Theresa May’s pitch for the Tory party leadership, back in the summer of 2016, was built on the idea that she wasn’t a political animal.
“I don’t go drinking in parliament’s bars, I don’t gossip about people over lunch,” she said. And yet her decision to offer only lukewarm support to the Remain campaign allowed her to pose as a convincing Brexiteer after the country voted to Leave.
She swung behind Brexit to secure the top job and now, wounded and weak, she’s hugging Remainers close in a bid to try and keep it. It seems she’s a regular politician after all.
The PM’s cabinet reshuffle was hardly far-reaching, and yet it promoted high-profile Remain supporters to key government positions. Her close ally Damian Green was a strong advocate of staying in the EU.
Yesterday, May made him de facto deputy prime minister. David Lidington, another Remain-backing former Europe minister will take the reins at the justice department as Lord Chancellor.
Most interestingly of all, Gavin Barwell, a Tory MP in Croydon until losing his seat last week, has been parachuted in to Number 10 as the PM’s chief of staff. Barwell backed the Remain campaign, describing Brexit as “the politics of hate and division”.
It’s too soon to interpret this as a definitive shift towards a so-called softer Brexit (after all, the PM is seriously wounded and may yet be toppled) but it does give encouragement to some, particularly in the City, that May’s aggressive approach towards the EU, ramped up during the disastrous election campaign, may now be moderated by the new political reality.
In addition to the PM’s new appointments to government, Remain-backing Tories are already flexing their muscles and will only get louder as Brexit negotiations start.
One further consequence of May’s humiliation is that the business community can no longer be ignored. A new approach to business relations in Number 10 and a strengthened Philip Hammond in the Treasury should ensure that the City is heard loud and clear.
For now, political uncertainty will be a concern for businesses but if it ultimately results in them having a louder voice through a more collegiate, open-minded approach to the Brexit negotiations then some good might come of May’s mess.