19th May 2019
Theresa May – politically dead and almost buried
There can be no doubt that any marriage of convenience brings with it grounds for divorce. The coupling of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, in talks to find a Brexit deal, certainly had more the aspect of a shotgun wedding than a match made in heaven. It is no surprise that we have now reached the point of irretrievable breakdown.
As Corbyn states in his letter to May, ending the talks,
“…there has been growing concern in both the shadow cabinet and parliamentary Labour Party about the government’s ability to deliver on any compromise agreement.”
With May making clear during the week that she would outline a timetable for her departure, following the European Union Withdrawal Bill going before Parliament in the first week in June, the talks had clearly run out of road. As shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, observed recently, “negotiating with the Tories is like trying to enter a contract with a company that’s going into administration.”
With European elections looming on 23rd May, in which the Tories could trail in an embarrassing fourth or fifth place, and for which they have not even offered a manifesto, there can be little doubt that the momentum will be with the pro-Brexit tendency when it comes to electing a new leader.
Under these circumstances it is clear that any deal negotiated between May and Corbyn would effectively have been ripped up the moment a new Tory leader was installed. As Corbyn states in his letter to May,
“As you have been setting out your decision to stand down and cabinet ministers are competing to succeed you, the position of the government has become ever more unstable and its authority eroded. Not infrequently, proposals by your negotiating team have been publicly contradicted by statements from other members of the cabinet.”
It would certainly strengthen Corbyn’s position if members of his own party, notably Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, and Shadow Brexit Secretary, Kier Starmer, had the wit to hold the line with regard to Labour Party policy, rather than pursuing their own careerist agenda. While the BBC and much of the media continue to caricature the Labour position as ‘confused’ Gary Younge, writing in the The Guardian (17th May 2019) put the Labour position succinctly stating,
“The policy itself is pretty straightforward. It supports a second referendum if parliament rejects the prime minister’s deal and a general election doesn’t follow. They just can’t get their story straight.”
There is little doubt that the Labour position is one of compromise. The fact remains however that the likes of Watson and Starmer are hell bent on distorting the story. Their intention is to force Labour away from its policy position of delivering on the outcome of the 2016 referendum, to one of supporting a so called people’s vote, in the hope that this will result in a Remain outcome thus avoiding Brexit entirely.
Using Labour policy, of the second referendum as a last resort, to push a pro-Remain position is consistent with the overriding will of the UK political establishment, including most MPs, the City of London and the establishment media. Watson and Starmer are clearly welcome bedfellows in this company.
The joker in the pack however remains the anti-EU ultra tendency within the Tory party and the anti-EU character of the party’s membership. It is unlikely that a Tory leadership contest will go beyond the party conference in September, allowing that event to be a coronation for the new leader. That will give the new leader, and new UK Prime Minister, less than two months to settle a deal or leave the EU with no deal on 31st October 2019.
Will a pro-Brexit Prime Minister, perhaps the Tory grass roots favourite, Boris Johnson, be concerned about a no deal exit? They will certainly claim that their election by the 160,000 or so Tory Party members will give them a ‘mandate’ to deliver on whatever platform they put forward. It will be hard for any of the Parliamentary Conservative Party to resist the position of its own grass roots. Ironically, getting no-deal across the line just means sitting it out for two months, no messy votes in Parliament to deal with, no protracted negotiations.
One thing any Prime Minister fears, whatever their legislative failings and parliamentary struggles, is to go down in history as the shortest serving PM in history. An ego as inflated as that of Boris Johnson certainly could not tolerate that, so any deal which gets him elected will almost certainly be predicated upon building a sufficient coalition to be able to see him through to 2022, the fixed parliamentary term period.
Theresa May has promised to pull out the stops and come up with a “bold offer” when the EU Withdrawal Bill gets to Parliament in June. Unless by some miracle that is the case and the Bill passes, the race to watch over the summer will be the Tory leadership contest. The shape of Brexit may well be determined by it.