Theresa May is naive to think a clear Tory win is the answer to Brexit
By Nick Clegg MP in http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/nick-clegg-theresa-may-is-naive-to-think-a-clear-tory-win-is-the-answer-to-brexit-a3519146.html
So, in the end, Theresa May's decision to break her word on a snap election was as disingenuous as it was inevitable: with the Brexit press braying in support, Jeremy Corbyn as inept as ever, Parliament reduced to a supine whimper, what did she have to lose? So she confected some paper-thin excuses about the dastardly habit of opposition parties opposing the Government, took a bow from the sycophants in the Right-wing press and now hopes to sail effortlessly towards a world free of all meaningful opposition after June 8.
The markets have reacted well and the instant consensus in the boardrooms of the City is that a bigger Conservative majority will lead to a smoother, softer and more sensible Brexit. May and her small clique of unelected advisors must be as pleased as punch.
Conscious as I am that criticism by "saboteurs" such as myself is verboten by the Brexit thought police, I still think it's important to keep a grip on cold reality. So here are three simple reasons why things won't necessarily play out according to No 10's cunning plan.
First, for every reaction in politics, there is always a counter-reaction. As I listened to the PM's platitudes on national radio yesterday - "best possible deal", "strengthen my hand" etc - it occurred to me that the more that voters are exposed to such a dreary view of the future, many may decide to opt for a cheerier alternative. There is something deeply un-British about a hitherto unelected PM who now wants to use an election to undo the basic function of opposition in our democracy. Even ardent Brexiters will, I predict, start feeling faintly queasy as they contemplate a PM with a landslide majority on June 9, determined to do exactly what she, and she alone, wishes for the future of our great country.
The haste with which this election was called, not just to exploit the haplessness of Labour but to lure voters into the Conservative corner before bad Brexit news becomes fully apparent, may begin to feel a little too tricksy, too cynical for many people's tastes. And if that makes some older voters uneasy, it could enrage younger ones. Not only have they been told that their overwhelming vote for Remain last year counts for nothing, not only will they have to pay the consequences of a future they didn't vote for, now they are being told they'll have to swallow a "hard" Brexit without complaint. You can only take voters for granted for so long before a reaction develops.
So parliamentary candidates across the country - not just Lib-Dems but pro European Conservative and Labour candidates too - will need to assert ever more forcefully that they are not going to be cajoled into giving May a blank cheque. Whatever the outcome of the election, it is essential that MPs in Parliament retain their right to reject a bad, hard Brexit deal - or no deal at all - when it comes before them at the end of the Article 50 talks.
Second, from now on May "owns" Brexit hook, line and sinker. Until this week I think there was a considerable amount of sympathy in the country for her predicament. Voters could see that she had supported a different referendum outcome but many felt she was dutifully following the instructions handed to her by voters last June. She didn't relish Brexit but was going to make the best of a difficult job - and many people felt she deserved some credit, and support, for discharging her national duty.
As of June 9 - assuming, that is, that she remains in No 10 - the picture will have changed utterly. From that point on, her choice to opt for a hard Brexit - not just quitting the EU's political institutions but severing our membership of both the single market and the customs union - will no longer be seen as an unavoidable outcome foisted upon her, but one that she, and she alone, has brought about. After June 8, she will be in full control - and fully responsible for anything and everything that goes wrong.
Third, it is naïve to assume, as the Prime Minister has suggested, that a thumping Tory majority on June 8 will automatically make the rest of the EU more pliable in the Brexit talks. While it is true that the delay of the next election to 2022 will give the Government more scope to agree longer and more sensible transition arrangements, the rest of the EU will start planning on the basis that the final destination - a complete rupture between the UK and the EU's single market and customs union - is now unavoidable. This will lead them to take a tougher, not softer, approach to the details of the final deal with the UK.
The lingering hope that some kind of accommodation can be found in which the EU and the UK meet each other halfway will be replaced by a hard-nosed defence of the EU's own interests against the dangers of an offshore UK economy threatening to undercut the continent's social and economic model.
In other words, as May's domestic political position strengthens, so will the resolve among the EU-27 to protect their own interests. Much as the PM's insistence on her own, narrow interpretation of last year's closely contested referendum result will elicit a counter-reaction among many British voters, so too it will provoke a reaction in Europe itself.
In short, May is likely to encounter an enduring political truth: when politicians expect voters to do what they're told, they have an unnerving habit of disobeying orders.