The degree to which some have swallowed Theresa May’s Damascene conversion to all things Brexit is really rather cute.
Let’s not forget, not only did Theresa May campaign to Remain in the EU, she did so whilst ducking and hiding as much as humanely possible. EU diehards at least have the charm of utter principle and honesty.
The Tory Leader’s approach was a total half-way house however. As it looks set to be with the General Election it was a cagey, damage-control approach aimed at minimising risk, culpability or criticism.
It has only taken Theresa May to lash out at Brussels bureaucrats with a Farage-inspired, purple-tinted tongue outside Downing Street for some to show unwavering faith in her Brexit principles.
I believe it wiser to take a much more sceptical approach towards this late convert to Brussels-bashing however.
The assumption is that the Conservatives will win a large majority in the next Parliament. For Theresa May to stumble against opposition as inept as Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott is pretty unthinkable.
But Brexiteers should take caution in assuming this to be a slam dunk win.
The larger the May mandate, the more wriggle-room she will be given to backslide. William Hague has already been open in arguing that the more Conservative MPs May is able to whip, the greater her ability to “soften” in negotiations with the EU.
As Hague wrote in The Telegraph: “A bigger majority would give Theresa May more freedom of manoeuvre to reach a deal with the EU and win ratification for it, but that is not necessarily a ‘harder’ Brexit. In practice, it would almost certainly mean she could be tougher on some matters and more open to compromise on some others.”
It is easy to see the Conservatives with a total free hand going for a ‘transitional arrangement’ that sees open door mass migration go on for years and years. For the British fishing industry to be kicked between the legs and informed that the long-anticipated repatriation of territorial waters won’t be taking place after all. Or that whoops, guys, the European Court of Justice will retain power in Brexit Britain.
The best way to counter the threat of any watering down by Theresa May? UKIP MPs holding her to account in the next Parliament.
A Prime Minister who campaigned to Remain in the European Union is likely to preside over a Parliament yes with a majority, but with pressure to sell out on Brexit applied by the likes of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. All of these parties will spend much of their time in Parliament urging Brexit negotiations to be about softening the approach as much as possible, such is their burning desire for Britain to keep the EU door ajar so that they can swoop Britain back in at the earliest available opportunity.
Brexiteers therefore should hope that UKIP can secure some representation to apply pressure on the other side: for the end product of the Brexit process to be what 17.4 million Leave voters expect and want.
Now, don’t be so sceptical. Yes, UKIP suffered an electoral massacre the other day.
And yes, the likelihood is that the party’s national vote share will drop considerably compared to 2015 as it faces the cold reality of a Tory squeeze whilst standing aside for principled Brexit MPs such as Phillip Hollobone in Kettering and Stewart Jackson in Peterborough.
But there are some cases where UKIP has a legitimate case for being the best hope of ousting a Remain MP and increasing Britain’s Brexit majority in Parliament.
As the party’s vote collapsed across the country, Hartlepool was a rare sign of the vote holding up. Voting in the area for the Tees Valley Mayoralty saw UKIP second on first preference votes with 3,486 compared to 4,242 for Labour and 3,233 for the Tories.
Hartlepool voted 70% for Leave and has a pro-EU Labour MP. This represents an opportunity for UKIP to make clear that Hartlepool’s best hopes of a Brexiteer as MP is by voting purple and not blue. Country before party here works in UKIP’s favour.
Dagenham is another example of a Labour area with a strong majority Leave vote and a Remain MP who bottled it in Jon Cruddas. UKIP received 30% of the vote here last time without throwing much in the way of resources at it. Their argument this time round is clear: if you want someone who believes in Brexit as your MP here, then voting Tory decreases rather than increases the chance.
There is no doubt that the odds are stacked against the party which, as Paul Nuttall admits, has become a victim of its own success.
But for those of us who want full border controls delivered, net migration radically reduced, fisheries repatriated, the end of the jurisdiction of European Courts and Britain out of the EU without any ifs or buts by the end of the 2 year Article 50 negotiation, the best case scenario is a Brexit majority with a rump of UKIP MPs to keep Theresa May honest.
If UKIP ruthlessly targets in specific areas, it is possible.