UK politics have entered a surreal phase. Political common sense has been abandoned for power plays that lead nowhere. Theresa May has accused the European press of misrepresenting Britain’s negotiating position. She has also accused the European Commission of taking a hard line, and EU officials of making threats against the UK. These acts, according to May, were timed to interfere with the UK elections.
The Conservatives’ election strategy appears to be based on creating an “us and them” narrative, which can be echoed in right wing newspapers. Undoubtedly, many of tomorrow’s papers will carry stories of vindictive European officials out to get the UK, and Theresa May’s government will be depicted as tough but fair. This rhetoric will play into the anti-EU sentiments that have been exposed in a post-referendum Britain, but to what end? Theresa May has fanned the fires of anti-EU sentiments, but once the flames catch, they can’t be controlled. It will be a heavy task for the next government to smooth over the resentments that are sure to arise from the tactics this government has employed.
It is clear that the Conservatives intend to keep the focus on Brexit to win this election. Observers should expect a pivot to Brexit any time the Tories are challenged on their domestic policies. They can keep the other parties at bay if they succeed in making this a single-issue election, namely Brexit. It creates diversion from issues where the Conservatives are weak, such as increase in taxes, privatisation of healthcare and likely cuts in public spending. More significantly, it mutes the promotions of policies by other parties, which might win over voters.
Theresa May’s strategy may pay off, as the Conservatives are likely to win this election due to the Labour Party’s ineptitude. At which point, the new government might learn the true meaning of Pyrrhic victory. The hardest part in all of this isn’t winning this election; it is in securing a Brexit that doesn’t destroy the UK economy. Theresa May is probably counting on the EU bureaucratic common sense to prevail, which is why she feels free to throw around accusations at EU Officials. She most likely expects EU officials to let bygones be bygones once she has secured her election victory. If and when the Conservatives win in the election, they might find themselves faced with a European Union fed up with the UK’s antics. It might be less about the UK wanting to leave and the EU wanting the UK to be gone.
There will be a political price to pay for Theresa May’s attack on the EU. It is most likely that the Tories will agree to pay the outstanding bill to leave the EU, in order to smooth ruffled feathers. Unfortunately, it might not be enough to restore goodwill and the people of the United Kingdom will bare the brunt.