There is little doubt that Theresa May’s tenure as British prime minister will shape the course of British and European history for the foreseeable future.
She has already restated “Brexit is Brexit”, meaning there would be no question of the Westminster parliament — despite its constitutional supremacy — ignoring the will of the people as expressed in the referendum on EU membership.
How she handles Britain’s exit from the European Union will have enormous implications for the rest of the continent, most notably Ireland, which will, on final exit, become the EU’s western border.
Senior Irish politicians have blithely discounted suggestions that we face a return to border controls with the North but they may be premature in that assessment if remarks already made by Ms May are anything to go by.
Speaking in a TV interview during the referendum campaign she said: “If you pulled out of the EU and came out of free movement, how can you have an open border, how could you have a situation where there was an open border with a country that was in the EU and had access to free movement?”
She may or may not be the smartest British prime minister since Margaret Thatcher but she is undoubtedly the most cunning, with a touch of Charlie Haughey about her.
Since she was first elected to parliament in 1997, she has been seen as a liberal Tory but wiley enough not to alienate the more conservative elements of her party.
An avowed feminist and champion of gay rights, she nonetheless opposed adoption by same-sex couples and, during her tenure as Home Secretary, lesbian and gay migrants fleeing countries where homosexuality is illegal found it more difficult than most to secure asylum in the UK.
Though a member of the Remain campaign, she was very lukewarm about it and was, at the same time, a vociferous advocate of immigration controls and, as we now know only too well, anti-immigrant sentiment was the single most decisive factor in Britain voting to leave.
Britain’s exit from the EU raises fundamental questions about the future and cohesion of the European community. The problem with the EU is that, despite ever closer economic and political ties, it remains a choir of individuals all singing their own tune.
The political leadership of its current 28 member states rarely express anything other than domestic self interest even when negotiating in Brussels.
From Thatcher to Cameron, successive UK leaders have always vowed to do what is best for Britain rather than the EU as a whole. Likewise Angela Merkel. Even when she was opening Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants, it was less for altruistic purposes than to stabilise her country’s declining population and thereby ensure its continuing economic supremacy.
If the EU is to prosper without Britain, it needs policies fit for all its members and not just the richest and more powerful states such as Germany and France.
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