Election will allow May to walk tall through Brexit hysteria

Last week my family and I were walking up the stairs to the street from New York’s Penn Station when the young man in front of us started to run. He dropped his phone and didn’t come back for it (a modern signal of there being very serious stuff going on). Someone behind us yelled “live shooter”. Then everyone started to run.

We headed east away from the station, pushed from behind by the panicking horde. We got half a block down 34th Street. But just as my pulse started to steady, a new stampede came from the front. We were about to be crushed.

My husband pulled us out of the fray into a shopping centre. Then, as its security guards started to lock it down, he shoved us out of its other side from where we walked — briskly — until we got to the safe and sunny uplands of the Upper East Side. (Sixteen people were injured. There was no gunman. It was a panic stampede).

I tell you this because it’s a nice little metaphor for Theresa May’s general election call. She’s been caught between groups of hysterical Remainers (the ones not coping with the actual situation but weeping into their phones outside the station) and hysterical Leavers (the ones running so fast they kept falling over). The election is her shopping centre. Once she is through it, she will find herself marching briskly to her own tune: she should end up with more MPs than she has now and, more importantly, those MPs will have been elected on her vision of Britain.

Will that mean a softer Brexit or a harder Brexit? Remainers in the main seem to think softer. Leavers in the main think harder. There’s a lot of projection in politics these days.

My own guess is that it won’t make much difference to the outcome (a medium- sized but hardly crippling goodwill bill, a fairly all-encompassing free-trade deal and free-ish movement of people subject to a couple of quotas and welfare restrictions — think five years’ residency before you see a hint of a tax credit).

However it will make getting to that outcome both easier and more efficient for both us and the EU. That’s good, and is the most likely explanation for the sharp rise in the pound on Tuesday. It wasn’t a bet on the Brexit outcome but a bet on the smoothing of the path to a more predictable Brexit outcome.

It is extremely important to remember, though, that Mrs May’s walk over the next five years isn’t just taking her to Brussels. It will be taking her all over the UK too: this election gives her a chance to lay out her plans for the UK and to make sure that her MPs are behind her when she starts enacting those plans. And that, rather than the admin mountain that is Brexit…

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