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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why ‘no deal’ doesn’t work as a negotiating tactic, says JONATHAN POWELL – the man who helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Brexit, and a careless attitude towards British influence in NATO, will consign the country to the margins and weaken the cornerstone of our defence, argues GEORGE ROBERTSON, the former NATO Secretary General

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Ukip leader Henry Bolton named the party's new 'shadow cabinet' today - and what a bunch they are

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Catalonians against self-rule came out in their thousands the weekend before last.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It might seem quixotic, at a time when Spain looks like it is falling apart, but could the country’s future lie in a union with neighbour Portugal? DAVID BARKER investigates ‘Iberism’

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ALEXANDRA HADDOW on the Nordic trendsetters who have style sussed

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A second referendum that reverses Brexit would have a "positive" and "significant" impact on the UK economy, which is on track to be crippled by its EU divorce, an influential think tank claimed today.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Making money is no longer enough for firms, say ANGELA JAMESON

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The question, in a quiet voice, came from a woman in the audience at the Henley Festival’s Brexit debate, in a quiet voice: “So what do I tell my children now? They planned to live and work for a time in Europe. What now?”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Millions of families already struggling with soaring prices could end up being another £500 worse off if Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal, according to a report.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A day of action across the UK saw thousands of people take to the streets to demand Brexit is stopped.

Friday, October 13, 2017

People have been asking me if I know Simon Brodkin, the character-comedian/prankster who interrupted the Prime Minister’s conference speech to hand her a mock redundancy notice.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Angela Merkel’s power has taken a blow in the wake of the German election. Here Tony Paterson reports from Berlin on the new shape of German politics.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Roland Garros had every intention of pursuing a career as a concert pianist. An air show outside Reims during the late summer of 1909 changed all that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Chancellor has admitted no Brexit deal could leave planes grounded in March 2019.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Catalonian crisis has put Europe, as well as Spain, in jeopardy, says PAUL KNOTT.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It’s not a stretch to say that the economics of digital advertising are to blame for disasters like Brexit and Trump.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Boris Johnson is desperate to get into Number 10 – but it seems the Prime Minister has other ideas.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We’re living in the Age of Cool Dad, with politicians obsessed with burnishing their pop culture credentials, says SAMIRA AHMED.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Theresa May has claimed “the ball is in their court” in a statement to the House of Commons updating MPs on the Brexit negotiations. Brussels, however, disagree.

Monday, October 9, 2017

By attempting to quash the result before it was even known, Madrid has made the case for Catalan independence all but unanswerable.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Lawyers have told the Government that Article 50 is not binding and can be scrapped at any time before the March 2019 deadline, it has been claimed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The deluded fantasies of Leavers must have been inspired by the big screen says Have I Got News For You writer NATHANIEL TAPLEY. Here, he brings you the most Brexity films of all time.

Monday, October 9, 2017

France might be home of its most famous race, but Italy is the country with cycling in its DNA. To find out why, Patrick Sawer makes a tearful pilgrimage to its shrine to the sport.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Trieste, the city which has survived centuries of seductive illusions.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

As ambitions go, Lee Humphries’ is an unusual, if lofty, one – to ascend the highest points of 100 different countries. As he crests the halfway mark in his quest, he explains all to Julian Shea.

Friday, October 6, 2017

PETER TRUDGILL traces the clockwork progress of the word ‘orange’ from southern India to northern Europe, and finds the odd detour.

Friday, October 6, 2017

JUSTIN REYNOLDS on the Thomas Mann novel which tried to make sense of the descent of Europe’s most cultured nation into Nazism.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

In the days before Stephen Paddock reignited America’s gun control debate by raining down rapid fire carnage on the Las Vegas strip, a familiar voice was again calling the shots inside Donald Trump’s head.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ahead of the return to London of arguably his greatest work, Glengarry Glen Ross, Charlie Connelly considers the craft of polymath and playwright David Mamet.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

As with other such tragedies, the Las Vegas massacre quickly brought out the worst of the internet, says JONO READ.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

They have a new leader, but do they have a new purpose? RICHARD PORRITT went behind enemy lines at the UKIP conference and found a party on the brink.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Spain is facing an existential threat, says JASON WALSH, with the country’s fragile compromise – which has held since the end of Franco’s dictatorship – now in tatters.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What does it say about the Conservative government that Boris Johnson, a man whose record for lying, cheating and disgracing himself on the national stage stands alone in our political history, is not only tolerated in government, but actually holds one of the great offices of state?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Steve Anglesey rounds up the losers and losers (because there are no winners) of another crazy seven days on Planet Brexit.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

RICHARD PORRITT with this week's big stories.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Now the hype is over, what can we expect next from the king of hygge? As our culture correspondent Viv Groskop reports, it’s time to like lykke.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Gin has undergone a remarkable resurgence in popularity in recent years, with many new brands and flavours emerging. There are some older producers, though, with a heritage even stronger than the gin they create.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

There's good news and bad news for online news publishers: The good is that people are increasingly willing to pay for digital news subscriptions. The bad is that news often takes a back seat to entertainment services like Netflix and Spotify.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Peter Trudgill on a remarkable discovery which transformed the way we think about languages.

Podcast

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter