Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) - British Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated an agreement with the European Commission that is so unpopular it has put her position at risk. There have been multiple resignations from the government including, worst of all, the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, the second to resign under her. Her coalition partners the small Northern Irish party, the DUP, that guarantee her majority has made it clear they will not vote for her proposed deal.
Despite public promises to the contrary, she has achieved a position where the United Kingdom instead of being free from Brussels control at last, may be trapped in the Customs Union indefinitely. This morning, showing great personal courage, she defended her agreement for two hours in the House of Commons. She only appeared to flinch when the formidable Brexit supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg, in a few devastating sentences demonstrated how she had broken her commitments to her party and the country. He then asked why he should not request a leadership election.
Her plan it seems all along was to keep Britain in the Customs Union and therefore left revealing her very secret negotiating position until the last minute. She has until now been safe from a leadership challenge because the Conservative Party fear an election and losing to the Left Wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. However, by bringing about the humiliating position that Britain would have all the controls from Brussels but with no representation, she appears to have miscalculated. Neither Remainers nor Leavers find this acceptable. Remainers say what was the point of leaving if this is all we get and the Leavers think that no deal would be better than this.
Mrs. May’s other strength is that there is no obvious successor to take over and put the negotiations on a proper footing acceptable to her supporters. Boris Johnson the former Foreign Secretary sees himself as a latter-day Winston Churchill. Not many agree with him as he is regarded as something of a loose cannon. He is however popular in the country. Jacob Rees-Mogg the highly effective back bench leader and chair of the pro leave European Research Group has no ministerial experience and holds personal views on many matters such as abortion that would likely rule him out. The quietly competent Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary who has just resigned, is a possible candidate. It seems vital, from a UK perspective, that whoever takes over actually believes in Brexit, unlike the Prime Minister.
The situation is volatile. Ideally what should now happen is for Mrs. May to resign and be replaced by a new leader who would then have a desperately difficult task sorting out the present confusion before the deadline of the 29th March 2019 when Britain officially leaves the Union. The situation very much resembles 1940 and the collapse of confidence in Neville Chamberlain whose misguided policies landed Britain in desperate straits at the beginning of the Second World War. The solution then was a national coalition to unite the country. Unfortunately, the Conservative Party have gone out of their way to demonize Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn thus making it virtually impossible to form a government with him. Equally, like Chamberlain then and most leaders, Mrs. May may not wish to resign.
One encouraging feature of the situation is the helpful comment from Chancellor Merkel that « the worst situation would be that there is no agreement’ adding ‘it is a possibility that we should keep firmly in mind’ hoping that the text is a basis to reach a final agreement. On other hand the ultra European French Minister of Finance Bruno Le Maire unhelpfully accused the UK Brexit leaders of being ‘Liars’. His Prime Minister Edouard Philipe, speaking later, echoed Chancellor Merkel saying that France ‘does not want’ the UK to leave without an agreement. This indicates that the two governments have concerted their positions to limit the risk of a no deal Brexit.
In former times the senior members of the Conservative Party would have made it make it clear to her that she has to go and she would have been replaced in a few days as happened to Chamberlain and Anthony Eden after Suez. Under party rules that is no longer possible although the election process was curtailed to put Mrs. May in place of David Cameron as quickly as possible in 2016.
In Brussels there has been much rejoicing that they have achieved an agreement that humiliates Britain and achieves the aim of making leaving the EU seem too costly for others to consider. Top negotiator Sabine Weyand apparently openly boasted to journalists of having got the better of Mrs. May. In truth their aim has always been to keep Britain in the Customs Union, which is the sole source of their power and influence.
The chaos in Mrs. May’s government is in fact an indication that, as they did with David Cameron forcing him to hold a referendum, they have overdone it and that regardless of cost they have generated a reaction that will cause the British government to reject the negotiated deal. This would likely lead to a Brexit with no agreed divorce. Whilst this might be temporarily bad for the UK, it would be very expensive for the European Union that already have other existential problems of their own.