June 27, 2017
Nothing much happened in the UK yesterday
The UK has a government. The Tories and the DUP have finally signed an agreement to guarantee parliamentary support for the government during the most critical votes, including this Thursday’s vote on the Queen's speech.
Theresa May will remain prime minister, at least during of the Brexit process. And, if she delivers Brexit with a reasonable degree of success, she will remain prime minister after that. Brexit negotiations will go ahead according to the mandate May delivered to the European Council in March. We think there will be an agreement as long as Britain accepts a transitional period during which it will pay its full rebated EU contributions. Support for such an agreement has risen on both sides of the British political spectrum. Nothing has really changed with the elections.
So, one might wonder what all the fuss was about. The consensus among UK political commentators over the last few weeks has been that May will either leave within days, or at most within a few months. They got it wrong because they failed to see two things. The first is that the rules for minority governments are very different. The UK experiences from 1974-1979 are relevant, but this is not a time the commentators remember personally. The lesson from that era is: minority governments are bloody difficult, but they can last a surprisingly long time.
The second problem the UK-based commentators ignored is the political dynamics of Brexit. David Davies is absolutely right on this: a change of government in the middle of the Brexit talks would be a disaster. It is one scenario that would make even us consider the possibility of a Brexit reversal. The reason we do not believe in this scenario is simply the idea that the Conservatives may not be quite so stupid as to self-destruct now.
The consensus in the UK’s political class is now that May will survive. By far the best of the comments yesterday is by Clare Forges in the Times, who writes that the opprobium heaped upon May has been totally out of proportion. The Maybot, as she is called, is not an inspiring leader but is at least a competent one. Forges writes she had not been a supporter of May, but that the attacks against the PM have been spiteful and unfair. We totally agree with her conclusion:
"Beggars can’t be choosers — and a country looking down the barrel of Brexit, riven by division and with Jeremy Corbyn at the gates of Downing Street does not have the luxury of trying out another new leader."
David Allen Green wrote a sensible Brexit comment in his FT blog. If you think that it was a mistake to a call for a euro referendum, as many of us do, then sure it would be a mistake to call for a second referendum. The EU referendum produced a clear majority - more people voted to leave the EU in 2016 than voted in favour of EU membership in 1975. The main conclusion one should draw from this experience is to accept the result, but to end the referendum habit right now. The UK must return to parliamentary democracy. This, and nowhere else, is where a reversal of Brexit should take place if it were to take place.