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June 06, 2019

Is this the end of traditional parties as we know them?

After the near-demise of Social Democrats in Europe with the notable exception of Portugal and now Denmark, are the Conservatives next? Torn in France between a robust far right and an emerging new centre, between a hard and soft Brexit in the UK, or worn out by a grand coalition in Germany, the conservative parties in these three big countries share a common fate of dwindling support in the polls. In the UK their position is threatened by the rise of Nigel Farage's Brexit party, in France they seem to loose their base and bearings in the mutually beneficial stand-off between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

Valérie Pécresse just delivered another blow in a critical moment of anguished party introspection when she announced her surprise departure from Les Républicains last night. She is the third heavy-weight politician to quit Les Républicains after Xavier Bertrand and Alain Juppé. Pécresse defended her decision saying that the party is stuck in its ways and that the transformation of the right cannot be done from inside the party. At the head of her movement Libres!, Pécresse gambles on playing a role in the upcoming regional elections and possibly also the national elections. For the right this means further fragmentation. Will LR survive many more flights to safety elsewhere? 

Pécresse had been a leading defender of a broader inclusive agenda, and has been opposing Laurent Wauquiez in his decision to move further to the right and to fish in the same electoral ponds as Le Pen's Rassemblement National. Now that Wauquiez is gone, her resignation came as a shock to her supporters. The press reports that she has taken her decision after attending the meeting Gerald Larcher organised on Tuesday with the conservative leaders from the regions and parliament.

After the catastrophic results in the European elections, Larcher is counting on the 55,000 locally elected councillors to resurrect the party through a decentralised party convention in autumn. We can see why Pécresse may have concluded that this will compromise her chances inside the party. As long as the Républicains remain in this state of confusion, expect more people to jump, some seeking the sunny uplands of Macron's LREM with its national appeal and emerging track-record of success. The conservative members of the government and LREM campaigners are actively calling on conservatives in local elections to run on their ticket under the arch-gaullist slogan, serve your country not your party!

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June 06, 2019

How a no-deal Brexit could happen

Of all the commentary we have seen on Brexit, a tweetstorm by Peter Foster, the Daily Telegraph’s Europe editor, has been one of the best we have spotted in a while. His thinking on political scenarios concurs with our own. We would like to expand on some of the points he made to draw a roadmap towards a possible no-deal Brexit. 

Foster started off by wrapping his head around the 10-page plan of the Tory’s party eurosceptic ERG group on how to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. There is not much point in discussing proposal itself. It is a list of provocations. The EU will, of course, not renegotiate the Irish backstop. The ERG document sets the bar to a level that guarantees failure. But this is its very function. They know that Johnson will try to re-negotiate. They want to make sure he fails. Or that he does not try to push through May’s deal in a new disguise.

Perhaps the most interesting argument by Foster is his conviction that the EU might renegotiate if confronted with a prime minister who has a Commons majority behind him. One of the reasons for the EU’s hardline stance was Theresa May’s increasingly evident inability to deliver a majority. The political context clearly matters. But we still don’t see any chance of a time limit for, or unilateral exit from, the Irish backstop. There is simply no solution for the problem. We should therefore stop to see it as an intellectual challenge. If there existed a solution, someone would have come up with it already. Where we agree with Foster is that the EU will not be an active participant in any stop-Boris campaign. We all know there are worse candidates on the ticket. 

But what if Johnson fails to deliver a parliamentary majority for a deal?

In our view, the most likely no-deal scenario is not one of a Tory prime minister proroguing parliament - an ancient procedure to suspend parliament and reset all pending legislation. More likely is a no-deal election. New prime ministers enjoy a honeymoon. Even Gordon Brown did. From today’s perspective, a contest between Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is wide open.

Amid all the uncertainty, there is one thing we are relatively certain of: the Tories will not choose political oblivion that would stem from a failure to deliver Brexit. And if this process were to drag on beyond October, there is a risk that the party will face the next elections before Brexit has been delivered. This is why the position of various Tory leadership candidates, especially that of Michael Gove, makes no sense to us. 

The danger of Nigel Farage for the Tories is not that he could win the next general elections outright, but that he could succeed in destroying the Tory party. Today’s by-election in Peterborough will be an important marker.

We have been pointing out for a while that the probability of a no-deal Brexit is steadily rising. And the pathway towards it is becoming steadily clearer.

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