THERESA MAY’S mishandling of Brexit began on day one when leading Leave campaigners like Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox were recruited to key Cabinet posts – her appeasement of the Tory party’s more ardent Brexiteers came at the expense of cross-party talks which might have brokered a better way forward after the referendum on EU membership left Britain bitterly divided.
Yet this mistake has enabled the Conservatives to be portrayed as the party of Brexit until Mrs May’s belated attempt, after countless Commons defeats, to involve Labour in deliberations when March 29, the first deadline for the UK’s exit from the EU, came and went. However, while Commons leader Andrea Leadsom warns that she would prefer a no-deal Brexit this Friday, the next key date, rather than a prolonged extension to the Article 50, these toxic Cabinet-level battles are alienating young people.
For, even though Labour is also split over Brexit, it is ominous when just 16 per cent of under-35s say they will currently vote Conservative. A new low for a party which has always struggled to win the youth vote, it does not bode well when the Tories are on the brink of a leadership contest, or even a general election, unless some unanimity, hitherto elusive, emerges on Brexit.
Yet, as the party found to its cost at the last election, political platitudes, coupled with a belief that Labour is unelectable under Jeremy Corbyn, will not suffice. Not only do Ministers and potential leaders need to come up with policy packages which resonate with the young whose Remain instincts, global outlook and liberal values are so at odds with the views held by traditional Tory members, but they have to prove that such pledges will also be honoured. If not, a combination of Brexit – and the alienation of young voters – will spell electoral defeat when the country does go to the polls.