Theresa May’s ‘Attack’ on Brussels – Between The Lines

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By Campaign Agent Luke Walpole

In a speech which was designed to mark the dissolution of the current Parliament, Theresa May instead used it as a platform to launch a stinging tirade against the EU. So, what were the main takeaways?

Tough Talk

“In the last few days, we have seen just how tough these negotiations are going to be,” began the PM. She isn’t wrong. The dire reports coming from Brussels suggest that the EU is going to play hardball with the UK throughout the process.
May continued, citing that “threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.” This was uncharacteristically incendiary for a politician who is usually immensely guarded, and acutely aware of how her words will be interpreted. But perhaps that is the very point. Using this very public platform allowed the PM to make a bold diplomatic statement to the EU writ large. A more explicit accusation came moments later when the PM suggested that “all of these acts have been deliberately timed (emphasis added) to affect the result of the General Election.”

Citing foreign influence in elections has become commonplace in political discourse. Back in June of 2016, Barack Obama’s intervention in the Brexit discussion was met with ire. Whilst the Democrats’ persistent attempts to prove Russian involvement, and Republican collusion, in the Presidential election is an ongoing investigation. Only a few days ago was the French front-runner Emmanuel Macron subjected to an email hack, supposedly completed by the Russians. To blame state-sponsored hackers is one thing, but to blame the democratic institution itself is another.

Draining the Swamp?

Yet this was all done once again to draw a rhetorical antithesis, something which is becoming a mainstay of May’s speeches. The EU may be recalcitrant, but Britain remains desirous of “deep and special partnership” with their continental neighbours, and even “want the EU to succeed.” By drawing this comparison, Juncker et al were depicted as saboteurs (to use the Daily Mail’s uncomfortable phrase.) More so, obstructionism from Brussels, argued May, risked the prosperity of the whole of Britain in the future. With this, it reinforced the idea that Brussels has become as toxic a brand as Washington. Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of D.C. when he initially ran, yet what May is doing is re-directing this anti-establishment sentiment away from central government (Westminster) and onto the ‘bureaucrats’ in Brussels.

More prosaically, May once again leaned on the battle of personalities between her and Corbyn which has served the Tories so well. There were repeated uses of “strong and stable” and “coalition of chaos.” These are phrases which are becoming vomit-inducingly familiar, but that is precisely the point. May clearly enjoys repetition – in this speech we heard the phrase “If like me…” three times in quick succession, as well as a concluding plea to “give me your backing” on four occasions. This makes speeches mundane, but there is a method behind it.

Many commentators mock these phrases, lampoon them on social media and use them as the punchline to satirical jokes. However, just using them serves to proliferate the message. It serves to reinforce them in the cultural and political discourse. It proves that soundbite election messages don’t have to be any good to succeed.

Image rights: UK Home Office @ Flickr

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