- SNP veteran and Scottish Brexit minister Michael Russell tells BI that Theresa May’s government is the weakest in his lifetime.
- Russell said the prime minister’s “secretive” leadership style is damaging Brexit negotiations.
- “Nobody knows what is happening. You will get that complaint even from senior civil servants in London,” Russell said.
- May’s poor communication skills have been the subject of intense scrutiny since she became prime minister in July 2016.
- “Her decision-making is buttressed one side by extreme Brexiteers and on the other by a fear of what will happen to the economy. The government is paralysed,” he said.
LONDON – Scotland’s Brexit minister believes Theresa May’s administration is “the weakest, most riven government” he has witnessed and says the prime minister’s “secretive” style is damaging negotiations with both Scotland and the European Union.
Reflecting on the first year of Brexit negotiations, which passed last week, the SNP’s Michael Russell told Business Insider: “This is the weakest, most riven government I’ve ever seen.
“The political circumstances are the most insecure that I’ve ever seen, and therefore it is impossible to see what’s next. But nobody could stand back and say it has gone well.”
Russell also said that May’s “secretive” leadership style was making it difficult for civil servants and negotiators in Scotland, Wales, and the EU to operate.
The prime minister operates in a secretive way, in the dark.
“There is a genuine issue about communication from the prime minister and those around her,” he said.
“She operates in a secretive way, in the dark. As a result of that, nobody knows what is happening. You will get that complaint even from senior civil servants in London.”
The prime minister’s poor communication skills have been the subject of intense scrutiny since she became prime minister in July 2016, and were credited as a major factor behind the Conservatives’ disastrous election campaign in June last year, when the party unexpectedly lost its majority.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon herself said that May was a “very difficult person to establish rapport with,” and predicted her lack of character would make Brexit negotiations difficult.
“You literally go into a one-to-one with her and it’s like she’s reading from a script than having a conversation,” Sturgeon said last year.
“It’s very problematic,” Russell said. “If all power flows to the prime minister and she makes all the decisions, and her communications are very poor, you are going to have a mess.”
He added: “Everybody I know who’s been engaged in this process – negotiating with the UK – in the EU, or in Scotland, or Wales, has been very frustrated by the fact that everything has to be decided in the end by the prime minister.
“Her decision-making is buttressed one side by extreme Brexiteers and on the other by a fear of what will happen to the economy. As a result, the government is paralysed. Decisions tend to bend where there the greatest pressure is.”
Russell cited May’s run-in with Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, in December. May had struck an agreement with the EU to solve the Irish border issue and move to the next round of Brexit talks before it was torpedoed by a last-minute phone call from Foster.
Foster, whose party props up May’s government, appeared not to have been fully consulted about the plans by May beforehand and told the prime minister she could not support Downing Street’s planned commitments to keep Northern Ireland aligned with EU rules.
“There was clearly a lack of communication with the DUP at a crucial moment,” Russell said.
“That lack of communication is fairly important. [Devolved administrations] may not like what we’re hearing, but communication should be not just about telling people things, but about consulting people. They’re poor on both.”
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