“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end, until it be thoroughly finished, yields true glory.” – Francis Drake, aboard the Golden Hind, to Sir Francis Walsingham, off Cape Sagres, Portugal, 1587
Well she did it, and about time too. Tempted by polls showing her fathoms ahead of Jeremy Corbyn – (surely the picture next to the definition of “gormless” in the dictionary) – Mrs May took the plunge to rid herself of an uncertain majority. Whatever the exact outcome of the June election, the results are already in; she will be strategically successful in doing so.
Gone is the implied threat of political blackmail and revenge by disgruntled former Cabinet ministers, such as the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none George Osborne. Gone also is the (highly unlikely) fear that the disjointed opposition might somehow join forces to thwart her: unelected left-leaning Lords, the forgettable Lib Dem leader (feverishly dreaming that Brexit never happened), economically illiterate Scottish Nationalists, and the remnant of the grown-up Labour Party (suffering mightily under their clueless leader).
While it was always highly unlikely that this rabble could bring themselves to agree on an ice cream flavour, let alone a common policy, they did pose a more tangible threat in terms of vetoing the ultimate outcome of the Brexit negotiations, peeling away enough soft Tory support then disappointed that the talks did not yield a soft Brexit.
With a likely majority of 100 or more (and it will be higher), Mrs May skilfully proves she is taking no domestic political chances with the Brexit negotiations. This must signal the Prime Minister means precisely what she says; the Brexit outcome will be hard (or as the Cabinet prefer to call it “clean”), with Britain exiting the Single Market, taking back control of its immigration policy, leaving the European Court of Justice behind, and striking out on its own into the exciting new multipolar world we find ourselves in.
By calling the election, the only faint domestic threat to all this (cue the vapours yesterday morn of the left-leaning papers) – of minority Tory Remainers and the disgruntled allying with the Lords, the Lib Dems and Labour – ceases to be a possibility. For this tactical political reason alone, the election is worth calling.
But there is a broader, strategic and far more important horizon that the Prime Minister’s boldness has made possible, nothing less than the UK inaugurating a new Drakean era of prosperity and sovereignty. For the very motley crew that stands in the way of a hard Brexit also would have posed the chief political challenge to realising the policies that need to be put in place for Britain to dynamically thrust itself forward into this new age.
Ignoring the laughably futile European efforts at supposedly increasing defence spending (waiting for Berlin to spend more is like Waiting for Godot), Britain can now go ahead and do so knowing that this will surely mean ever closer ties with the US, still the most powerful country in the world by a long way. This is the ultimate strategic prize. While Brussels, unelected and without an army, can lecture people around the world with nothing to back such annoying bromides up with, London instead will have a seat at the decision-making table over every major strategic issue. And sovereignty, a say in how the world is run and control over this country, is surely what a majority of the British people voted for in the EU referendum.
Even more importantly, without negotiating free trade deals glacially over decades (only then to have Wallonia almost on its own scupper the recent EU-Canada trade pact), Britain can act to its Drakean advantage. There is an easy 10 years out litmus test for whether Brexit was worth it, a yardstick that has absolutely nothing to do with whatever final deal is hammered out with the gnomes of Europe.
If in 10 years’ time Britain has functioning free trade deals with the major Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand), the US, India, and China, these closer economic links with the parts of the world actually growing (unlike the EU which over time is not) will catapult Britain into the first rank of powers, in terms of influence, prosperity and its future. Not doing so will mean Little England failure. That is the real political risk ahead, and the vast geopolitical reward.
The usual suspects whining about not being handed a soft Brexit would fight the whole of this Drakean programme tooth and nail. Given the rickety present majority, they might even derail part of the agenda, and would surely slow it down. This must not be allowed to happen as now is the time for decisive measures. What Mrs May has done is clear away the plotters who might have done her in, and that is admirable. But now she must revel in this chance, take hold of it with both hands, and let no power or persuasion deter her from her coming task of doing nothing less than ushering in a new Drakean age.