I think Theresa May has been misinformed on the meaning of the word ‘negotiation’. She’s spent the last few weeks telling anyone in the UK who is prepared to listen that her Chequers plan is the only Brexit proposal that can work, that she won’t compromise and it’s either her deal or no deal.
But of course the negotiations with the EU haven’t even started. If the EU were already happy with the Chequers plan then we could all save a lot of time and money by not troubling Michel Barnier to discuss it at all and just asking him nicely to please sign it off.
The whole point of any negotiation is to bring two divergent positions together to a point of joint agreement.
So, some degree of compromise then.
Unless, of course, you have an overwhelmingly strong hand with which to force those on the other side of the negotiation table in to submission. If Theresa May thinks that she is in that strong a position then she is surely as deluded as the Brexiteers who promised us back in 2016 that we wouldn’t have a problem exiting the EU on our terms because our European partners value our trade links so much.
There are those that will say that this is all just pre-negotiation posturing; that both sides are being seen to take a tough stance and to drive a hard bargain so that at some point they can say that they fought for the best deal possible. But Theresa May is holding a losing hand. Her proposed plan is already more or less unacceptable to parliament. If she compromises and agrees to a different deal, it definitely won’t get the support of MPs, so there won’t be a deal, which is a disaster for the UK. If she plays it tough with the EU and doesn’t agree to their terms we end up without a deal, which is a disaster for the UK.
Maybe it’s time for Theresa May to stop playing a game that she’s not very good at. She has already provided the EU with a common enemy to unite against. The twenty-seven remaining member states seem very happy to enter the negotiations singing, in perfect harmony, from the same hymn sheet, whilst our own government can’t even reach a consensus on their own plan.
It was always going to be a tough ask to unite a party behind a leader who just over two years ago was arguing against the direction that she’s now trying to lead the country in, and I suspect that she will, before long, be a leader without a party. There’s something to be learned there in terms of authentic leadership. Why choose to lead any organisation when you’re going to have to behave in a way that isn’t in line with your own values? Well, ambition and vanity are two reasons, but they’re not very good ones.
My only hope is that Theresa May’s downfall and the failure to reach a deal in October will be enough of a wake up call for us all to be able to stop playing the game. It’s time to go back to the UK electorate and ask them to vote on the reality of Brexit rather than the fantasy that they were sold by Johnson, Davis and their like.