In a little over a weeks time around the bars and hotels of Birmingham, Brexit was always going to be the dominating topic of conversation. You could’ve, quite reasonably, placed a bet that a lot of the conversation coming from grassroots members would be angry, disappointed even, at what they see as a weak Chequers deal.
Certainly, were you to browse #StandUp4Brexit on Twitter you’d see the sort of passionate activists that will be filling the halls of the International Convention Centre at the end of this month. You’d also see the frustration a lot of them are expressing at what they perceive as a weak deal put forward by the Prime Minister and not enough evidence she’s standing up to the European Union.
However Donald Tusk seems to have achieved something the Prime Minister herself has struggled with recently – uniting a majority of the public, and her party, behind her.
The fatal miscalculation the European Union made was that whilst as nation we are often happy to mock our national figures ourselves, we don’t expect that of them.
The mistake they’ve made is that whilst plenty in the UK are divided on whether they wish to leave or not, or how to they want to leave – the British public are very united in not wanting to be mocked or bullied by Brussels. By treating us with the contempt they did this week, all Brussels have done is give us something to unite against them.
So it appears Donald Tusk has inadvertently given Theresa May a gift in time for the Conservative Party Conference. In challenging, and disrespecting her, so publicly he gave her the opportunity to give a strong, rebutting speech and demonstrate the ‘bloody difficult woman’ the Tories selected as their leader is still there.
The focus at conference now won’t be on how she’s negotiated up to this point, nor will there have to be too much chatter about Chequers – now it will be about the intransigence of the EU, the childish Instagram taunting of Donald Tusk and Theresa May’s fierce speech.
It won’t just have an effect on the activists, speeches too will be impacted. It’s a lot harder to attack the current negotiating position of a Prime Minister who is currently locked in a death stare with the EU – because, frankly, that’s what many have wanted all along.
And it’s just conference, it’s parliamentary arithmetic too. For months it’s never been clear whether there was a parliamentary majority for a no-deal Brexit, but now with the anger directed at Tusk and his band of bullies it becomes a much more viable proposition.
If the EU continues to respond in the way it has, it will become easier and easier for the Prime Minister to take us out of Europe without a deal – something which many of her members already want, and something she made clear she could and would do in her speech.