Saturday, 3 December 2016| Richmond byelection shock: Theresa May’s Brexit weakness revealed| Richmond byelection shock: Theresa May’s Brexit weakness revealed

by Ian Dunt

"But despite these caveats, the Richmond result does say something important about Brexit. It shows that while Leave won in June, there is outrage from many Remainers at the type of Brexit which is being pursued. A marginal vote has been interpreted in the most radical possible manner, not just by taking us out the EU, but the single market and customs union too. A more modest Brexit proposal would be less likely to stoke anger from voters in places like Richmond.

May has pursued this hard line not out of strength but weakness. She could have offered a more limited proposal, fulfilling the Brexit mandate but trying not to alienate the 16 million Remain voters in the country. Instead, she has been besieged by hard Brexiters in the Tory party, Ukip and the press. She is driving Britain towards a cliff edge, with a chaotic pull-out in two years expected to do untold economic damage to the UK. Until then, she will find herself at the mercy of European negotiators during Article 50 talks. They hold several key advantages over the UK, in terms of the timetable, the consequences of failure, negotiating capacity, and economic clout. Her only contribution to this process was a conference speech in October which limited her room to manoeuvre in Brussels in exchange for short term support from her own party.

May is weak in parliament, weak in the country and weak in Europe. She is weak everywhere. Her response to Goldsmith’s decision to trigger the byelection was to not stand anyone against him. That in itself was a startling admission of vulnerability. Not only did she have to allow a suspension of collective Cabinet responsibility over Heathrow but she had to swallow Goldsmith’s vanity byelection, and then allow him to run unopposed. And she still lost. Her wafer-thin majority has been sliced down by two."

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