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June 03, 2019

Reinventing the French right without Wauquiez

The European elections also sealed the fate of Laurent Wauquiez as the leader of Les Républicains (LR). With the worst ever election result of 8.5%, something needed to give. Deserted by those voters who backed up Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen, or those who simply did not like his personality or the party's programme, Wauquiez resigned just one week after the elections. Like Nicolas Sarkozy in 1999 and Jean-François Copé in 2014, Wauquiez made the party's defeat his personal defeat. 

The big question is: can the party recover in time for the regional elections next year? This depends on whether as a party they can find a meaningful political space in the polarised political landscape with Macron's LREM on one side and Le Pen's RN on the other. Both LREM and RN have momentum going and Les Républicains are caught in the middle. After Sunday's elections disaster some LR mayors switched their allegiance to LREM for next year. Marion Maréchal, the niece of Marine Le Pen, also stirred the pot by suggesting yesterday on television a right-wing coalition centered on RN.

One could say that Macron's decision to meddle in the European election campaign paid off. It is an opening bid for the next regional elections next year, stylised him as a guarantor against the far right and reaffirmed that his election in 2017 was not an accident. His pull made him the natural choice for the centre-right. Many thus expect the government to continue to woo voters with a centre-right course in its upcoming reform proposals - unemployment, pensions and regional devolution - even risking an imbalance with respect to Macron's credentials on the left. 

Wauquiez' departure does not solve the identity crisis of Les Républicains, in fact, it finally allows a debate about it, writes Guillaume Tabard in Le Figaro. Some party heavyweights suggest that, rather than fishing for votes in Le Pen's constituency, the party should target Macron's voters instead. This underpins the initiative launched by Gerard Larcher. It is no longer intended to circumvent Wauquiez or to settle his fate, but to define what the right is and invent a mode of organising a debate with local, regional and parliamentary leaders that allows all sensitivities from the right to find their place, so Tabard.

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June 03, 2019

Tory leadership election is between feasible and unfeasible Brexit options

It is no surprise that the Tory leadership campaign is turning into a long journey into unicorn land. We noted yesterday a rather silly contribution - by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, whose bright idea is to rule out a no-deal Brexit and to frame the debate as one between no Brexit and a deal without the Irish backstop. We never cease to be amazed at the intellectual muddle a choice of three options can cause.

In reality there are only three final outcomes that are possible - no deal, revocation, or the existing withdrawal agreement - and a procedural outcome in the form of further extensions. 

We express no preference for Tory leadership contenders, but it is worth whittling down the field simply in terms of sheer feasibility  of their stated policy. 

One the Remain side, Rory Stewart is the only candidate who recognises that the EU will not amend the withdrawal treaty. His policy is to seek a majority in parliament for the existing deal - which means a customs-union Brexit. Stewart will, however, need to say what he would do if that strategy were to fail. 

For the hard Brexiteers, the only plausible option is Boris Johnson' commitment to leaving the EU on November 1st. This is why we are taking his leadership bid seriously. There is a lot of obfuscation about parliament being against no-deal Brexit. We doubt very much that parliament can find a way to block no-deal Brexit against the wishes of a prime minister committed to achieving it. That commitment was not the case previously.

We make no predictions. Politics can take unexpected turns. The extent of collective self-delusion is unlimited. We would not rule out that the Brexit Party becomes the Tory Party’s successor if the Tories continue to fudge the issue.

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