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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Mayday, Mayday: Theresa’s Brexit ship in choppy waters

7 December 2017
Progress in the Brexit negotiations, as well as poor Tory policy-making, suggests that Theresa May’s confidence, leadership and administration are all hanging in the balance.

Several months ago, I believed that Theresa May’s success as leader would rest on a combination of spectacular speeches, composed body language and a snap general election.

After last June’s poll, her premiership had become heavily centred on the mantra of ‘let’s make Brexit a success’, and in the process she attempted to capture the hearts of those who voted to leave, in what has become one of the most important issues in peacetime history.

May’s Government promised to convey competency in solving the many detailed legal and constitutional issues that would arise from the vote to Leave, but the negotiations so far have exuded anything but competence.

Having assumed the leadership of her party in the aftermath of the vote, one of May’s primary responsibilities was to steer the country closer to redefining Parliament’s sovereignty on legislation, without supranational oversight from the EU.

As a Remainer and a Conservative party member, May’s soundbites, slogans and flamboyant speeches were all convincing. But now I am afraid to call myself a Conservative pragmatist: can Britain ultimately be better off by leaving the single market; inflaming old tensions around borders in the process?

Our prime minister presented new possibilities of success and promised to reinvigorate Britain’s place in the world. But in her dealings with European leaders throughout the negotiations, her demeanour suggested something radically different.

May’s puppet image of Brexit has backlashed on her administration, feeding the growing scepticism on her government’s strategy. Her rhetoric on Brexit is displaying a complete lack of vision and is being dictated to her by the unrealistic ideas of the hard-line Brexiteers.

The key to solving the conundrum that is Brexit will depend on May’s ability to balance competing concerns both at home and in Europe. So far the feelings from Brussels have been of frustration, anger and cynicism.


Poor policy-making has massively disrupted Britain’s direction in leaving the European Union.

Politicians in Paris, Brussels and Berlin have not been impressed with the UK’s strategy thus far, despite 40% of Brits supporting the Government to continue with its current negotiating terms, according to a poll by YouGov for The Times.

Still, 12% believe the Government should reconsider its Brexit strategy and focus on a softer Brexit, after recent disagreement on Britain’s future financial commitments and concerns over the Irish border question. Many within the Conservative Party and the EU still maintain that a hard-Brexit is unfeasible.

Perhaps May’s failure to deliver her own vision of a post-Brexit Britain, coupled with the EU’s rejection of her demands, has left the Tories with an ultimatum: either adjust their Brexit policy or continue down the current path, which doesn’t seem to be producing the required results. Something must change radically to break the deadlock.

Tory policy-making

May’s stance on leaving the single-market, customs union and the European Court of Justice is extremely ambitious.

This hard-line, cosmetic rhetoric reveals the nature of her strategy, but unequivocally lacks an alternative apparatus to replace the UK’s single market membership.

Her vision of the ultimate British Dream has become a nightmare for UK citizens. The British public were promised prosperity through free trade deals with Japan, America and elsewhere; however, whether or  not these trade deals materliase remains to be seen.

In addition, the suspension of legal leverage from the EU over the UK judiciary returns sovereignty back to national courts and Parliament itself. This would mean politicians would be given greater manoeuvre to determine settled status rights and liberties of European citizens, as well the ability to more flexibly implement stringent anti-terror legislation.

Still, Tory policy-making remains clouded with uncertainty on whether the UK will pursue an EEA membership model, or return to a sovereign Britannia.

The surfacing of hard Brexit policy and the emerging red-line issues suggest that May has put aside no time to consult her colleagues outside of the cabinet and across the party more broadly.

She said no to unifying Remain Conservative MPs, and no again to designing a UK/EU market system that could deliver fresh membership with frictionless single market access. She did, however, agree to implement a populist agenda which undermines confidence in her leadership and ability to get us through the negotiations.

Current progress reveals that so far, May has failed to substantiate the claims that she and the Conservative Party can make Brexit a success. The Government must change its stance on Brexit and develop better lines of communication with EU officials.

May’s Brexit strategy should harmonise the interests of all European actors to avoid continuing delayed talks and unresolved issues. Her Government should focus on modifying its policies to revive the support of key reformist players, such as Emmanuel Macron.

The prime minister could alter the Conservative’s policy-making credibility; better define Britain’s future and therefore leave a political legacy of her own. However, with the DUP rejecting her latest deal with the EU on Monday; it appears that May’s Brexit ship is entering increasingly choppy waters.

Words: Daniel Deefholts