It is always amazing to watch the combined forces of the establishment take to the airwaves, the printing presses and the internet to express themselves whenever a significant event takes place.
It was no surprise therefore to observe how the PM’s announcement yesterday evoked a flurry of opinion pieces from the A-List of our politicians and political commentators. Remember though, while she stepped out of 10 Downing Street yesterday, announcing that she would resign as leader of the Tory Party on June 7th, she’ll remain in office until her successor has been selected.
The most important question is how this will affect Brexit. Yesterday morning, well before that announcement, we’ve already pointed out the danger of Ms May’s continuing occupation on 10 Downing Street presents (here). So let’s peer into our non-existent crystal ball and try to predict what might happen …
You’ll agree that it would be wise to look at what our dear friends in Brussels in particular and in EU member states in general have to say. Surprise surprise, it’s nothing new:
“The European Union insisted it would not renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement no matter who succeeds Theresa May after the prime minister announced she would resign this morning. Brussels said it was irrelevant whether the next prime minister was Boris Johnson, who called yesterday for a reopening of the Brexit deal, or his Tory leadership rivals.” (paywalled link)
More reactions came in overnight, and you’ll note that the EU leaders all assume that Boris Johnson will assume Ms May’s mantle. In a surprisingly quick reaction Ms Merkel has called for an immediate discussion:
“Responding to Mrs May’s announcement, EU leaders will discuss the next steps of Britain’s divorce as part of their Brussels summit on May 28. German Chancellor’s Angela Merkel’s deputy spokesman announced the bloc’s plans within an hour of Mrs May standing down. EU diplomats and officials in Brussels have pleaded with the next British prime minister to bring an end to the Brexit deadlock as soon as possible. Leaders were due to discuss the next European Commission, Council and Parliament presidents but Brexit has once again hijacked a Brussels summit.” (source)
Oh dear – how sad … cannot someone tell those EU Leaders that this would have been resolved already had it not been for their intransigence from the get-go? Here’s more from Brussels:
“A new prime minister faces implacable opposition from the European Union to reopening the draft withdrawal treaty and growing resistance to any further Brexit delay. Whoever wins the keys to No 10 will be told by European leaders that Britain needs to quickly make a choice between the present deal, including the Irish backstop, crashing out without a deal in November, cancelling Brexit or holding a second referendum.” (link, paywalled)
As new PM I’d tell them, in LibDem speak, ‘bollocks to that!’ as Brussels still believes it’s for them to dictate to us:
“Negotiations with Brussels will be made more difficult by Britain’s participation in EU elections, which are being seen as creating a polarised British political climate and “polluting” European politics.” (link, paywalled)
Let that sink in: our votes in the EP elections which we didn’t want in the first place are ‘polluting’ European politics. Of course, we know why those pure EUropeans haven’t kicked us polluters out: they want and need our money. Here are more statements showing that Brussels still won’t relinquish its role as our overlord:
“On the European side there is absolutely no intention to reopen the withdrawal agreement,” Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator, told The Times. “There is no appetite for another extension unless Britain decides what it wants. We will want to see a positive majority in the Commons for something.” (link, paywalled)
We don’t care what you ‘want to see’, Guy. The result of the EP elections to be announced on Sunday night will show you exactly that we don’t give a hoot. Meanwhile, other EU leaders have started their blame game already:
“Senior EU officials and diplomats categorically rule out reopening the draft withdrawal treaty deadlocked in the House of Commons, particularly any significant changes to the backstop to prevent a hard border in Ireland. A senior diplomat close to the talks said: “It is a fundamental question of our credibility at a time when the EU needs to hold the line — against populists, Donald Trump on trade and Russia. Will we throw it all away just to help a Brexiter like Boris Johnson?” (link, paywalled)
It’s endearing, isn’t it: ‘diplomats’ think that it’s about them making a stand against ‘populists’ – while those same ‘populists’ are probably going to take a large number of seats in the new EU Parliament. And it’s indicative of their attitude, that voters just don’t matter.
I’d interpret this combination of Brussels fear and intransigence as a typical case of ‘fear-aggression’, something well known to dog behaviourists. In their political obituaries about Ms May this fear aggression comes out nicely, especially as they know that we can leave on Halloween with No Deal:
“European leaders warned Tory leadership hopefuls to expect no more concessions from Brussels and be prepared to live up to their no-deal rhetoric. The Spanish government said that after Theresa May’s departure a cliff-edge exit appeared inevitable unless stopped by parliament. […] Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said that the problem of Brexit was “not Theresa May” but Britain’s strict red lines for any deal. France said that a new prime minister would have to explain quickly what he or she wanted. Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said that even if a hard core Brexiteer was elected the EU would not alter the present negotiating mandate.” (link, paywalled)
While Brussels and the EU leaders are indulging in presenting their ‘implacable’ position – even though we can sense their fear of what we Brits might get up to next – there’s one aspect which, as usual, has been overlooked not just by them but by our own lot here.It’s the role of Ms May’s Brexit “negotiators” who are of course still holed up with May in 10 Downing Street: Sir Mark Sedwill, Mr Olly Robbins (I wonder if she’ll give him a gong on her leaving …) and Mr Gavin Barwell. Mr Barwell may leave with May, the other two might remain.
Whitehall Mandarins have a proud tradition of domesticating their unruly Ministers – like William Hague as Minister at the FO, BoJo was no exception. Unlike those EU leaders who still have no understanding of our political culture and processes, we know what is going to be on the cards when we read, shuddering, of two Cabinet ministers now thinking out loud about supporting BoJo:
“Hours after a tearful Theresa May announced June 7 as the date she will step down as Tory leader, Mr Johnson insisted there would be no further extension of Article 50 if he wins the race to succeed her. His campaign received a major boost as both Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd indicated they could back him, suggesting he could receive top-level support from both Remain and Leave campaigners.” (paywalled link)
That pronouncement may come to haunt BoJo. Having those two May acolytes, Rudd and Hammond, utmost Remainers both, support him does not bode well, alas, especially as they are both not especially ‘fond’ of him.
The last word must go to the incomparable Sir John Redwood who writes in his Diary today:
“We are long past the position where we need a new leader to find a compromise between Leave and Remain, or who thinks that a few tweaks to the Withdrawal Agreement will enable it to pass. Only getting us out by October 31st at the latest is going to get the government and the party the right to a hearing again from voters, and the space and authority to press forward with all the many policies we can then offer based on the freedoms Brexit delivers.”
Do read the whole entry. Unlike EU Leaders and many in our MSM, he doesn’t overlook the seismic change brought about by TBP.
My non-existent crystal ball tells me that the outlook is therefore not as sunny as some would like to think. We need to be as vigilant as ever!