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May's Ego Trips Are Gambling With Britain's Future After Brexit

05/05/2017 16:53 BST | Updated 05/05/2017 16:53 BST
Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

In trying to win the election by putting the country on a war footing, May is taking a high-risk gamble with both her chances and Britain's.

The actual substance of her claims about shadowy "unknown" European influence on the general election do not bear the smallest amount of scrutiny. Anyone who believes Jean-Claude Juncker, Guy Verhofstadt and the rest of Brussels' inner circle would prefer to see an EU exit negotiation in the hands of a radical left-winger should spend five minutes reading about Greece. They are closer in political allegiance to the Tories than to any other British party.

Nor are Juncker's musings of any interest to swing voters in Derby North. In fact, the unflattering write up which May cites as evidence of shady Euro-meddling was published in a German paper, mediated by British journalists in initial reporting and barely read by any Brits until her intervention drew attention to it.

May apparently believes the EU are timing events to coincide with the election - in short, that events we have known about since the triggering of Article 50 in March, are timed to coincide with an election May herself called two weeks ago. The European Union may be powerful, but it isn't clairvoyant.

Yet regardless of the facts, May's intervention did exactly what it intended. It bagged front page headlines in virtually every national paper. It identified May's personal interests with the national interest, as her campaign has sought to do. It drew fire away from her secretive campaign and her disastrous dinner with Europe's negotiators on Monday. And it put election debate on a war footing, maximising the potential for her 'strong leadership' line to work - because really, we cannot imagine Corbyn threatening to nuke Strasbourg when we don't get to keep the European Medicines Agency.

In the absence of a threat to the nation from any great Cold War-style power, May and Trump are together proving that making one up can work just as easily, whether it's North Korea or Spain. The great irony is that using an inflammatory "meddling foreigners" line to disrupt the debate is a trademark of the most significant meddling foreigner in British politics - Australian strategist and Tory adviser Lynton Crosby, whose last contribution to our body politic was a campaign that plastered the dead of the 7/7 attacks over newspapers in an attempt to get Zac Goldsmith elected.

All this would be farcical if it wasn't so serious. The reports of May's humiliating dinner with European negotiators are in line with everything we know so far - she is able to talk tough in a way that appeases Daily Mail readers, but has failed to extract anything concrete or serious out of Europe. This row damages our negotiating position even further. There's nothing wrong with riling up the other side if your hand is superior - but May's is not. Her only material threat to the EU so far has been a threat to turn Britain into a giant floating tax haven, with London as Singapore, albeit surrounded by more fields (which is far more of a threat to our public services than to Eurocrats' pride.) Corbynite diplomacy will get us further than Tory bluster at this point.

May has dropped ten points in the polls in a week. Her badly stage-managed campaign has been mocked by journalists and seen her booed out of Bristol, locking poor local Cornish journalists in spare rooms, and getting yelled at on the rare occasions she does come into contact with voters. She may expect to win, but she knows - as Gordon Brown did in 2007 - that losing ground will cost her valuable political capital.

Anything less than a bruising victory threatens to expose her complacency and inertia, and Corbyn now looks set to, at the very least, deny May an all-out rout. So she has retreated to form, painting a portrait in which almost every camp that isn't her own - Tory backbenchers, Labour, other opposition parties, the Scots, Brussels - are traitors and saboteurs. It's dirty and dangerous politics.

Most importantly, it's bad for Britain. We are on the eve of our most important trade deal in modern history. If there's one thing we can agree on across the spectrum, it's that if Brexit must happen, it needs to work as well as possible. But our chief negotiator is willing to kick holes in our negotiating position in order to cling to power in a post she only occupies by accident - and that should worry everyone.