Richard North, 29/05/2017  
 


According to a recent survey, some 68 percent of people questioned believe that Theresa May should reveal her Brexit strategy more clearly before polling day on 8 June.

The survey was carried out by the polling company ORB on behalf of The Independent, thus allowing the paper to inject its own spin. It suggests that many voters share the concerns of "pro-Europeans" who claim the Prime Minister is seeking a "blank cheque" to take Britain out of the EU on whatever terms she decides.

I don't suppose it ever occurred to Andrew Grice, who wrote the article, that "anti-Europeans" might be just as concerned about the dearth of information, especially since the percentage who want Mrs May to show her hand is so high.

Some of the detail, in this respect, is quite interesting. Predictably, the proportion of Labour voters who want to hear more is quite high, at 76 percent, but 75 percent of Lib-Dem supporters also believe that Mrs May should be more forthcoming. But it is not only the opposition which is expecting more. Some 59 percent of Conservative supporters want to know more.

The age split is also interesting. The 18-24 age group runs to 74 percent, compared with over-75s, where only 52 percent are curious about Mrs May's intentions. Public sector workers (76 per cent) are more likely to agree that the Prime Minister should spell out more of her Brexit plans than those employed in the private sector (68 per cent).

Altogether, though, the findings are extremely encouraging. And if they are truly representative, they must be bad news for Mrs May. They would suggest that her current stance is not winning her any friends, even in her own party.

Only recently, we had Michel Barnier suggesting that those who were prepared to entertain a "no deal" option – which includes Mrs May - should explain what the consequences would be. Now, it would seem that the majority of the British public is more closely aligned with the EU's chief negotiator than they are with the Prime Minister.

It would also seem that the Tory Boys have got it badly wrong, in trying to convince themselves that the "no deal" is a credible option. With Pete ripping them apart with consummate ease, it is likely that the only people they are fooling are themselves.

How ironic it is that the very platform that has been hosting their stupidity has also given space to Douglas Carswell to suggest that, for the most part, those in SW1 don't actually set out to deceive the public. "The trouble is", he writes, "they deceive themselves".

This is more than "trouble", though. It is extremely dangerous. If we are to believe the narrative coming out of No 10., then Mrs May is taking her advice from an extremely narrow base, selling her a mixed-up version of reality which is leading the nation to perdition.

A similar narrowness was evident in last week's BBC Radio 4 Any Questions, which had Brexit minister David Davis citing former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis as an authority on negotiation strategy, garnering support from Spectator journalist, Isabel Oakeshott, who applauded the "no deal" option.

Now, with the Conservative manifesto crumbling, and their poll lead narrowing, we learn that Mrs May is planning to relaunch her campaign, putting Brexit back on the electoral map.

Despite that, it does not appear that we are going to get an exit plan. Instead, Mrs May, if we are correctly informed, is to offer voters her "vision" of how Britain will prosper outside the EU. In so doing, she will return to her Lancaster House themes, that Brexit will free the UK to build a fairer, richer society.

All this is to happen today in a keynote campaign speech, all in the hope that it will halt the shrinkage in the Tory poll lead. Yet her unique selling point will remain unchanged as she presents herself as the best person to lead the EU negotiations. 

Given the absence of any intention to furnish a plan and the Independent report, there is no good reason for believing that this "relaunch" is will be any more successful, or lasting, than the original. The vacuum at the heart of Tory policy remains. 

What is entertaining about this is the commentary coming back from "European circles". Apparently, London-based diplomats are reporting to their leaders that Mrs May has shown signs of weakness. "She is not the pinball wizard", says one senior diplomatic source. "She is the pinball being bounced around by the two flippers, Nick and Fiona. That is not strong and stable".

Another source, we are told, has suggested that Mrs May's reputation for steeliness has been somewhat damaged: "The great leader crumbled and backed down in the face of pressure. That has been noted", he said.

More to the point, the public has noted Mrs May's reluctance to dwell on the here and now. It is all very well painting glowing pictures of what the UK might look like in the future, but any such vision will remain unconvincing is she cannot (or will not) tell us how she is going to get there.

With Matthew Parris, amongst others, concerned that the "cupboard is bare", every passing day without the necessary detail will simply reinforce that impression, to the extent that the suspicion becomes a certainty.

And, as a sign of things to come, Airbus Americas, with its factory in Mobile, Alabama, has lodged a business case with headquarters in Toulouse, France, to increase its production rate. This carried with it the potential to introduce the manufacturing of key components, such as the wings it is sourcing from Broughton in north Wales.

Broughton assembles the wings from parts made and flown in from Spain, France and Germany. It then dispatches them complete to the final assembly sites in mainland Europe.It is feared that Brexit-related tariffs and customs formalities could present a logistical and commercial nightmare, hampering the global business.

That case for major component manufacturing coming to Mobile would mirror what is happening in China, Airbus's next most important market. Its Tianjin plant builds aircraft for the domestic market and it - and not Broughton - is assembling the wings.

Even the suggestion of relocating Airbus production from the UK is another brick in the wall, indicating that businesses are making their own plans for the eventuality of a "hard Brexit". Mrs May and her Tory Boys may be deceiving themselves about a "no deal" being viable, but they are failing to convince the majority, and especially businesses with international interests.

Going through the referendum campaign without a plan was bad enough but, in this post-referendum period, its continued absence is becoming more and more glaring. Empty rhetoric does not cut it, and a picture of our "glowing future" without the wherewithal to achieve it is making the Conservatives look absurd (even more so than usual) – and weak.

One hopes that it is not too late for Mrs May, and she can pull her advisers together in time to produce a credible plan (assuming they are capable of doing the job). But, if she cannot do this one thing, she will find that her future will be governed by the obverse of Blair's famous 1997 slogan: things can only get worse.






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