Theresa May’s speech this afternoon, in which she defended her Brexit efforts, was an expression of her humiliation at last night’s repudiation of her Chequers deal by European Union leaders in Salzburg.
It was also, arguably, a statement of thinly veiled contempt for the suffocating position she has found herself in due to heightened pressure from the EU, the Brexiteer faction of her party, and Europhile Conservative MPs.
The Prime Minister’s stern, barbed response to her ambush in Salzburg, demanding the “respect” she has given the EU to be returned, was a particularly striking development after months of what appears to have been a polite, if awkward, stalemate.
Whilst nothing particularly new regarding her policy on Brexit was revealed, this speech marks a specific shift in tone when it comes to Mrs May’s engagement with Europe.
Her criticisms of her treatment by EU leaders and negotiators, and even the shaky, wavering tone of her voice, signify a movement away from her frequently satirised reputation as the meek, unemotional, and stiff ‘Maybot’.
Indeed, her assertion that “it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals” seemed almost personal in its frustration.
However, apart from her tonal shift from robotic to angry, Mrs May’s speech did very little to clarify Britain’s situation with regard to Brexit, and offered nothing new except the repetition of established platitudes which have featured in countless previous speeches.
The Prime Minister repeated her established position on preventing a hard border with Ireland, her refusal to overturn the referendum (despite ever-growing calls for a ‘People’s Vote’), and her rejection of a Norway-style trade agreement, which would leave Britain as a “rule-taker” rather than an autonomous state.
With an escalation of rhetoric in her bruised warning to the EU not really leaving Britain anywhere further from crashing out with no deal, Mrs May’s final claim that “No one wants a good deal more than me” points further to the increasingly clear fact that, despite her efforts, she is not the best person to secure it.
As her ostensibly severe moment of defiance against the tactics of her negotiating partners ended, Mrs May proclaimed in her harshest tones: “we stand ready.”
Before turning and walking away awkwardly once again.
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