Does Theresa May have the temperament and inter-personal skills to lead successful Brexit negotiations asks Steve Beauchampé?
Extracts from his blog, “ General Election 2017 – May Plays Her Trump Card”
We don’t have to look far for reasons to believe that the Prime Minister might be a potentially toxic mixture of intensely controlling, highly secretive, overly sensitive and with a touch of the feudal monarch about her. There’s her unwillingness to campaign using little apart from slogans, to debate live with rival party leaders, to encounter voters other than pre-vetted Conservative Party members or to place herself in anything less than totally managed and protected situations. There is surely more to all this than a natural awkwardness or introspection, of being uncomfortable around people; it is about avoiding scrutiny and challenge, it indicates a lack of self-confidence, an inability to think on your feet. And it might also display a degree of paranoia.
. . . there was no Conservative Party leadership contest, merely a coronation, with May anointed before most party members even had the opportunity to hear or scrutinise her policy platform or personal suitability for the post, let alone approve it. Rivals quickly fell by the wayside, with the mildly stubborn Andrea Leadsom’s bid terminated after she was allegedly goaded by the Tory hierarchy into making an unwarranted personal remark about May.
A bellicose and bunker-like attitude towards the most important negotiations this country has faced in decades
Theresa May’s most memorable contributions to the remainder of 2016 were her revelations to October’s Conservative Party annual conference that the UK would leave both the Single Market and Customs Union as well as end the free movement of workers, with the formal process of departing the EU commencing by the end of March 2017. None of this had been agreed beforehand by the Cabinet.
When the High Court ruled that Parliament, and not the Prime Minister, had the authority to determine when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which commences our exiting the EU, could be invoked, May was furious, ordering a government challenge in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, she permitted Justice Secretary Liz Truss to rail against the judges and failed to intervene to de-escalate tensions both when a Daily Mail front page headline called those judges ‘Enemies of the People’ and when a tirade of online abuse was directed against Gina Miller, who had brought the case.
After government defeat in the Supreme Court, May watched the subsequent House of Lords debate on the Article 50 Bill, staring at Peers from the steps of the royal throne . . .
Having stolen UKIP’s mantle (move much further to the right and the BNP might start to get nervous) Theresa May now seems to be taking cues from US President Donald Trump. Yes there were some leaks against her from EU officials, but then Whitehall also regularly leaks to its political advantage. But Theresa May’s speech outside No. 10 last week was designed to create the illusion of shady foreigners out to get Britain, before claiming that only she can save the country from them. Works every time!
May’s rage against the Brussels machine came only a day after she had revelled in claiming that the next person to find out that she was “a bloody difficult woman” would be European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Although I suspect that she’ll quickly find out that the other 27 EU heads of state and their negotiators can be even more ‘bloody difficult’ should Britain’s attitude be to go looking for a punch up. And if she continues on a confrontational course, Theresa May might now learn that the election of the strongly pro-EU Emmanuel Macron as French President will make her already difficult task just that little bit tougher. . .
Little wonder that many in Brussels are becoming tired with Britain, with its accusations and insults and with our Prime Minister’s testy approach when goodwill, reciprocity and a modicum of inter-personal skills might bring far greater rewards.
Such a bellicose and bunker-like attitude towards the most important negotiations this country has faced in decades, if not centuries, might well bring Theresa May a substantial General Election victory. Yet the country that she is creating has deepening political fissures, geographically and generationally, that both the forthcoming election and the Prime Minister’s anti-consensual and seemingly joyless leadership style appear to be exacerbating. It is a deeply unedifying spectacle. Given all of the above, do I really want to give Theresa May a mandate to negotiate my country’s future?
May 8th 2017