Richard North, 14/05/2018  

I have three clear tests for the outcomes that we want to see, says Mrs May, in an authored piece for The Times, repeated extensively elsewhere.

First, she says, any deal with the EU must protect our the Union and also honour the Good Friday Agreement. This means there can be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Second, any agreements must create as little friction as possible for trade to protect the jobs that rely on speedy and integrated supply chains. These are a valued part of our economy, particularly for our manufacturing regions.

Third, we must not constrain our ability to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world by being bound into a customs union. We must be a global Britain that makes the most of the opportunity to create jobs and growth by trading ambitiously with partners across the world, old and new.

For all of that - and the inherent, unresolvable contradictions - Mrs May tells us, "I have put forward a plan to negotiate all these outcomes and to leave the European Union". She tells us that, throughout this process, she has tried to balance the legitimate concerns of those on both sides of the debate and believes that "our negotiating objectives answer those concerns".

The path she is setting out, she avers, is the path to deliver the Brexit people voted for. "Of course", she then says, "the details are incredibly complex and, as in any negotiation, there will have to be compromises".

That means we must trust our prime minister. "If we stick to the task, we will seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain that is respected around the world and confident and united at home", she says.

She will, of course, need our help and support to get there. In return, her pledge to us is simple: "I will not let you down".

And in simpler, more trusting times, that might have been enough. A figure of the stature of Winston Churchill might have got away with it. But Theresa May is no Winston Churchill. A "blood, toil, sweat and tears" speech from her carries no conviction. It lacks weight or conviction and comes over as lightweight and superficial.

In these modern times, prime ministers need to do more than offer empty rhetoric and vague promises. Mrs May needs to open up ad come up with specific details of her intentions, concrete proposals and a realistic timescale.

In short, she needs to stop addressing us trusting children and start treating us as adults capable of dealing with the real world. Hiding behind "incredibly complex" details simply doesn't cut it. Nor does telling us that she has "proposed different options for a new customs arrangement with the EU and the government will continue to develop them during the negotiations".

You would have to be on a different planet to remain unaware that these "different options" are in deep trouble and are going nowhere. Yet, Mrs May, from the sanctuary of her little bubble, is giving the impression that she can gloss over the conflict and uncertainties – that her "people" will rally behind her for the price of second-rate rhetoric and a few soothing words.

One really does wonder if they are actually convinced that we're that stupid. Or whether Mrs May is going through the motions because she's run out of options. Or perhaps her advisors – imbued with the contempt they have for all of us – think it doesn't matter. We've been taking this sort of political vacuity for so long that a little more won't make any difference.

But that apart, one remarkable thing about the May bubble is that it seems to be locked in a time warp. She still talks in terms of taking back control of our borders, as if this phrase had any real meaning. She says the public want their own government to decide on the number of people coming into Britain from across the European Union when, in reality, it's people from the resto of the world that are often of greater concern.

She tells us that she "will ensure that we take back control of our money", when actually all she means is that "we have agreed a settlement with the European Union and the days of vast contributions from taxpayers to the EU budget are coming to an end".

In her limited framework, Brexit "means there will be billions of pounds that we used to send to Brussels that we will now be able to spend on domestic priorities, including our National Health Service". This, presumably, is doffing her cap to her foreign secretary and the "lie on the side of the bus". But is there really any sentient adult that really believes that we are gong to save any money out of Brexit?

Then we get this the repetition of the tired little soundbite that really has long ago lost any meaning. "I will ensure that we take back control of our laws". She say. "So Brexit means that, while we may sometimes choose to take the same approach as the EU, our laws will be made in Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, with those laws tried by British judges".

Has this woman seriously never heard of globalisation? Does she really think that there is any nation in this interdependent world that has total (or any) control of the global legislative agenda". Is it even possible for a halfway intelligent person to believe that the UK can be a successful global trading nation and maintain an independent law-making capability.

And, as if to prove that time stands still in No. 10, Mrs May asserts that "We will leave the single market because staying in the single market means continued free movement of people". A whole world of debate has passed this lady by. For her, it's not a matter of whether she agrees or disagrees with the alternative proposition. She doesn't even recognise that one exists.

Being charitable, we could put this down to the bubble effect. Otherwise, Mrs May is demonstrating an overweening arrogance which is so typical of the political class. Once her kind have spoken, that is the end of it. Dissenters are invisible.

Nevertheless, having rejected any chance of a developing a working trade relationship with the EU, Mrs May then gives us a dose of unreality which has us questioning her sanity – and our own. "But we will maintain the strongest possible trading partnership with our European neighbours", she says. However, he note the weasel words: "strongest possible trading partnership". Is she taking us for fools?

When it comes to word salad, though, there is possibly nothing as finely crafted as this vacuous piece of rhetoric. We will, she says, "create new trade deals around the world ensuring that we seize the opportunities to build an economy that works for everyone".

Then, with absolutely nothing on the table by way of firm (or any) proposals, Mrs May blandly asserts that: "We will get a fairer deal for our farmers and fishermen by leaving the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, regaining control over access to our waters and safeguarding the interests of the UK fishing industry".

As aspirational rhetoric, this might have worked when she stood outside parliament shortly after her appointment as prime minister, but nearly two years after the referendum, we need more than that. Technically, these are amongst the most difficult policies to devise, and it is going to take more than a few gushing clichés before we can accept that the government has anything workable in mind.

But clichés are truly Mrs May's speciality. "We will take back control of our social policy and our tax policy so rather than being decided in Brussels, we will decide them in the interests of ordinary working people in Britain". She says. I wonder if she appreciates just how empty that sounds, coming from the mouth of a Conservative prime minister.

Thus, about the only thing we might accept her word on is when she promises that "we will leave the customs union". Even then, her reasoning is flawed. This is "so we can establish our own independent trade policy and negotiate trade deals in our interests".

Not for Mrs May is the simple truth that customs unions do not stop nations making independent trade deals. In EU terms, the restriction arises from the common commercial policy. And this from a woman who tells us that "the details are incredibly complex". Indeed, they would appear to be – so complex that she hasn't yet mastered them, even if many of us have.

Perhaps, though, there is a hitherto unrecognised majority that actually likes being patronised by its politicians, likes being treated as if they are retarded five-years-old and wants to be given the "stupid" version of Brexit.

Certainly. If Mrs May is taking her cue from business, and in particular the car industry, she could run away with the impression that the nation was populated by extremely thick people.

But even at their thickest, the nation has long learned to be wary of politicians asking people to trust them. And in Mrs May's case, she has done nothing whatsoever to deserve that trust. If she doesn't actually realise that, then we must be dealing with a seriously thick woman.

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