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Until now I’ve been a strong Theresa May supporter. After all, she jumped at the chance to become ‘The Brexit Prime Minister’ and she respected the will of the British electorate by acting appropriately on the result of the June 23, 2016 EU referendum, and she has endured a brutal schedule spending countless hours flying to European capitals to arrange a sensible and fair Brexit agreement (an amazingly thankless task that even her political enemies acknowledge is thankless) and now, she and her ministers have carved-out a Brexit agreement that EU negotiators say will be signed by all 27 EU countries. (What the EU negotiators say, and what EU27 leaders will do, may be two different things. We’ll see)
This, in addition to fulfilling all her other duties, qualifies her in my mind as operating a very successful premiership.
However, it did not go unnoticed that Theresa May is now quoting THREE possible Brexit outcomes; (1) Theresa May’s Brexit deal, (2) A No Deal/WTO Brexit or, (3) cancelling Brexit.
Whereas prior to being pressured by her party and the media Theresa May was only quoting TWO possible Brexit outcomes; (a) A negotiated Brexit deal, or, (b) a No Deal/WTO Brexit.
Which represents a big difference in political thought and a very dangerous game could begin thereby impacting civil order in the UK, and Conservative Party fortunes well into the future.
Does Theresa May (The Brexit Prime Minister!) Pose an Existential Threat to Brexit?
No doubt that every Brexiteer on planet Earth has taken it as a threat that Theresa May intends to revoke Great Britain’s Article 50 notification to the European Union if she doesn’t get what she wants.
And extrapolating that for a moment, and as Theresa May is a self-confessed Remainer; Brexiteers must assume that Theresa May is aiming for a BRINO — a Brexit in Name Only agreement.
What other conclusion can be drawn?
The definition of BRINO varies widely depending upon whom you consult; For example, Brexiteers say that BRINO will create a situation whereby (via a weak Brexit agreement) the UK becomes worse-off than if it had stayed within the European Union — many orders of magnitude worse than a Hard Brexit which is what most Brexiteers favour — whereas BRINO to a Remainer means the only difference is that Britons continue to pay Europe’s bills but with less say in EU spending, less say in EU legislation that affects the UK, and Britons will enjoy a more arm’s length relationship with the EU.
Much worse than either of those two options is that Article 50 could be cancelled by Theresa May — especially if you’re the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which would likely be removed from power at the next election and might not form a government for decades.
Smaller betrayals of the people’s trust have started civil wars and the Conservatives would roast themselves if they allowed Theresa May to revoke Article 50 thereby cancelling Brexit. Assuming it could be legally cancelled, and assuming that the EU would agree to the cancellation.
To be Fair to Theresa May…
To be fair to Prime Minister Theresa May, her comment might have been made in the heat of the moment. We all do that. Sometimes we say more than we mean to say especially when the pressure’s on. And if that’s the case, we must remember the sportsman’s rule of “No harm, no foul” and carry on without mentioning it further or using it to embarrass Ms. May.
But if Theresa May is using the threat of cancelling Brexit in order to force her Cabinet and her party into voting for her Brexit deal, Conservative MP’s will have two choices; Hold their noses and vote for the Theresa May deal and fire her shortly after the official Brexit date, or fire her now and replace her with an interim leader who will continue the Brexit process without resorting to such threats.
However, if Theresa May is to be fired by her party for threatening to undo the result of the democratically held EU referendum to get her chosen (some would say BRINO) Brexit deal approved, she deserves to know in advance. For Conservative MP’s to gather 48 or more members on the so-called 1922 Committee to overthrow her as party leader and Prime Minister (which is allowed in the Conservative Party constitution) without a warning or opportunity to retract part of her statement would be unseemly.
In such cases where the leader and 48 or more members disagree on an important policy or part of policy, or of conduct of a Prime Minister, the 1922 Committee members should appear at 10 Downing Street and sign-in at the guest register and inform the Prime Minister of their intentions to remove her from the position of Prime Minister unless she retracts that part of her speech, comments, or policy, that offends them.
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, ERG, on Theresa May’s (Draft) Brexit Deal
If those 48 or more 1922 Committee members don’t appear at 10 Downing St. and forewarn the Prime Minister of their intentions, they risk becoming complicit in her error, or they are a ‘paper tiger’ political force powered by sound bites alone, or they’ve already made the decision to fire her at the first opportunity.
Perhaps by virtue of their appearance at 10 Downing Street to politely notify the Prime Minister of their intention, Theresa May will have the opportunity to explain to them that she hadn’t meant it the way they’ve taken it, or that she simply said it in the heat of the battle; In either case, no harm done.
At the very least, it might register with Theresa May that although she faces negative consequences in the EU as she arranges the best Brexit that she can, she and her party will also face negative consequences within the UK if she doesn’t practice the very best form of statecraft — both foreign and domestic.
Finally, I wouldn’t wish Theresa May’s job on anyone — not even my worst enemy — for the Brexit Prime Minister’s job has got to be one of the most under-appreciated jobs in the world — yet with all of that said, she and every subsequent Prime Minister must ‘get it right’ regardless of the challenges.
Here’s to a better level of understanding between Prime Minister Theresa May, her party, and to British citizens!
The Point of All This?
In Theresa May’s defence, the EU-approved Canada+++ proposal doesn’t solve the seemingly *highly contrived* (by the EU) or *vastly overstated* (by the UK) problem of a border in the Irish Sea and a hard land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland — which is a problem that mere handfuls of politicians on both sides of the English Channel are concerned about.
I say highly contrived or vastly overstated because nowhere in the Belfast Agreement does it say there can’t be a Hard Border.
In Theresa May’s mind, she has delivered a 100% perfect deal that addresses every problem related to Brexit. And in the end, that may turn out to be 100% true.
That some of those problems may have been contrived or overstated by incredibly small numbers of politicians seems to have escaped her. Still, as long as the entire implementation period and/or temporary Customs Union membership has a firm end-date, that’s good enough for me.
*No end date* should equate to *no deal* IMHO.
- Theresa May’s Brexit statement in full (The Times)
- How to Create a ‘Win-Win’ Northern Ireland Agreement (LetterToBritain)
- In the Brexit Home Stretch there are Only Three Possibilities (LetterToBritain)
- Read the entire text of The Belfast Agreement in downloadable PDF form (gov.uk)
In the land of Brexit some has been lost while much has been gained in this, the summer of concession.
Thus far, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has passed the EU Withdrawal Bill, held a firm but fair meeting at Chequers where she stopped prevaricating and demanded a ‘For’ or ‘Against’ decision from her Cabinet on her Chequers Brexit plan — which resulted in the day-after resignations of two of her most powerful ministers and four others — and she has since met European officials where she received cool support for her super-diplomatic, uber-polite and overly soft Brexit proposal.
How Very British!
In some ways those recently resigned MP’s (who will now sit as Conservative backbenchers) might as well be sitting on the opposition side because they possess deep knowledge of May’s inner circle and have the inside scoop on how Brexit is to proceed.
Yet, it was a polite affair with Boris Johnson making a gentle resignation speech in the House of Commons while still urging the Prime Minister to pursue the kind of Brexit UK citizens want. Boris Johnson never looked so principled or gentlemanly in his life (struggling to sound almost deferential to May) and good on him for doing so. Of course emotions were high, and no doubt, he was extremely disappointed that (in his mind) the Chequers Brexit plan surrendered some amount of UK sovereignty to the EU politburo. Five stars for Boris.
David Davis, who is more of a moderate Brexiteer than Boris, tried hard to contain his deep disappointment and published a polite and informative resignation letter outlining his position. As Brexit Secretary (but Brexit-lite when compared to Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example) it appears he thought he could convince May to move to a slightly more robust Brexit plan only to have his hopes dashed. If she was going to be swayed by anyone it would’ve been him. We understand his disappointment too, but that’s politics. Well done, David Davis!
The problem with forcing Cabinet members to declare support or non-support of her Chequers Brexit plan is that she has lost some of them who now sit as backbenchers and are free to hold the government to account.
Theresa May imagines herself to be an experienced operator but if they choose to make her look bad, they could. Therefore, she should not be looking for a fight with them nor should the Prime Minister default to her previous ‘slapping-down’ behaviors or she will get tossed around in a 30-month-long-storm completely of her own making. (Approx. 9 months to go until the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019 plus the 21-month implementation period, equals 30 months of potential hell for Theresa May if she handles her former Cabinet ministers harshly)
Even with all of that said, it’s better to head into the final Brexit stage with a unified team who are fully committed to her overly soft Brexit plan instead of a team that’s pursuing several different Brexit versions at once.
Now that May has asserted herself she seems to be gathering respect from all sides, resignations notwithstanding. Since Chequers, she’s twice the Prime Minister than when she first took the job. Theresa May marque une victoire!
Notes on Theresa May’s Chequers Brexit Plan
- The Prime Minister’s plan suggests a ‘common rule book’ with the EU so that trade in goods and agricultural products won’t be impeded by conflicting sets of rules. ‘Red tape is the eternal productivity killer and the less of it the better’ said every business person ever. Of course, adopting EU standards could make it more difficult to export UK goods to non-EU countries with their different standards, or so the argument goes. Yet, every other country seems to master this, so why not Britain?
- The Chequers plan suggests a common rule book on state aid for industry, and harmonized environmental and climate-change standards, social policy parity, and protection for employees and consumers.
- Formerly one of the PM’s “red lines” was the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which will end after Brexit although UK courts would consider ECJ rulings and/or even consult with the ECJ in certain cases. Which seems a wise idea for any country to consider.
- An FCA (a Facilitated Customs Agreement) where the UK and the EU would operate as a combined customs area — which some might call a customs union of sorts — where the UK would collect tariffs on goods shipped from outside the two countries destined for Europe, and presumably the EU would do the same for Britain.
- A mobility framework agreement to formally end the free movement of people between the continent and the UK. Unregulated immigration from the EU caused the number of EU nationals in the UK to rise to 3.8 million in only a few years, which was a significant contributor to the Leave victory. The mobility framework would allow freedom of movement for persons — such as students that are actually enrolled in college, for retired persons that can afford to live in the UK, for workers who have a guaranteed job waiting for them in the UK and streamlined entry for tourists from any non-terrorist country. One would hope the EU would reciprocate on all of this.
The problem with the common rule book approach is that MP’s of any party may see it as a ‘BRINO’ (Brexit In Name Only) and consequently lower their level of support for Brexit — at least Theresa May’s version of Brexit. And if BRINO fears take root, Conservative MP’s could decide to vote for a different leader should a leadership contest arise.
Parliamentarians have very long memories… so the caution flag is out for Theresa until the UK crosses the Brexit finish line.
Although progress on Brexit seems agonizingly slow Theresa May is an accomplished bureaucrat who realizes she can move forward only as fast as the other participants in the race, and if she moves too fast her government may lose support in Parliament, in the public space, and in Brussels (where she has precious little support to begin with and doesn’t want to suddenly find she has even less) and if she moves too slow, even worse may happen to Britain and to her political career.
Therefore, the race she’s really in is an OJ Simpson-style slow vehicle police chase to the official Brexit date with every camera rolling and catching every step and misstep.
Not very exciting to be sure, but if she gets a reasonable Brexit all should be forgiven.
At worst, the next British Prime Minister will have a firm foundation upon which to Build a Better Britain. Let us hope!
Over the past 24-hours two senior officials in Theresa May’s government have resigned due to differences in what kind of Brexit each seeks.
And frankly, it’ll be a blessing. Far less paint will be peeled off the walls each week at 10 Downing Street if you catch my meaning.
Even though both David Davis and Boris Johnson were and are strong proponents of Brexit (which Prime Minister Theresa May also claims to be) governing the country becomes an impossible task when three people fight each other daily to steer the ship of state.
Every Prime Minister must tolerate some division within the party caucus to be sure. Less so, but still important is to allow a variety of views within Cabinet so that it doesn’t become a sterile place where ideas go to die. But there comes a point when too much division becomes the main issue — instead of the people’s business being the main issue.
Which is why it’s important Theresa May stuck to her guns and didn’t make any last-minute deals (of a kind that a lesser PM might have made) to keep the crew together. Not that Davis and Johnson are going anywhere as they’ll remain Conservative Party backbenchers.
Certainly, Margaret Thatcher would’ve told Davis and Johnson to ‘go fish’ some time ago and probably would have physically evicted them from the room. 😉 (You never knew with Maggie!)
Whether You Agree with Davis and Johnson or Not, this Streamlines Whatever Brexit Modality Theresa May Pursues
While some would like the strongest possible Brexit — Britain’s future will be better with a Brexit agreement that doesn’t ruin relations with the EU, one that includes some kind of reasonable free trade deal, one that allows the UK and the EU to cooperate on a wide range of issues such as, but not limited to; A common rulebook where and when feasible, the Galileo project, the ECJ (where UK courts would include, but not be limited or bound by ECJ rulings and opinions) NATO, and agreeable relations or even membership with other important European institutions.
Theresa May’s sole goal (it seems) is to get a deal with the EU. Which is a noble goal in itself.
The flip side of that is when the agreement Theresa May intends to present is so diluted that her Cabinet walks out the door. Yet, the Prime Minister may still be proven right by events yet to unfold.
It’s obvious to all but the most politically tone-deaf that no matter what agreement is presented to the EU mandarins, it is likely to be swiftly rejected. Including Theresa May’s super-diplomatic, uber-polite and overly soft Brexit proposals.
But if That’s the Case, Why Try at All?
As an experienced bureaucrat slogging it out in the Home Office for a decade Theresa May knows something that hardcore Brexiteers don’t. And that is, those who get ‘stuck with the bill’ wind up paying many times over.
Let’s look at three scenarios, and let’s see who gets stuck with the bill:
- Hard Brexit faction presents an uncompromising Brexit deal to the EU: The European Union declines the deal offered and the blame is on Britain ‘for being so unreasonable’ and from that point on… every single thing that ever goes wrong in Europe, the World, and the Solar System… will be the fault of *those* unreasonable Brexiteers. And it’s not that EU people are evil, it’s just human nature to feel that way when jilted.
- Soft Brexit faction presents a soft agreement for signing in Brussels which is accepted by the EU: It’s seen as a ‘Win-Win’ for both sides. But the EU ‘wins’ by a slight margin and when you’ve effectively ‘dumped your partner’ sometimes it’s a good thing to let them ‘win’ a little bit. The worst that can happen in such a case is that the next UK Prime Minister will try to improve the deal and may or may not succeed in that endeavor. Likely, as time rolls on, both sides will arrive at a better agreement and both can claim credit with their respective voters for any future agreements. Not a bad scenario at all.
- Soft Brexit faction presents a soft agreement for signing in Brussels which *isn’t* accepted by the EU: At that point, the British can walk away from the table knowing in their hearts and with the whole world as a witness that they ‘tried their best’ to accommodate the concerns of the people in Brussels but they just couldn’t strike a deal. (A sort of ‘no fault’ divorce) And Brexit proceeds on a WTO-style basis with a flurry of à la carte agreements signed following March 29, 2019 allowing EU cars to be sold in the UK and UK airlines to operate over continental Europe, for two examples.
In scenario #1: Britain and the Hard Brexiteers get stuck with the bill for about the next century. Maybe longer. ‘Those intransigent Brits! A bloody difficult people they are!’
In scenario #2: Britain gets stuck with the larger part of the bill and in the following years must work incrementally towards the final Brexit arrangements they were originally seeking. ‘Damn, Theresa, couldn’t you do any better? Oh well, we got a Brexit of sorts, you’re forgiven.’
In scenario #3: The EU gets stuck with the bill and the world decrying EU intransigence. And Theresa May *probably* gets re-elected in a landslide.
[Theresa May as Admiral Holdo, David Davis and Boris Johnson as Poe Dameron et al.]
The present Brexit moment is similar to those frantic scenes in Star Wars: The Last Jedi where Poe Dameron and his compadres tried and failed to stage a coup against Vice-Admiral Holdo (who didn’t have the best slate of options from which to choose, and consequently didn’t have the best plan, but in the end it was the only plan that could have worked) and essentially the people on good side of the Force got the result they wanted.
The lesson from this story is that when the chips are down and you *must* bring home a win *always* go with the plan that is *guaranteed to work*.
Which in the real world often isn’t the most glorious, most exciting, nor the most popular plan. Unfortunately.
But when a plan works, it’s a win. And beautiful or ugly, if the plan works that’s all that matters.
May the Force be with You, Theresa May!