May 23, 2019
...twere well it were done quickly
We recall the coup against Margaret Thatcher in 1990, which also started out with several misfired attempts but then proceeded very much with an efficiency worthy of Lady Macbeth. Yesterday was the moment when Theresa May's cabinet turned against her. We have now passed the point of no return. The Times announced with quiet self-confidence that May was now preparing to quit. The FT was more specific by saying that she will be gone in a few days.
The trigger was her failed attempt to bounce the cabinet into accepting a second referendum as the price for Labour's support of the withdrawal agreement. This prompted the resignation of Andrea Leadsom as Leader of the House, a senior cabinet-level position. The cabinet is now in open revolt. May spent the day locked up in Downing Street, refusing to see senior cabinet members who were seeking to meet her urgently. She has come to the end of the road. Various journalists have been told by cabinet members that she would leave tomorrow. The outside estimate is June 6, the date of a parliamentary by-election.
It is certain that the coup will proceed. At this point Boris Johnson is the front-runner to succeed her.
But none of this is going to resolve Brexit, which is the much bigger question. The gridlocked majorities in the House of Commons will not change as a result of a Tory leadership election. What we could still see is the Tories uniting around the existing withdrawal bill - with a cosmetically-amended political declaration.
The most important decision for the new prime minister to take is whether to seek new elections, whether to try and seek a resolution of Brexit between his or her official appointment and the the October 31 deadline, and whether to force a no-deal Brexit at that point.
We are convinced that May's deal would have been passed by now if she had taken the issue to the brink in March by confronting the House of Commons with a straight choice between deal and no-deal. She had several ways at her disposal to frustrate the Cooper bill. But she herself ruled out a no-deal Brexit - fearing the impact on security in Northern Ireland and the future of the union. It was a noble, statesman-like attitude to take, but it could not succeed given the existing majorities in the House of Commons.
Whoever succeeds her will need to pursue a different strategy because the alternative has been tried to exhaustion - literally.
One other factor is the position of the EU. As we keep writing, we should not take it for granted. In an interview with Le Soir Emmanuel Macron said the decision to extend until late-October was okay with him, but a further extension would pollute the mandate of the next Commission. He has not explicitly threatened to veto an extension request. Instead he is carefully preparing his arguments against extension, well ahead of the October deadline.
"In the case of Brexit, you just have to know at some point whether it stops or not. If we have the logic of the weakness of saying that it scares us and that we are prepared not to respect the British vote, we betray both the British and the interest of the EU."
This is a position that is hard to argue with. The issue of pitching Brexit as a choice between deal and no-deal also applies to the EU.