J'accuse...! Theresa May and the Tory Right


The EU referendum offered many strange sights – battle buses, hysterical headlines, Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof having a flotilla stand-off on the Thames; the sight of the right-most fringes of the Conservative Party pretending to be populists. Perhaps the most ridiculous was the sight of you turning from cautious Remainer to full-throttled Brexiter.

Although you did not, many of your colleagues gleefully hitched onto Vote Leave’s populist bandwagon, strutting about urging us to wrest back control from the elites. Here’s a helpful tip: if your uprising of the common people is fronted by Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg, it’s not much of an uprising. Yet there they were on June 24th, calling Brexit a victory for real people (as though Remain voters were elves).

They have been equally disingenuous in the months since. To most people, a 52/48 referendum result is a sign of deep division. To the right of your party it is an “overwhelming mandate” and former ministers, such as Iain Duncan Smith, now routinely shout down legitimate concerns as attempts to subvert the will of the people.

The referendum was a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ decision, with no further details on what people wanted in terms of the single market or freedom of movement. However, your party is using it as an excuse to push through the hard Brexit of their dreams. Acting as though their version of Brexit has unanimous national support, they’re demanding a blank cheque.

The entire referendum was called about, in part, to quell tensions between the Tory leadership and its Eurosceptic backbenchers. Clearly this attempt to settle the Europe question once and for all backfired on Cameron. It will probably backfire on you too.

Whereas your predecessor approached the referendum with hubris, you approached it with caution. You were a shy Remainer, opposed to Brexit but rarely full-hearted or even visible in her opposition to it. Cameron’s aides dubbed you “Submarine May”, never coming to the surface.

Your motives remain unclear. Perhaps you were more open to Brexit than you ever acknowledged; maybe you hedged your bets, trying not to alienate either side of the party; maybe you just wanted to keep out of a particularly bruising political arena. Flying below the radar pre-referendum worked - your leadership is undisputed. However there is a cost: your tactical reluctance to fight for something you allegedly believed in doesn’t inspire confidence.

you have allowed your party’s emboldened right to set the narrative

During Brexit negotiations we will begin to see what you are really made of, beyond the slogans of your leadership campaign. You fashion yourself as non-ideological, and Brexit is no exception. You aren’t aiming for a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit, you say, but simply the Brexit that works best for the British people. Yet try as you might to be pragmatic, you have ultimately become enthralled to your party’s extreme right wing.

With an impotent Labour, you have allowed your party’s emboldened right to set the narrative. A country split on 23rd June remains divided.

In advocating leaving the single market and the customs’ union, you have been happy to give the Tory right whatever it wants. In doing so, you have jeopardised the stability of the United Kingdom. The division of Brexit will now transfer to the future of the country itself.

You say you won’t give a running commentary on negotiations; “You never show your hand”, you claim. However, with the EU uninterested in granting Britain concessions and Trump as your main trade prospect, it’s doubtful whether you have many cards at all.

To conclude:

I accuse you of weak leadership and failing to formulate a Brexit policy that brings this country together.

I accuse you of caving in to the demands of your party’s right for political purposes.

I accuse your right-wing colleagues of willfully distorting the referendum result to pursue an economically and culturally damaging exit from the EU.

Your party’s right are old pros at persuading the British people to vote against their own interests. Brexit is an exception only in its sheer audacity. First, they turned the EU into a national bogeyman. Now they’re armed with Submarine May: putting it bluntly, you’re proving to be as much a follower as a leader.


Harry Mason

With apologies to Emile Zola. We also accuse:

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About the author

Harry Mason likes to call himself a freelance writer, even if his tax forms say he's technically a waiter. He graduated last year from the University of East Anglia, and writes predominantly about social politics and film. He looks forward to the day when he's able to grow a beard; until then, you'll just have to blame his so-called 'bleeding heart lefty views' on youthful naivety.

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