As the election campaign gets underway it is becoming increasingly clear that Theresa May cannot be depended upon to deliver a soft Brexit. She seems set on antagonising the very people she will have to negotiate with.
After the Wednesday evening meeting between May, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and their entourages, an EU diplomat said of the British side of the dinner table: “They are in a different galaxy.”
A report on the Brussels news website, Politico.eu, makes dismal reading. It starts:
EU leaders expressed mounting alarm Friday that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and her team are in a dangerous state of denial about the consequences of leaving the bloc.
The worry over Britain’s unrealistic expectations was a main topic of discussion at background briefings all across Brussels’ European Quarter on the eve of an extraordinary European Council summit on Brexit.
The unnamed diplomat also told Politico:
… May and Juncker each seemed to dig in. “She toughened her tone,” the diplomat said. “So Juncker toughened his.”
By 7.30am on Friday, the morning after the meeting, Juncker apparently phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel to brief her. Within hours Merkel was cheered in the Bundestag after saying (Evening Standard report):
“We need to know how Britain sees its future relations with usto know how Britain sees its future relations with us.”
Mrs Merkel said she had “the feeling that some in Britain still have illusions on that score”.
She added: “That would just be a waste of time.”
Mrs Merkel insisted, once Britain leaves the EU, it will be an outsider and “will not have the same rights or be in a better position than a member of the European Union”.
“All of the 27 members of the European Union and European institutions are agreed upon that,” she said, to applause.
She stressed Germany will push for the impact of Brexit on Germans and other European Union citizens living in Britain to be as minimal as possible, and for co-operation on security issues, like fighting organised crime and terrorism, to remain close.
“Let there be no doubt: Brexit negotiations will demand a lot from Britain and Europe,” she said.
May seems to be attempting to ride two horses — to attract those who last time voted UKIP and Conservative hard Brexit supporters and to promise those in her party who voted “remain” that she will negotiate a minimal Brexit.
The result is the almost plaintive call by Merkel to know how Britain sees its future relations with the EU.
For those who normally vote Conservative and want the UK to remain as close to Europe as possible the risks in giving May a renewed mandate are too high.
The choice is not between a Conservative government or a Labour one. It is between a Conservative administration to a coalition of Labour, SNP, other nationalists, Lib Dems, Greens. While Labour is likely to be the largest party in a potential coalition, other parties would almost certainly insist that it choose a new leader to be prime minister.
On polling day we will not be faced by a chose between May and Corbyn as prime minister — we will be choosing between hard and soft Brexits.
To achieve a soft Brexit will require tactical voting on a scale never seen before in the UK. It will mean traditional Conservative voters holding their noses and voting Lib Dem, Green and, yes, even Labour. If you believe in a soft Brexit that is the choice to be made.