THERESA MAY’S steadfastness over Brexit – and call to the European Union to start treating Britain with respect – had parallels with Margaret Thatcher’s demeanour on those many occasions when the lady wasn’t for turning.
Twenty four hours after being humiliated at the Salzburg summit, and mocked on social media by European Council president Donald Tusk, Mrs May’s live TV address came virtually 30 years to the day after Mrs Thatcher’s infamous Bruges Speech that, in many respects, was a precursor to Brexit.
Noting how “we British are as much heirs to the legacy of European culture as any other nation”, her words remain prescient. “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels,” said Mrs Thatcher in Belgium.
“Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country; for these have been the source of Europe’s vitality through the centuries.”
If only this warning was heeded by Europe’s elite. For, if they had, Brexit may not have become a major constitutional crisis, and the EU able to focus more on trade, defence and global relations – the priorities cited by Mrs Thatcher in September 1988.
And, just as the former Tory leader expected to be treated with respect, the same applies to Mrs May who, whatever her faults, is a conscientious leader who is intent on protecting the integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, at a time when the country has never been more divided.
As such, she was right to put the onus on the EU to come up with solutions on trade and Ireland’s border arrangements rather than rebuffing every proposal put forward by the UK in the hope that Mrs May – and the British people – capitulate.
They won’t and the distasteful picture of the aforementioned Mr Tusk offering the Prime Minister a slice of cake, which he then captioned “A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries”, will only strengthen the resolve of a country which has always been – and always will be – Europe’s most dependable ally.
Yet, while Mrs May went on the offensive, major questions persist over the viability of her Chequers blueprint, the stance of the Tory party, the position of the Northern Ireland Assembly which, unhelpfully, remains in abeyance and the view of MPs from all parties who, by a significant margin, voted to stay in the EU. They, too, now have a key role to play, in the national interest, in ensuring that Britain and the EU part in six months time on more favourable terms than appear likely at present. It’s not just Mrs May’s challenge – it’s one for the whole country and, most pertinently of all, the European Union.