December 19, 2018
May’s strategy and the consequences of failure
Amidst the sound and fury over the government’s no-deal preparations, we noted an interesting story in the Guardian about Theresa May’s strategy to achieve a majority for her deal. The story says that the strategy consists first of getting the DUP on board, as this would lead to the Conservative opposition to her deal crumbling to a smaller, more manageable number. That would still leave her some 20 votes short of a majority, but the hope is to persuade a number of Labour MPs to back the deal.
We have argued before, too, that DUP support is absolutely critical for a deal. That will depend to a large extent on the EU’s readiness to compromise on the Irish backstop. We see no evidence of this, but this has partly to do with the illusion among some EU leaders that Brexit might be averted at the last minute. Once the reality of a no-deal Brexit as the only alternative to a deal sets in, we expect the position to shift as there are vital interests at stake in the EU as well - from German exporters to the French and Belgian border regions.
The UK's no-deal preparations are now starting in earnest, with serious money committed to logistical operations, the involvement of troops at the ports, and even the mass purchase of refrigerators to store several months worth of medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit. We heard yesterday a senior Tory MP threatening to resign from the party in case of a no-deal Brexit, and we expect many others to follow him. The same would be true in case of a second referendum. In either of those cases, the May government would lose its governing majority. Election would follow in either case. So from a political perspective the choice to be made by Tory MPs is not so much deal vs no-deal but deal vs elections. May has been wise enough not to threaten this outright. There is no need to.
We note a further anecdotal sign that some of the more extremist commentators are reconsidering their position. Allison Pearson, one of the most unrelenting Brexiteers in the UK press, writes this morning that she has changed her mind about May’s deal. She is really scared by the prospect of a second referendum. As there is now growing certainty that May’s political career will not survive Brexit for a long time, we would not be surprised if Tory eurosceptics concluded that their best chances consist of accepting the deal, obtaining a majority in the next leadership election, and later defaulting on the deal using the Vienna Convention. We don’t think this is legally possible, but for so long as Tories believe that it is, we might consider this view a fortuitous error of judgement to be followed by the usual assertion that no one had told them.
We also noted a story in the FT about the fury among pro-European Labour MPs about Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to bring about a vote of no-confidence. They are furious that Corbyn is not falling for their second-referendum ploy, which is what the whole no-confidence debate is about. Corbyn’s best chance to get into Number 10 is through elections, and the most likely path towards elections is through the failure of a deal, not through a second referendum.