Much about Theresa May’s Brexit “strategy” concerns me. Why, for example, has there been no big speech in Prague, Amsterdam or Rome declaring her love for European civilisation in sweeping historical terms and setting out the strong cultural, economic and security ties she wants with the nations of Europe after Britain has broken free from Brussels? And where’s our ambitious economic growth plan that the EU, because of its dysfunctionality, could not emulate but which would encourage European states to want to remain plugged into our markets? And, sotto voce, where’s the illicitly encouraged think tank paper detailing our hard cop options if certain dogmatists in Brussels play silly beggars in negotiations? It would spell out swingeing cuts in corporation tax and other unneighbourly acts that, if forced, we could retaliate with.
The absence of a big picture rather than Mrs May’s quite sensible refusals to reveal her negotiating hand — even to Her Majesty — are what trouble me. Over the next nine months, a whole new European politics could be born, as the leaders of France, Italy, Spain and Germany face voters at the polls.
Some hardline anti-Europeans would like Angela Merkel punished for admitting a million Syrian refugees into Germany. They hope that the Alternative for Deutschland party overturns a political establishment that has enacted EU projects, like the euro and Greek bailouts, in contradiction of German voters’ consistent wishes. Because of its anti-immigrant policies AfD, at 15 per cent in the polls, is unlikely to be invited into government by parties representing the 85 per cent. More likely Mrs Merkel will continue as chancellor with much the same coalition as now and I welcome that.
Mrs Merkel may not give Mrs May all or much of what she wants — after all, she gave very little to David Cameron when he attempted his renegotiation. Brexit is, nonetheless, likely to be softer if electorally accountable leaders such as Mrs Merkel, who will feel the economic consequences of self-defeating trade restrictions with Britain, take the lead in negotiations.
The German chancellor is one of the few figures in continental politics with the status to dominate Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s other hardline integrationists. This Brexiteer hopes, nonetheless, that she is not washed away by the tide of populism that is set to be 2016’s gift to 2017.
Tim Montgomerie is a British political activist, blogger, and columnist and former comment editor for The Times.