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Why the Conservatives have no mandate for "hard Brexit"

The majority of voters backed parties who support a soft exit from the EU.

The Conservatives' majority has gone but their Brexit stance remains the same. As David Davis begins negotiations with the EU, the government is still committed to leaving the single market and the customs union.

Brexiteers are fond of boasting that "85 per cent" (the combined vote share of the Conservatives, Labour, Ukip and the DUP) backed "hard Brexit" at the general election. By this logic, despite the loss of their majority, the Tories retain a mandate for their stance. But analysis of the parties' manifestos suggests otherwise.

It is indisputable that the election provided a renewed mandate for Brexit. Labour is unambiguously committed to leaving and the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the SNP won just 12 per cent of the vote and 48 seats. This tallies with polls consistently showing that more than two-thirds of the public now back Brexit ("the 48 per cent", as I've written before, no longer exist). In the form of the referendum and the general election, Leavers now have a double mandate.

Some go further and contend that there is a mandate for "hard Brexit" on the basis of Labour's manifesto. The document did not commit to single market and customs union membership and stated: "Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union". It's sometimes said that this is identical to the Conservatives' stance - but the reality is more complex.

Unlike the Tories, Labour is committed to "retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union" (as are the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens – making 52 per cent). The opposition would prioritise the economy, rather than immigration control, in the negotiations.

Since the EU will not allow Britain to have its cake and eat it, it will be forced to choose. With this in mind, Labour's statement that "freedom of movement will end" should not be overinterpreted. "Free movement" may officially end but something near-identical, or close to it, could endure.

It's not only in this respect that there is a mandate for a soft, rather than a hard Brexit. Again, unlike the Conservatives, Labour has ruled out "no deal" with the EU, a stance shared by the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens (52 per cent). The same parties support a unilateral guarantee of EU citizens' rights, which the Tories have repeatedly rejected (despite public backing for the move).

Far from enjoying the backing of 85 per cent of voters, hard Brexiteers can only claim the support of 44 per cent (combined support for the Conservatives and Ukip) and a minority of MPs. The DUP manifesto committed to ending European jurisdiction but not to leaving the single market and the customs union (preservation of the Irish "soft border" is the party's priority).

In a hung parliament, it is MPs, not ministers, who determine the government's stance. Should the Tories' position remain unchanged, the Commons will not hesitate to obstruct them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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My son is shivering – precisely the response you want from a boy newly excited by drama

I can only assume theatre is in his blood, but not from my side of the family.

I went to the National Theatre last week to see, not a full production, but a reading of a play – Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Wig Out!, directed by, and starring, the writer himself. The pre-publicity described the play as a “big, bold and riotous look at gender, drag and fabulousness”, in which “the House of Light competes with the House of Diabolique for drag family supremacy at the Cinderella Ball”. It lived up to this thrilling billing, transcending the modest expectations of a “read-through” and bursting into vivid life on the stage. The audience, less subdued, less thoroughly straight and white than a standard West End theatre crowd, rose to the occasion, whooping their approval and leaping to their feet at the end in a genuinely rousing and moved ovation.

It was a great evening, and came hot on the heels of another success only two weeks ago, when Ben and I took our youngest to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman. The boy is only 16, and freshly into drama, so it felt risky taking him to a new play. But we needn’t have worried. The piece is visceral and physical, set in County Armagh in 1981; against the backdrop of the hunger strikes, it tells a story of the long reach of the IRA, and even though the boy needs some of the history explaining to him, when I turn to him at the end of the final, shocking scene, he says: “I am actually shivering.” Which is presumably the precise response you would want to get out of a 16-year-old boy, poised on the brink of being excited about drama.

But theatre isn’t always exciting, is it? Let’s be honest. Ben and I have slunk out of too many intervals, bored witless by something flat and stagey, so I chalk these two latest experiences up as something of a triumph.

I didn’t even know the boy was so into theatre until I saw him on stage this year in a school production of Enron. He only had a small part, but still had to come to the very front of the stage, alone in a spotlight, and deliver a monologue in a Texan accent. And seeing him out of context like this, I nearly fell off my seat with the jolt of dislocation, almost not recognising him as my own son. Who knew he could do a Texan accent? (He’d practised for hours in the bathroom, he told me later.) And when did he get so tall? And so handsome? I see him every day and yet all I could think, seeing him up there on stage, was: “Who on earth IS this lanky six footer with the Hollywood smile, making eye contact and connecting with the audience in a way I never could in 20 years of gigs?”

I can only assume it is in his blood, and has come from Ben’s side of the family. Ben was studying drama at Hull when I met him; indeed the first time I saw him with his clothes off was on stage, in a production of The Winter’s Tale where the director, somewhat sadistically I thought, lined up a chorus of young men to be dancing satyrs, and made them strip down to nothing but giant codpieces. We’d only just started dating, so it was quite the introduction to my new boyfriend’s body.

Theatre was in his blood, too, inherited from his mother, and he was always confident on stage, enjoying the presence and feedback of an audience, which is why he still plays live and I don’t. His mother had been an actress, performing with John Gielgud and co at the Memorial Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon, until her career was cut short by having a child, and then triplets. At her funeral a couple of years ago we listened to a recording of her RADA audition from the 1940s, in which she performed one of Lady Macbeth’s speeches, her cut-glass English tones, declamatory and dramatic, in many ways every bit as fabulous and flamboyant as the drag queens in Wig Out!, whose theatricality she would have adored. She loved the stage, and she loved fame, and when it couldn’t be hers she revelled instead in mine and Ben’s, keeping every press cutting, wearing all the T-shirts, coming to every back-stage party. If it couldn’t be the spotlight, then the wings would do, darling.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder