Theresa May strode to the podium earlier today to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” which turned out to be rather appropriate. The prime minister fended off a harsh speech from former Tory ally Boris Johnson, who accused May of betraying the Brexit pledge. May told the Conservative Party conference that demands for “the perfect Brexit” will produce no Brexit at all, urging them to back her efforts to find a compromise with the EU:
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) October 3, 2018
May used a punchy speech to lay down a challenge to her detractors, a day after her rival Boris Johnson trashed her Brexit plan and challenged her authority with a crowd-pleasing speech of his own.
May ended the governing Conservatives’ annual conference with a call for the party to show that it “delivers on the issues (voters) care about and is comfortable with modern Britain in all its diversity.”
Warning party members about Brexit, she said divorce negotiations with the European Union were entering the “toughest phase” and urged Conservatives to back her plan for a future trade deal.
“If we all go off in different directions in pursuit of our own visions of the perfect Brexit, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all,” she said.
Johnson issued a similar warning, but said it was May’s compromises that would lead to no real Brexit. May’s Chequers plan was a “cheat” and a humiliation, Johnson declared:
In a brutal speech at the annual Conservative Party conference, Johnson blasted his fellow Tory, saying her approach is not only “politically humiliating” but “a cheat” against everyone who voted for Brexit.
The loquacious Etonian famous for his blond bird’s nest of hair almost ran out of words to condemn May’s strategy for the divorce deal of the decade.
“This is not pragmatic, it is not a compromise,” Johnson warned. “It is dangerous and unstable — politically and economically.”
“My fellow Conservatives, this is not democracy. This is not what we voted for. This is an outrage. This is not taking back control. This is forfeiting control.”
The problem for May is that her vision of an acceptable Brexit didn’t gain any more traction than Johnson’s idea of “the perfect Brexit.” The Chequers plan didn’t even get a counteroffer from EU leadership, a point which Johnson underscored by noting its “humiliating” qualities.
May wants to argue for time and patience, but both are running out. The deadline for moving out of the EU is coming in less than six months, and the Tories still haven’t come up with a workable solution to the biggest stumbling blocks — the Irish border and access to trade. That’s after 27 months of working on the issue, which doesn’t exactly instill confidence in May’s ability to suddenly come up with even a workable formula for Brexit, let alone a good one. The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon noted that May might have put on a good performance, but that she’s “utterly out of ideas.”
The Guardian notes that May had a lot more ideas on how bad Labour is rather than any new ideas on a Brexit agreement:
Throughout the hour-long speech, May repeatedly returned to attacking the opposition. She sought to exploit divisions in the Labour party, claiming she could see “the heirs of Hugh Gaitskell and Barbara Castle, Denis Healey and John Smith”, in today’s Labour party – but not on the frontbench.
“Instead, their faces stare blankly out from the rows behind, while another party occupies prime position: the Jeremy Corbyn party,” she said, claiming the Labour frontbench “rejects the common values that once bridged our political divide”. …
The speech contained little that was new or surprising for EU officials in Brussels, who noted similarities with May’s Salzburg address, where she declared she would not accept a border in the Irish Sea dividing Great Britain from Northern Ireland. One diplomat said the EU should not waste too much trying to “connect the Birmingham deliberations with Brexit/Brussels reality, [which] appear to be two different things”.
After a recent lull in the Brexit talks, officials are hoping the government comes to the table with new proposals on solving the Irish border question, ahead a crunch summit in mid-October. “Only 14 days to the European council, so it’s urgent,” the official said.
If May doesn’t have any new ideas on the Brexit hurdles, her next speech might well be preceded by “SOS.”