Will May regret giving her death stare to the EU?

Was the Prime Minister's speech on Friday her final roll of the dice at persuading the EU that Chequers is the way forward? Credit: PA

Almost exactly two years ago, Theresa May - a Remainer, lest we forget - tried to win favour from Brexiter Tories by promising the UK would leave the EU by the end of March next year at the very latest.

This was desperately reckless, many would argue, because she set a date for exiting long before she had even a sketch of what kind of Brexit was either desirable or deliverable.

The rest is painful experience, for her and the nation, because here we are just six months before we’re out, and we still have little clue what “out” will actually mean.

Arguably what she did today however was history repeating and rhyming. Because in painting other EU government heads and EU functionaries as disrespectful inflexible bullies she is again seeking approval from her party’s Brexiter members and MPs, just days before she faces trial of her eventful (ahem) time in office at this year’s Tory conference.

She has set herself up, again, as that difficult woman who will teach those bloomin’ Europeans some manners - and remind them that the odd snafu at our ports and airports, if by bad luck we’re lumbered with a no-deal Brexit, holds no fear for plucky Brits.

Don’t they know we’re the people who invented queuing, and - unlike other pursuits we created - we’re still world champions at it.

But there is a serious risk in unleashing the anti-European genie when there are just weeks remaining to negotiate a more orderly Brexit.

She knows - or at least her more worldly wise Whitehall officials surely do - that she will have to compromise to secure agreement with the EU.

Here is one way of understanding why that would be: the EU is a much more modern and fragile constitutional construct than the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; so just as she will not countenance a so-called Northern Ireland backstop plan that she feels weakens the integrity of the UK, they cannot accept a UK trade proposal that they see as tearing at the bonds of their cherished single market.

So in playing today to the Brexiter crowd as an EU-taming Thatcher redivivus she now has set herself up for a high risk game of chicken with the EU, which could well lead to a messy no-deal crash, or for obloquy from the Tories who adore her tonight, if she swerves.

Maybe it will be the rest of the EU that blinks and swerves. But ask Greece if you think it is in the EU’s DNA to capitulate to a supplicant nation - even one in distress - that asks for exceptions to the EU’s rule and lore.

And it’s worth remembering that Greece wasn’t repudiating the EU and trying to leave.