September 05, 2018
George Parker offers us a glimpse into Theresa May’s strategy to defeat the hard Brexiteers among Tory MPs. The so-called European Research Group is about to draw up a rival plan, based broadly on a Canada-style trade agreement, the main purpose of which is to undermine May politically.
May knows that she cannot rely on the Labour Party to win the ratification vote on the withdrawal agreement. She will therefore need almost all of the Tories. The thinking is that she will tie her own personal future to the vote. Even her advisers agree that she would have to resign if she were to lose the vote. But they believe that the prospect of a new election, and possibly even a new referendum on May’s Brexit agreement, might persuade the hard Brexiteers to hold their fire. They could otherwise risk Brexit altogether. The persistent talk of a Brexit reversal remains useful for May as a disciplinary device for her own MPs. Parker writes that May was fully aware that her Chequers plan was unpopular, but it lies at the centre of political opinion in the UK. The alternative would be either no Brexit at all and a descent into internecine Conservative warfare. Parker concludes that May's strategy will be tested before the end of the year, with grave consequences no matter what.
The EU could help May by making it clear that a deal is not renegotiable. The EU will remain open to a formal Brexit reversal until March 29, but we do not think the EU will or should agree to extend the Brexit timetable unless it has good reason to believe that the UK will either reverse Brexit or choose an EEA-plus single-market option.
If a deal is rejected, followed by a resignation of May and new elections - we presume before March - the EU would ask the new government to choose between the following three options: another vote to ratify the previously rejected withdrawal treaty with the old political declaration; a re-negotiation of the political declaration setting out a future in the EEA/single market; or to revoke Brexit altogether.
Could the EU agree to extend the article 50 deadline for another year to allow for a referendum? We think this is unlikely because of the 2019 elections. The prospect of a second referendum, which would have to be held well after the European election, would be a gift to the parties on the extreme right who would have an opportunity to portray the EU as undemocratic. UKIP would campaign on a theme of a betrayal, and would probably score well in the elections, which may then act as a platform for its return to the UK political scene.