Despite being a Remainer for most of her career, Theresa May continues to find herself steering the country through Brexit. And navigating the minefield of EU negotiations cannot be easy, particularly while members of her cabinet pull in other directions. But her situation has now become so dire as to assume an appearance of comedy. With May’s address to the UN on 20 September seemingly taking place before an empty room, she appears set to repeat the feat on 22 September in Brussels.
With friends like these?
It has been a difficult week for May and for Brexit. On 15 September, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson published a column in The Telegraph. In it, he outlined a Brexit vision markedly different from anything put forward by May. He even revived the infamous ‘£350m a week’ from the referendum campaign. The article immediately triggered [paywall] rumours of an imminent leadership challenge. Despite this, both May and Johnson have attempted to deny their obvious rift.
Then, on 19 September, the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU, Oliver Robbins, quit after just one year in the job. For such a senior civil servant to do this, only part way through the Brexit process, smacks of crisis.
To make matters worse, Chancellor Phillip Hammond has also been accused of seeking [paywall] his own version of Brexit. Hammond apparently wants a transitional period between membership and leaving. The UK would retain single market access in this period. Yet this is against the wishes of May and colleagues David Davis and Liam Fox.
A defining moment?
With her team in disarray, 22 September should have presented May with a big opportunity. By delivering a speech to EU delegates in Florence, she would at last be able to offer some clarity to those on the other side of the table.
But now, The Independent has revealed that Brussels’ key negotiators and officials will snub the Prime Minister’s address. Apparently, she will only be speaking to a selection of her own ministers and some minor dignitaries.
Theresa May might still be behind the wheel of the Brexit bus. But following her underwhelming UN turn in New York, her EU anti-climax could be when the wheels come off.
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