I say May is putting that at risk? Because in basing her strong and stable government (sic) on a deal with the DUP she is inevitably dumping the neutrality of the government position vis-a-vis the two sides, currently in dispute sufficiently serious for the Administration not to be functioning.

As has been pointed out, not least by John Major, the British and Irish governments are the mediators in the process to try to resolve the differences, as they have been many times before. How on earth can they carry out neutral duties of mediation when their entire survival might depend on the ten MPs elected under the banner of the DUP?

Again, May is at odds with her predecessors. David Cameron resisted any reliance on the votes of the DUP because of the huge policy issues between them, especially on moral and social issues like same sex marriage, gay rights and abortion. John Major, who himself had a weak government when under siege from the Eurosceptics he famously called “bastards”, had different reasons for refusing to do a deal – he believed it would threaten the government’s ability to be even-handed in any dealings between the two sides of the debate. That was the right and principled thing to do, even if it made his life difficult. What May is doing is wrong, unprincipled, and dangerous.

When I raised this on BBC Question Time last week, I could see from the audience reaction that many, though aware of the DUP’s extreme social conservatism, were largely unaware of this mediation fact. I wonder if May might have been too, but in her panic to cling on to power decided that any port in a storm would do. Now that John Major and others have educated her, I wonder if she might think again. After all, she does change her mind from time to time.

After she became Prime Minister, and did a tour of the devolved Administrations, she met First Minister Arlene Foster, DUP leader, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, who would be stunned by the latest turn in events were he still alive to witness them. When I saw McGuinness some weeks later he told me that she had “no clue” about the two issues they had been in the main discussing – Brexit and Northern Ireland. He felt she had no real plan for one, no real understanding of the other, and gave no explanation of how the vital issue of the border between a Northern Ireland out of the EU and a Republic of Ireland still in the EU was to be resolved. We have always been in or out together. This is a massive change and the consequences have not been thought through.

Brexit and the border is the other situation which makes May’s deal so irresponsible. The border is one of the three issues the EU have put out front as the ones that must be resolved first. I have still not heard a credible explanation of how the ‘frictionless border’ preferred by the pro-Brexit DUP can be put in place if the government promises on immigration or the implementation of any future trade deal with the EU are to be properly policed. It is yet one more problem that they seem to think will be solved simply because they say it will. Denial of realities. Reliance on hope. Fingers crossed. La la land.

Also, though Northern Ireland voted Remain by 57-43 in the referendum, she is now in hock to the only major Northern Irish party that backed Leave. So this debate too will he skewed one way because of the reliance on one party. It gives them grossly disproportionate power over an issue that affects the whole of the UK and the whole of Ireland, the consequences for whom have been scandalously ignored by our government.

I have seen the DUP up close many times when working as part of Tony Blair’s team in the peace process. They are tough minded. They drive a very hard bargain. They will have noticed, as have the EU leaders by the way, how May, far from being strong and stable, goes all weak and wobbly under pressure. They will apply that pressure for all it is worth. And they start with the very big advantage of knowing that she is desperate, just desperate, to cling to power. They are in a very strong position. She, on this as on so much else, is not. She is weakened, diminished, done.

She can limp on. But her entire premiership is coming to be defined as a story of one person putting their own interest and survival ahead of the country’s needs. She became PM by shrinking to the back during the referendum then surging forward as a Brexiteer when the chance of the crown came. She opted for Hard Brexit and the threat to our economy posed by leaving the single market not because it is the right thing for Britain but because it was the best way of keeping her bastards quiet and – so she thought – hoovering up UKIP votes. She called an election not because the country needed one but because she saw the chance to get herself a landslide and pack Parliament full of Hard Brexit Tories who would back any deal she got or failed to get. And when it went catastrophically wrong she leapt into the first lifeboat available not because it is the right deal for the country but because it is the only way she could see at that moment to keep herself afloat.

The future of the country is now the plaything not merely of one party but of one woman’s determination to cling on to its leadership. Thatcher and Major were giants by comparison. The casual placing at risk of their achievements is shameful as well as dangerous. John Major didn’t quite say so when he intervened this week. He is, after all, very good at understatement, oh yes. But it is what he meant. And he is right.

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.

Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European

If Yes, Name to appear in The New European

Latest articles

video Should Labour stand in Northern Ireland?

Labour has traditionally not stood candidates in Northern Ireland. But on the back of the Tory-DUP deal that might be about to change

Little comfort in Davis’ muddled Brexit papers

The Government’s transitional customs proposals are a start – but it will be far from plain sailing for business

How your view on Brexit reflects the charities you support

A new study explores how and why the favoured charitable causes of Leave and Remain voters differ.

The untold stories of women and girls in deadly Detroit

A new film, Detroit, depicts the deadly five days in the combustible city over the summer of 1967 when disorder saw the National Guard sent in and dozens left dead.

Hungary: Eclipse of democracy in the heart of Europe

The decline of democracy in Hungary is an ominous sign for Europe.

video Ancient Rome was more modern than our alt-right

Social media went into overdrive when a BBC kids’ programme included a black centurion.

Support and opposition of a Hard Brexit aren’t just philosophical positions, they are ACTIONS

It’s not who you are underneath it’s what you do that defines you

video The great myth of British pluck (and why it’s a symbol of decline)

Brexiteers have deluded themselves with a belief in the native pluck of the British which will eventually win the day.

video Stirring up hatred is a means to an end for Trump’s mafia

On the ground in a divided United States of America past battle lines are being redrawn.

video The direct line between Trump campaign and Charlottesville horror

Donald Trump’s silence over the neo-Nazi’s in Charlottesville was deafening. But did he fail to speak out sooner because the only friends he has left are on the far right?

Brexit must not mean we slide back in time on gay rights

When Brexit-backing millionaire Arron Banks described homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice” Twitter reacted with horror. Here’s why Britain must not return to the dark days of Section 28

video Al Gore: No lie can live forever

Former US vice president talks Trump, Brexit and climate change denial.

This was neither up-to-date nor a poll. And not a single participant voiced their support for Hard Brexit

A recent poll by well-regarded academics suggested the vast majority of the British public now backed an extreme form of Brexit. Here‘s why that is not the case.

Parliament is filled with “spineless lemmings”

Brexit may not happen at all – when what we need are leaders, not followers, to win this battle

Leave.EU launch deselection bid in hope of dumping soft Brexit ministers out of their jobs

Leave.EU have launched a broadside on cabinet Remainers Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd in a bid to get the pair deselected.

Edward Enninful brings a new way of fashion thinking to Vogue

Fashion can be considered frivolous and in some ways it is.

My sense of humour failure over Brexit has helped clear Scotch mist

I don’t blame the Scots if Brexit leads them to want another shot at independence

The extraordinary story of how the humble spud created the modern world

The rise of capitalism and individualism in the West, and even the current reforms in China, can all be explained by the rise of the potato

Putin is just waiting for the right moment to spear Trump

Vlad the Lad is the supreme master of the macho man holiday snap...

The lesson of Singapore is not one Brexiteers want to hear

Long considered a lodestar of go-it-alone globalisation, Singapore now needs its neighbours more than ever


Watch us on YouTube

6 excellent reasons to go out and buy The New European this week

Views: 179

The rollercoaster ride of Theresa May's plummeting approval ratings

Views: 605

A year of failure and fiasco in May’s Number 10

Views: 419


Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter