Opinion: Could Brexit mean soft-Brexit for May?

It’s now less than a month until what Twitter is calling #GE2017 and the battle lines have started to become clear. The Conservatives have billed this as an effective second referendum on Brexit and the Lib Dems have duly followed the narrative, declaring themselves the chief opponents to the hard Brexit that Theresa May wants.

But is a hard Brexit what she wants?

There is something that has never quite added up about our new Prime Minister’s belligerence towards Brussels, and I would propose that all may not be what it seems in the Conservative election campaign.

It seems odd that a politician known for many years as “the submarine” for her ability to go below the radar and who didn’t campaign for one side or another in the EU referendum should now nail her colours so determinedly to the mast.

And it’s not just Theresa May for whom a hard Brexit sits uncomfortably. Say what you like about the Conservative Party, but for all its skin-changing attempts at populism – we all remember Labour’s Dave the Chameleon ads – it has always been and always will be the party of big business, and for the city a hard Brexit is not an option.

Theresa May is playing the political innings of her life

So let me propose an alternative narrative: that Theresa May is playing the political innings of her life. With the Labour Party so weak, she has the potential to secure a massive majority – one which would allow her to pursue a soft Brexit.

She needs the big majority to sideline the more extreme Eurosceptics in her party, who under the currently tiny minority of 17 seats could hold the party to ransom.

But paradoxically, that is only achievable by sending out the message that she is pursuing the hardest possible Brexit she can. The party line of “strong and stable” is one that is designed to appeal to the ex-UKIP vote, not the traditional conservative electorate that prefers a small government to a strong one.

This is a line of argument that has been aired elsewhere. Sky News Political Editor Faisal Islam pointed out that “[David] Cameron in Nantwich says he wants May to ‘win well’ so she can ‘stand up to people that want an extreme Brexit, either here or in Brussels,” in a Tweet on 11th May. He goes on to say that this is an argument that is popular in the city, unpopular with ex-UKIP voters and not mentioned by anyone in the Conservative party.

But it has not slipped under Paul Nuttall’s radar. The kipper in chief said “the mask slips, Cameron’s comments are exactly what we thought all along. May a remainer at heart.”

And this is where I enter the realm of speculation. With UKIP starting to clock what’s going on, May needed a big play. I think she got one.

How better to cement her image as Queen Brexit than by engaging in a public spat with Jean-Claude Juncker, the antichrist himself?

In politics nothing is leaked by accident…

It is often said that in politics nothing is leaked by accident – the question has been asked of the Labour manifesto leak – and I would dare to propose that the details of the supposedly tempestuous meeting between May and Juncker are no different.

Whilst Juncker and May are at the opposite ends of the European federalist spectrum, they are ultimately similarly aligned. Juncker is the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party in Brussels, and has been a keen advocate of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a deal that May is striving to replicate in a bilateral agreement with the US.

So perhaps, just perhaps, Theresa May is playing a soft Brexit blinder. Perhaps even those in Europe are on board. It would usually be a dangerous game, but with the Labour Party so weak, the odds of the big deception coming off have never been higher.