May the force be with us all the way

Prime Minister Theresa May makes her keynote address at the Conservative party conference at the ICC in Birmingham
Prime Minister Theresa May makes her keynote address at the Conservative party conference at the ICC in Birmingham

At the Tory Party Conference in Birmingham this week, Prime Minister Theresa May did much to suggest that she may not in fact be the kind of terrible Tory one might at first have feared.

Declaring that Labour ‘do not have the monopoly on compassion’ and that she is concerned to build a ‘Britain that works for everyone’, the vicar’s daughter is sounding eminently sensible and appears to be making an appeal to the centre ground.

May seems sharp, sensible, most able to talk the language of social activism and sounds amenable to the ideals of fair and pragmatic government. Already one senses a kind of moral gravity to May that her predecessor, with his PR-man swagger and business-first agenda, seemed to lack.

It remains to be seen if such ideas are merely rhetoric but it seems apposite to allow May a moment of optimism as she embarks on a premiership that will be fraught with significant challenges: most notably Brexit and the multifaceted negotiations this will involve about the single financial market, free movement, hard or soft borders, trade deals, Britain’s position in relation to European law such as the European Convention on Human Rights - what has proved an important safeguard in tackling human rights abuses, as well as the vexed issue of immigration.

Over and again May has chanted to her party faithful and the assembled media that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ with a briskness and boldness one is reluctant to doubt, and reminded us that the ominous sounding article 50 will be triggered next March. May sounds very well intentioned but the truth is that she must prepare to lead a whole ream of complex negotiations that are eye-wateringly difficult and bewildering. It sounds like we’re preparing to pull the trigger on national disaster on an unprecedented scale while destabilising the equanimity of the European community, but let’s not get anyone in a panic, just yet, for the will of the people has spoken and Brexit is what it so wills, for good or ill. Brexit means May must be at the helm of a slew of bureaucratic and legal headaches that could swell to Kafkaesque levels of confusion. She must broker the terms for Britain in regaining legal and financial independence without, crucially, allowing any dreadful after-effects from the withdrawal of EU support and the many benefits of the single market. So Brexit means establishing how disastrously Britain is about to reset its relationship with other EU countries, removing the fiscal benefits of the single market and potentially introducing yet further uncertainty at a time when the IMF is presaging doom and the pound has reached a 31 year low. The IMF has predicted further economic uncertainty for Britain on leaving the EU as well as a slump in jobs growth.

Anti-immigration feeling has been a key factor in the swing towards Brexit but what must be remembered here is that immigration from other EU member states is not the critical issue we face. The challenge our world must respond to is from the stream of frantic refugees fleeing war-torn regions across the Middle East such as Syria and removing Britain from the commitments of EU membership will have no affect on how we choose to tackle an escalating humanitarian crisis we cannot escape through diplomatic prowess or patriotic selfishness. Brexit means Brexit as May insists, but the practical and political ramifications remain fraught with potential doom and gloom.