View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
2 March 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:25pm

Theresa May missed her chance to unite the country over Brexit

The Prime Minister cannot appeal for the country to “come back together” having repeatedly divided it. 

By George Eaton

Theresa May is the leader of a divided party and a divided country. In her speech on Brexit later today, she will concede that she has failed to unite them. “We must bring our country back together,” May will say, “taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate”.

After a divisive referendum (52-48), it is natural and wise to forge unity. But in her 20 months as prime minister, May has repeatedly failed to do so. As home secretary in the final days of David Cameron’s premiership, she unilaterally blocked a guarantee of EU citizens’ rights (despite polls show public backing for the stance).

Upon entering Downing Street, May adopted one of the hardest Brexit models available (withdrawal from the single market, the customs union and an end to European Court of Justice jurisdiction). Even more damagingly, she made little attempt to reassure Remain MPs and voters that their views would not be disregarded in Brexitannia. She sought to block Britain’s sovereign parliament from voting on whether to trigger Article 50 and to deny MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final deal. EU citizens’ fate was left uncertain. 

Nor, despite a shift in rhetoric, did May break with austerity in practice. The NHS and other public services, for which the Leave campaign had promised higher spending, were still drained of resources.

At an election that May did not need to call, Remainers took their revenge. When the Conservatives lost their majority, it became not merely desirable but essential for the Prime Minister to seek unity. The referendum provided a mandate for Brexit but the Tories had been denied one for “hard Brexit”.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Yet May acted as if, to coin a phrase, “nothing had changed”. She could have made what one Conservative minister, echoing David Cameron’s 2010 phrase, described to me as a “big, open and comprehensive offer”. Without a majority in parliament, May could have vowed to work with MPs of all parties to achieve a consensus. She instead rushed to cut a deal with the reactionary Democratic Unionist Party and offered no hint of reflection or remorse. Even now, as MPs vow to maintain a customs union, May insists that such a stance would be a “betrayal” of the British people (polls show a majority of voters oppose her).

True, the Prime Minister is in an unenviable position. For fear of regicide, she has been forced to continually appease her party’s Brexiteer wing. But a more nimble and creative prime minister would at least have sought an escape route. Trapped between her party’s demands and those of parliament, May is now left to helplessly plead for unity having only practiced division.

Content from our partners
Labour's health reforms can put patients first
Data science can help developers design future-proof infrastructure
How to tackle the UK's plastic pollution problem – with Coca-Cola

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU