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By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Last Week Friday, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May took to the podium to address the concerns of British citizens on how the negotiations of exit from the European Union are unfolding. On this day we saw a woman who wants the world to believe she is confident and clear-headed enough to lead the country to a profitable post-EU exit Britain.
To be fair, she was a completely different May unlike the “train wreck” that we saw some months back at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. This time around she was more emphatic and practically showing off as one who knows her onions. To the relief of all in the hall, no one showed up to hand her a “P45”, and there were no “missteps”.
You could see the fighter in May struggling to come out, as she addressed the various concerns of the citizens. There was no disputing the fact that May had chosen this occasion to let the public know that she has finally found the voice she lost in Manchester and a platform to fight back and attempt to take control. It was not hard to see her confidence in a week that was supposed to be very hard for her. She was riding the cloud knowing that she had made it to Friday and another opportunity to lay her plans down to the public.
It was not a particularly good week for residents in the UK too. The “Beast from the East” touched down last week Wednesday, bringing in its wake, snows and icy conditions, which caused travel chaos, power cuts, deaths and school closures from Scotland to England, Northern Ireland to Wales. It is recorded last week’s weather in the country was the worst snowstorm in fifty years. It was so bad that members of the armed forces had to be called in as hospitals and police were struggling to cope.
As the “Beast” was touching down in the UK, the European Commission officials also published the draft “Withdrawal Agreement” between the EU and the UK, thereby adding more woes to the PM’s miseries. Despite the minus zero weather, May was visibly hot under the collar. This was because there were a few points in the draft agreement that do not sit well with various sections of the public.
The most topical issue in the draft was the common market. This is of great concern and turning out to be a hard nut to crack in this exit negotiations. While the Irish are concerned that a total divorce from the EU will bring back the hard borders as in the past, the hard-core Brexiters are pushing that the UK leave the single market. Leaving the European single market will invariably bring back immigration and border controls with the Irish.
There is no doubt that the PM and her people are not highly regarded as being capable of negotiating a good EU exit deal for the country. Opinion polls suggest that citizens think the government is not doing enough to protect their interests. This is understandable, as May’s government has been shifting goal posts and conceding on certain issues in regards to the exit. Of recent, one of the topics that her government regarded as “red lines” was craftily “sidestepped” when it said: “EU citizens and their family members will be able to move to the UK during the implementation period on the same basis as they do today”.
It is probably the unpredictability of May’s government that angered two of her predecessors, Tony Blair and Sir John Major, to come out against her. You wouldn’t think these two have anything in common other than they were at one time or the other occupants of 10 Downing Street. This as far as the comparison will go. Blair is a leading figure in the Labour party while Major was in power as a Conservative Party Prime Minister.
You would expect them to have polarised ideas, but in recent times they have found a common denominator as they share thoughts on two particular issues – BREXIT and May’s leadership. It is no secret that, given the opportunity, these two wish the referendum vote of June 23, 2016, be reversed. They have several times raised the idea of a second referendum in the hope that the electorates will think “rightly” and vote to stay in the union.
Blair in Brussels last week declared that Prime Minister May was incapable of getting the best for UK. He said “Some in Britain believe that therefore Europe will bend in its negotiating stance and allow Britain largely unfettered access to Europe’s single market without the necessity of abiding by Europe’s rules. This won’t happen because quite simply it can’t.”
It was not May’s plan either, as she said on Friday that “If we want good access to each other’s markets, it has to be on fair terms. As with any trade agreement, we must accept the need for binding commitments – for example, we may choose to commit some areas of our regulations like state aid and competition to remain in step with the EU’s.”
For once, May admitted what the EU bureaucrats have been saying since 2016 that Britain cannot eat its cake and still have it – exit and still be in. We all know this, but May seized another opportunity to remind us what the conditions of negotiations are. It is obvious that some shifting here and there have to be made to arrive at solutions that may not particularly be beneficial for all the parties concerned. We all know as this is why it is called negotiations.
It was clear that May’s speech was to debunk views that her government is being run by few people. As she set out the five steps towards future economic partnership between her country and the EU, she seized the opportunity to make a pledge “to the people that I serve: I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”
This is assuring, as Sir Major had earlier in the week raised concerns over the hard path the government was toeing. He had said: “For the moment, our self-imposed “red lines” have boxed the Government into a corner. They are so tilted to the ultra Brexit opinion, even the Cabinet cannot agree on them – and a majority in both Houses of Parliament oppose them. If maintained in full, it will be impossible to reach a favourable trade outcome.”
May is still not clear on what Britain wants from post-EU, but there is no doubt there are difficult days ahead for the UK. She might have survived this speech; there are many explanations she would have to brace up for in the future. Soon, she might be singing another tune apart from “you cannot eat your cake and have it” when British people demand a detailed exit plan.
As published in the Sunday Vanguard of March 4, 2018