In a humiliating climbdown British Prime Minister Theresa May has reversed her attempt to block the building of the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor plant project.
As The Duran previously reported, Theresa May’s decision to block the project was connected to China’s financing of the project and was a big mistake. Though no one in Britain is publicly saying it, it is likely Theresa May heeded complaints about the project from the US, which is known to been unhappy with the course towards China Britain was following under Theresa May’s predecessor as Prime Minister, David Cameron.
However, as we also reported, Theresa May’s decision to block the block the project provoked an angry – though completely predictable – reaction from China, forcing Theresa May into writing a grovelling letter of apology to the Chinese leadership.
Behind that letter and Theresa May’s about-face on Hinkley Point is the reality that with Britain needing even more to expand its trade with China as Brexit looms, Theresa May had no choice but to heed China’s warnings. The result is that the Hinkley Point reactor project is going ahead with a few cosmetic changes to help Theresa May save face.
This has been a humiliating episode for Theresa May. After a strong start, in which her clear out of many members of David Cameron’s cabinet appeared to promise a return to firm government after the weeks of drift that followed the Brexit vote, she has appeared increasingly unsure.
Importantly she has failed to chart a clear course towards Brexit, hiding behind the vacuous slogan “Brexit means Brexit” to conceal what is starting to look like an absence of ideas.
This is not in itself surprising or dangerous. No one else planned for Brexit before the referendum took place, and it would be asking too much to expect Theresa May to be different. However given the urgency and the importance of the issue for Britain, a proper and thorough policy review within the government – with the civil service, Britain’s still very strong diplomatic corps, and outside experts and stakeholders (including from the opposition Labour party) brought in to give advice – in order to hammer out an agreed British position, ought to be an urgent priority.
The British used to excel at that sort of thing, and that of course is what the British form of cabinet government was originally designed for.
In the event Theresa May has given no indication that she has any intention of organising such a review, or that she even understands the need for it. The result is continuing drift. In the policy vacuum, and lacking any clear direction from Theresa May, different ministers such as David Davis and Liam Fox are publicly taking different positions, leading to increasing public infighting.
The lack of policy regarding Brexit echoes a general lack of policy – and a growing appearance of continuing drift and of policy being made on the hoof – in all other areas.
Though it has become increasingly clear since she became Prime Minister that Theresa May and her predecessor David Cameron did not get on with each other, and that she is intent on reversing as many of his policies as she can, so far the only distinctive policy Theresa May has been able to come up with is the frankly reactionary policy of bringing back grammar schools, reversing a process of education reform that has been underway in Britain since the 1960s.
This policy is profoundly unpopular with the education establishment and with much of her own party, and like almost everything else Theresa May has been doing since she became Prime Minister, has clearly not been properly discussed or thought through. This caused Theresa May to look isolated and exposed in parliament the face of a powerful attack during Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (see political assessments of the exchange here and here).
The Hinkley Point debacle is however by many orders of magnitude Theresa May’s worst mistake to date. The changes she has obtained to the project do not affect China’s role in the project, and hardly justified provoking China’s anger. Almost certainly they could have been agreed with EDF – the project’s main contractor – in private.
Theresa May’s about-face shows the growing power of China before which Britain must now bend.
Its major lesson is however that at a crucial point in its history Britain has in Theresa May Britain an inexperienced Prime Minister, unsure of her own mind and prone to making mistakes. Her premiership is still in its first weeks and she still has plenty of time to recover. However for the moment Theresa May does not look like the ‘safe pair of hands’ that many people (myself included) took her for.