The revelations from Theresa May’s dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker last week, and reactions to the Downing Street supper, have blown open the myth, peddled by the Tories and their Hard Brexit, hard-right cheerleaders, of a prime minister with a plan, able to deliver on her promises and get a deal without compromising – not that they’ll ever admit or change their approach.
The blow-by-blow account of May’s dinner with Commission President Juncker and today’s comments by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier – he warned Brexit would not be “quick or painless” as he unveiled the EU’s Brexit negotiating position– shine a light on just how exasperated EU leaders are at the prime minister’s detachment from reality regarding just how difficult Brexit will be. Of course nobody knows exactly what was said at the dinner, but from what we’ve seen of May and her ministers previously in Brussels it rings true.
Though most political leaders soundbite it up and cocoon themselves at election time, May has plumbed new depths during this campaign, and no wonder – it looks like she’s believing her own soundbites and using them in private, and in those private meetings, it’s apparent there’s no substance behind the rhetoric. And she is looking to capitalise on her own failures in the negotiations to try to give her an advantage in the elections – there is no secret plot to do down Britain, as she claimed yesterday in Downing Street.
Just saying the same thing over and over again to placate Tory hardliners and hardcore Ukipers will not make her promises of post-Brexit plenty suddenly become deliverable. This is not leading, it’s following, a position that would fall apart under the lights of a TV debate or a grilling by Jeremy Paxman or Andrew Neil were she to deign to take a break from speaking to invited audiences of the great and the mute and subjecting herself to a bit of scrutiny.
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Glenis Willmott is Labour MEP for the East Midlands.