Theresa May has said she won’t be providing a ‘running commentary’ on Brexit. That refusal, the Prime Minister insisted, was to ensure the Government did not reveal its ‘hand prematurely’ to other European countries in its negotiations. But how is May’s Brexit reticence going down closer to home? Not well, it seems: only one in six people think the Prime Minister is doing a good job in the early stages of negotiations. While half of voters think May is doing badly. May’s reputation is particularly miserable among ‘Remain’ voters: just one in ten thinking she is doing a good job so far.
You might say that none of this is much of a surprise. The extent of the Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy so far seems to be in reminding people that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and then knocking down her Ministers when they try and inch forwards the Government’s position. This happened when Boris attempted to put a more detailed timeline on Article 50 negotiations last week and when Liam Fox was slapped down by Downing Street for saying the Government wanted a free trade deal back in July.
May’s silence is clearly deliberate and the PM is unlikely to be too worried by the YouGov poll in the Times today. Yet the public’s scepticism about how the Prime Minister is handling Brexit negotiations does put pressure on May. Today marks 100 days since the referendum and things – at least as far as the public are concerned – have moved on at a glacial pace ever since. What’s more, the PM’s honeymoon period in office is now almost certainly over and voters – ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ – are getting increasingly reluctant about being palmed off with soundbites about what the Government is up to.
Next week’s Conservative party conference presents an opportunity for the Prime Minister to show her hand and reassure people about Brexit. Usually, the party leader’s curtain opener is little more than a ‘welcome to conference’ formality. This time, there will be some optimism that things will be different. The Prime Minister’s talk – headlined ‘Global Britain: Making a success of Brexit’ – is an opportunity for May to give some juicy details about Britain’s Brexit negotiations. Also taking to the stage on Sunday are Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis – the three Brexit ministers who, as Isabel Hardman points out in her Spectator piece this week, are the trio already straining at May’s tight leash. The Prime Minister can’t keep on saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’ for ever. And this Sunday could be the moment where we find out, at last, a fuller picture of the Government’s Brexit plans.