GP Insights # 45, 26 May 2019
After a long controversy over the Brexit, the British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced her resignation as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party in a tearful statement after failing to gather the required majority to deliver her Brexit plan. She will officially stand down as the party leader on 7 June. This has kick-started a contest for the filling the PM’s seat among the Tories and bifurcated the Conservatives further.
What is the background?
Brexit has splintered both the Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party into warring factions since the referendum that narrowly approved the departure from EU on 23 June 2016. After the referendum, for three years May has put her Brexit deal to the House of Commons but was defeated three times, by the most significant majority against a government in history, as Eurosceptics, Remainers and Labour united against her plan. As a result, Britain’s departure from the EU has been delayed twice since the initially scheduled date of 29 March.
On 12 April, the European Union (EU) has agreed to give the UK until 31 October to ratify the withdrawal deal. The MPs have then rejected three times in a row the withdrawal agreement that Theresa May reached with other European leaders last year, and they have voted against leaving the EU without a deal. Post the fourth rejection, May had met with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to negotiate the terms of the agreement for three days in a row in an attempt to break the current Brexit deadlock. This talk with Corbyn was particularly crucial for May to get her deal passed, mainly when her party members were divided into the methods of ‘Brexiting.’ It is essential to understand that to get the agreement passed, May needs a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons.
Among the leaders worried about May’s resignation is Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar who has warned that the election of a new prime minister in Britain may lead to a new phase in Brexit negotiations that could be ‘very dangerous’ for Ireland.
What does it mean?
What happens to the British politics and in notably the Brexit plan after May’s resignation? Firstly, within hours of May announcing her exit from the PM’s post, Boris Johnson and other Tory leadership were seen jostling to succeed to the vacant position that needs to be duly filled by the end of July. The job of the new Prime Minister will be to get the UK departed adequately from the EU. Most of the Conservatives feel that Boris Johnson would make the right candidate with the hope that he could indeed win the support of the Eurosceptic base and also unite the party by winning back the moderate Conservatives who have defected owing to the hard Brexit plan. However, the final choice of the new Tory leader will be made by about 100,000 Conservative Party members, most of whom are strongly Eurosceptic. Some 75 per cent of members supports a no-deal Brexit.
Secondly, the future of the ‘Brexiting’ looks at a hard Brexit. If this happens and the UK fails to renegotiate a Brexit deal with Brussels then that could lead to many trade deals, citizen’s rights and the question of the Northern Ireland border left unresolved. In the shorter term, the UK could still be heading for one more extension to the formal Article 50 exit procedure, which would delay Brexit beyond the currently scheduled date of October 31.
Theresa May tried to follow the route of renegotiating the political declaration, but only belatedly. A new leader with a fresh mandate might stand a better chance of selling such a strategy to MPs.
Lastly, the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has spoken of EU losing its patience with the UK waiting for the next extension after extension. The Brexit has taken much time of the EU and has kept the bloc muddled with internal crisis instead of looking collectively at external security problems. This had frustrated a lot of European countries French President Emmanuel Macron rejected any extension into 2020, saying Brexit cast an unacceptable shadow over the entire European project, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the UK should be given every chance not to crash out without an agreement