Theresa May's ideological power grab will hold up Brexit negotiations. It's almost like that she planned it that way

Our Prime Minister doesn’t want a soft Brexit, a hard Brexit or a compassionate Brexit: she wants a Theresa May Brexit, where a general election win hands her the right to do whatever she likes with her country

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The Independent Online

Theresa May triggered Article 50 on 29 March, nine days after a Downing Street spokesperson said: “There is not going to be a general election.”

It wasn’t the first time May denied, in her own words or through a spokesperson, that she’d call a snap election during Brexit negotiations – in fact, it was the fifth. On 4 September 2016, she said: “I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability, to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020.” A month later, she reiterated that the “instability” caused by a “snap vote” wouldn’t be positive for Britain.

It’s not exactly unusual political behaviour to shaft the country and then take a step back, of course. David Cameron gave us the EU referendum and then stepped down pretty much as soon as the Brexit vote came in. It’s understandable, then, that his successor would trigger Article 50 then throw her hands up and say it’s time for a chaotic general election. Grossly irresponsible, but understandable.

We’ve already heard that the UK will have less than 18 months to reach a Brexit deal with the EU, rather than the promised two years, once the initial meetings to set out standards, the summer breaks of the various governments involved, and extra time for a ratification process at the end are all accounted for. The bureaucratic demands of working with 27 countries are vast – and we're losing more precious time and resources to a general election campaign and its aftermath.

Theresa May goes back on election promise

May, of course, thinks we shouldn’t be worried about all that, since “no deal” is “better than a bad deal”. It’s no secret that our Prime Minister has long been nonchalant about the idea of Britain crashing out of Europe with a hard Brexit, relying only on WTO rules to trade with the countries beside us. If and when those WTO tariffs, much higher than the ones we currently enjoy within the EU, are applied, UK businesses would face an extra cost of at least £4.5bn, according to recent analysis. “Taking back control” and “Brexit meaning Brexit” might be cold comfort for British workers, then.

It’s now very clear that May knew a proper Brexit negotiation could never be reached within the timeframe that Article 50 demanded, and she never intended to bother trying. No wonder we’ve heard so little about the intricacies of the deal being hammered out: the Tories have been dragging their heels.

Our Prime Minister doesn’t want a soft Brexit, a hard Brexit or a compassionate Brexit: she wants a Theresa May Brexit, where a general election win – almost guaranteed considering the state of the opposition – can hand her the right to say she’s been given a mandate to do pretty much whatever she likes with the country.

To call a general election right after triggering Article 50 is either very ill thought through or entirely cynical, and I don’t believe Theresa May possesses and intelligence deficit. Ridiculously, Downing Street has just “confirmed” that talks with Brussels are expected “not to be delayed” and will continue as usual – which is about a realistic a prospect as saying that your game of chess will continue as usual while a hurricane descends on the park you’re sitting in. Cynicism is so much more bearable when it’s blatant.

The Tories already found themselves so tied up with Brexit infighting this year that the Government has barely passed any legislation addressing the serious problems Britain faces at home, such as the housing crisis, a struggling NHS and stagnating salaries. Thomson Reuters recently reported that the number of new laws introduced in the past year was at its lowest level for 20 years.

A distracted government is an ineffectual government, clearly. So why throw a general election into the mix, unless you’re orchestrating an ideological power grab, a move that is all about party politics and nothing about the country you’re governing? It’s almost as though this was the plan all along.