Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Why is Theresa May following the failed Cameron playbook?

The big reveal of this week’s vote is that the Tories have learned nothing when it comes to Europe, writes Progress deputy editor Conor Pope. This article originally appeared as Progress’ daily roundup email – to get it in your inbox, you can sign up here.

Writing in the Telegraph yesterday, David Lidington, the minister for the cabinet office, laid out why the government is planning to reject a swathe of Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal bill, which returns for debate in the House of Commons tomorrow.

He says that the ‘amendments seek to pre-empt policy decisions which will rightly be taken at a later date’.

I was doing a TalkRadio paper review with Conservative member of parliament Paul Scully, who argued that this bill is merely an ‘enabling bill’ and so should not have any detail in.

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Now, I do not know if you have seen a calendar recently, but it is almost two years since the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union; it seems incredible that the Tories are still attempting to avoid making a number of big decisions about what they want Brexit to look like. It is even more incredible that they are so open about it.

I am not alone in thinking this. The government is isolating Britain on the global stage by failing to come up with a plan. On tomorrow’s episode of the Progressive Britain podcast, Labour member of parliament Bridget Phillipson tells me that she ‘visited Washington DC as part of a visit with the public accounts committee back in February, and met a number of key figures from across government and civil society. The message we got on trade and the trade deal we apparently want to strike with the US is: “Go back home and tell your guys what it is that they want. They need to come and tell us what they want from a trade deal because we’re none the wiser.”‘

Figures in Brussels are similarly perplexed, especially by Theresa May’s approach to trade. She appears hampered into silence, trapped between cabinet ministers’ absurd notions about the type of trade deals that can be struck up post-Brexit, and the reality of the type of trade deals that can be struck up post-Brexit.

We have seen this play out before. David Cameron’s negotiating tactic with the EU before the referendum was not to say what he wanted to get out of a new deal, baffle EU figures with his lack of a coherent set of demands, and then claim he got exactly what he wanted at the end of it. No one believed him.

You know how that ended? With Brexit.

Why would May take exactly the same approach, given that result? Because she does not need a good deal for Britain, or to impress the voters – she just needs to hold the Conservative party together under her leadership. That did not work for Cameron, either.


Conor Pope is deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope


Photo: Department for International Development/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons

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Conor Pope

is deputy editor at Progress

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