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ILLUSTRATIONS BY MICHAEL DALEY


Theresa May is no Margaret Thatcher. She is bolder — much bolder. With the example of Edward Heath’s disastrous 1974 snap election a recent memory, Mrs Thatcher never took the risk of a calling an election until she had served a full term of office and was confident of victory. She stood on her record and left it to the voters to decide what mattered most to them.

Mrs May, by contrast, is attempting to win a landslide on a single issue after less than a year in office. It is a bigger gamble than it looks. Even if the electorate agrees with her request for a mandate to negotiate Brexit, she could come unstuck. There is no appetite in the country for a rerun of last year’s referendum. But she will have to show that Brexit is just part of a much grander vision of the kind of country she wants Britain to be.

Europe, after all, was the answer given by the British political class to Dean Acheson’s cruel jibe more than half a century ago: “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.” If not Europe, then what is our role? She needs to have a better answer to that than any we have heard so far. In her speech announcing the election in Downing Street, the Prime Minister evoked “a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world”. Fair enough; but what is it exactly that we require that freedom for? What is our own way in the world? And what is the destination?

These are questions that are unlikely to be answered, or even asked, in this election campaign. It is almost certain that many of the 17 million Britons who voted for Brexit will stay at home. But the underlying concerns that led to last year’s vote have not gone away. Immigration has been an issue for at least half the country since 1968, yet it is only now that the voices of what David Goodhart calls “Somewheres” — those who feel attached to a particular place and a certain enduring idea of the nation — are being heard. Yet even now, politicians are uncomfortable explaining what it is to be British in the 21st century. Border control is at the heart of what most people mean by “taking back control” over their lives. The single market requires open borders to EU citizens. Yet Remainers, led by the Liberal Democrats, persist in maintaining that Britain can belong to the single market, even outside the EU, without mentioning that this would make border control meaningless. Mrs May, our longest-serving Home Secretary for decades, knows better than most why border controls are necessary. She should be in a strong position to address the border anxiety that made Brexit happen.

Since the election before last, just seven years ago, the number of people in the UK who were born outside it has grown by more than 1.4 million. Many of them are Muslims, whose numbers are doubling every decade, due not only to migration but also natural increase and conversion. London now has a population of more than a million Muslims, including the Mayor, Sadiq Khan. Despite successful examples of integration, a recent poll suggested that almost half of Britons would like all Muslim immigration to cease. They are worried by signs of radicalisation and hostility, such as the fact that more Muslims volunteered for Isis than for the British armed services. A month ago, an Islamist convert attacked the Houses of Parliament, killing five people. They included a policeman, PC Keith Palmer, whose obsequies aroused an unprecedented outpouring of grief and national solidarity. There was no backlash, but nor was there much evidence that Muslim communities cared that the radicalisation of Khalid Masood occurred while he attended mosques in Birmingham and East London. A common response to terror is not soul-searching but closing ranks.

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Lawrence James
May 21st, 2017
12:05 PM
Is the comparison with Henry v valid ? Surely we lost the 100 Years War within thirty years of is death and the defeat helped spark off a civil war. Let us hope that Brexit does not follow this pattern, but it easily could.

amcdonald
May 1st, 2017
3:05 PM
We`ve already got life,liberty and western civilisation so why does Daniel Johnson want us to pursue what we`ve got ? It`s a bit like John Major claiming that when your back`s against the wall the best thing to do is turn around and come out fighting. Certainly Theresa May won`t be buying a garden shed. She doesn`t think she`s Sting.Unlike all the other tories. Brexit means Brexit. Very true. But does Brexit now mean a Labour victory? Is Brexit the catalyst for a Labour victory? What Corbyn has said has gone in one ear and out the other of the BBC`s clone army. They had no clue there were 17.4 million Brexiteers. Nor did Corbyn or May. The shock on June 8 will be a Labour victory. Slavoj Zizek and Will Self will be doing western civilisation, situationist detournement, capitalism,communism etc on May 17 at a venue in London. Proper alternative comedy.

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