June 14, 2017
Minority governments can be stronger and more stable than you think
Some of the Remainers in the UK still live in the perennial hope that something will happen that may undo Brexit. We have no other explanation for why newspapers find it newsworthy to report that Emmanuel Macron and Wolfgang Schäuble have both said that the UK would be welcomed back if it changed its mind. As so often, the continental European media are massively misjudging the political dynamics in the UK, where the debate is not about whether Brexit should happen or not but what negotiating position to take during the Article 50 talks.
There is a also a good deal of delusion in the UK, where there seems to be a consensus among commentators that minority governments simply cannot last. We very much liked the account by Bernard Donoughue, a former adviser to Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, who makes the point that minority governments can last surprisingly long. The Wilson/Callaghan administration lasted a full term from 1974 until 1979 - whatever we may think of its achievements. For Theresa May to survive the snake pit of Conservative Party politics she would have to develop what he called Wilsonian skills. Donoughue reminds his readers of an unwittingly timely West End play, This House, which is set in the 1970s and portrays the art of running a minority government.
The main Brexit news is the departure of two of the four junior ministers in the Brexit departments, one fired by May, another who quit in protest at the way May is not communicating. These top-level departures come on top of three further exits by top-level officials, leaving the department depleted at the worst possible time. The exodus adds to concerns about the state of technical preparations before the official start of Article 50 talks. These news cement our view that a transitional period, with full customs union and single market membership, will be inevitable if only because the UK will simply not be ready for a full Brexit by March 2019.