Through a glass, darkly: Theresa May’s Conference Speech

Does it not seem a lifetime ago that David Cameron was laughing off fears of a Brexit?

Theresa May’s Conservative Party conference speech has not only buried the patrician legacy of her predecessor but also indulged the Conservative membership to the hilt. Like a pop star coming on for an encore, she’s gone mad for flag-waving and forgotten that Brexit is a waltz, not a mosh pit.

On the one hand, a resurgent post-Brexit Britain is the only way to go. No Prime Minister dare ignore the will of a referendum for fear of repeating the mistake of the Scottish devolution referendum in 1979. Despite a ‘yes’ vote, it was another twenty years before Scotland got a parliament and nationalism flourished in the meantime.

 Nor would a Prime Minister repeat the mistake of the ‘pound in your pocket’ warning of Harold Wilson in 1967. Nothing will change with devaluation, he cooed. Everything did.

So May has done what she must: she’s invigorated her own membership with a bold, radical, and tough-talking conservative speech. She’s painted a picture of a post-Brexit UK as a ‘trading’ nation; answering the warning of former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson that Britain had lost its empire without finding a new role.

Yet the problem with a dance is not the song but who you end up dancing with. Last week, Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said that the UK Government should pay for the healthcare of the 800,000 Britons living in Spain. Concurrently, Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, has said EU workers in Britain were one of the ‘main cards’ in the country’s Brexit negotiations. Expats, whatever border they live behind, have become hostages to fortune.

There’s an argument that no country wants to ostracise citizens, wherever they’re from, if they pay taxes and spend their wages. That’s presuming we accept that politicians are not petty and reactionary and don’t want to put their own interests first, namely the fear of losing their jobs.

With May promising to instigate Article 50 in March of next year, all British expats must mind that whatever the UK or Spanish Governments say before then is conjecture. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ will be frighteningly apparent when the Brexit negotiations begin.

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