Theresa May went to Salzburg this week looking to find common ground with the EU on her Chequers plan. Instead, that plan was roundly rejected. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, noted that an agreement was still possible. But he said it would not happen under the terms of May’s plan. With Chequers dead, it seemed the Tories would be back to the drawing board again. This time they’d do so with the clock running out. Surprisingly, May followed Tusk’s speech with one of her own that seemed a significant departure from reality. The pound’s reaction seemed to agree.
Simon Wren-Lewis described the problem with May’s approach. “Above all else she has failed to see that the A50 process is less a negotiation and more like agreeing a terms of surrender.” From the outset, the Tories have spoken of red lines, while negotiating as if they were on equal footing. (At times they’ve acted as they had the upper hand.) This is clearly not the case as Tusk’s announcement made clear.
In her speech, May’s blustered about the EU’s intransigence, but reality is setting in. It’s time for the Tories to take a long look in the mirror and think about how much damage they’re willing to wreak upon the country. So far, that will seems boundless, but I’m hoping to see cooler heads come around soon, if not out of keeping the country’s best interests in mind, at least in thinking about their party’s future prospects.
Blood in the Water
Ukip appears to be notching up the rhetoric with talk of Muslim-only prisons, screening for Muslim people who want to immigrate to the UK, and an end to hate crime rules as the Tories flounder.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Barry Gardiner shared the party’s new mantra.
I’ve been saying the Tories were on thin ice since the snap election and that any bump in the road could send them out of power. Last week, I wrote about how the Article 50 deadline had the Tories crashing into reality. The outcome of the Salzburg meetings seems to confirm that assessment.
It’s going to get interesting from here. Theresa May can be expected to try to cling to power and work out a temporary deal that locks in leaving, while keeping the current systems (trade, legal, travel, etc.) largely the same in the interim period.
Expect Labour to press the attack and push for a new election. Assuming they won, the big question mark would be whether they’d continue Brexit negotiations or if they’d look to rescind Article 50 immediately. Part of that will depend on the timing. Currently, there’s just over 6 months to the deadline, so even if a snap election was called in the next few days, realistically speaking there’s not enough time for them to negotiate everything and approve those deals in time.
The party’s leaders have long held their support for the referendum result. Whether or not they believe that’s a good idea at this is a matter that’s likely secondary to the expected effects on their support base of their various options. An immediate call to rescind Article 50 might cost the party a sizable chunk of its members that supported Leave. If they’re able to give that a a fair shake and then somehow move to stay in the EU should it become apparent (as it seems now) that it would be the best option for the UK people, then the hit to their support might be contained. Whether the party’s leaders want to stay in or get out is an interesting matter of debate. It’s one I find hard to predict given the way in which they’ve held their cards. (That may be guided by my biases.)
An EU Life Rope?
The EU has strong incentives to keep the UK from crashing out of the EU. (That goes for negotiations with the Tories as well, should they manage to hang on.) Whichever party has controls parliament at the end of the year will likely get the opportunity to extend the Article 50 deadline. If it’s the Tories, they can expect new constraints to help guide future negotiations. There’s little chance the EU will miss the chance to do so given the party’s uncooperative approach. Labour might be given a bit more leeway if they’re stepping into the fore. We shall see.
Also published on Medium.