This week we remind ourselves of the key stages of Mrs May’s years in office. We also take a look at the runners and riders in the upcoming election race. Finally, we consider what this means for Brexit and the process unfolding.
Timeline of some key events:
• Former Prime Minister (PM), David Cameron resigns following the June 2016 Brexit referendum vote in favour of leaving the European Union.
• Mrs May beats off competition from Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Andrea Leadsom to become PM on 13th of July 2016.
• A surprise election is called with Mrs May claiming a general election was the “only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead”. The result, a hung parliament, is extremely disappointing for Mrs May who had asked for a ‘strong endorsement’. Many commentators say this marks the start of her downfall.
• Mrs May signs an agreement with the EU to guarantee there will not be a physical border in Ireland after Brexit. It is at this point the ‘backstop’ comes into vogue to the disapproval of hard-line Brexiteers. They say this leaves a part of the UK (N. Ireland) cut off from the rest of the UK.
• The Government is found to be in contempt of Parliament, the first such time in its history; thereafter the Government is forced to disclose legal advice suggesting that under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement they would not be able to escape the backstop without breaking the law.
• Mrs May survives a vote of no confidence by a margin of 83 votes; but her grip on the cabinet starts to slip and she is eventually forced to concede that she will step down as PM once Brexit is delivered.
Serial Brexit defeats
• In 2019 the PM incurs four Brexit defeats; one in January one in February and two in March. The first vote on the deal negotiated with the EU delivers the largest ever majority defeat in UK parliamentary history, falling by 230 votes.
Margin of defeat for UK government motions since 1918
Source: BBC News, May 2019
• Mrs May announces in a tearful speech that she will resign as UK prime minister. She is destined to stand down on June the 7th.
Who could replace May?
As of writing eleven conservative members have put their names forward for leadership. They are the following:
• Michael Gove – Environmental Secretary
• Matt Hancock – Health Secretary
• Jeremy Hunt – Foreign Secretary
• Boris Johnson – Former Foreign Secretary
• Andrea Leadsom – Former Leader of the House
• Esther McVey – Former Work and Pensions Secretary
• Dominic Raab – Former Brexit Secretary
• Rory Stewart – International Development Secretary
• Sajid Javid – Home Secretary
• James Cleverly – Brexit Minister
• Kit Malthouse – Backbencher
Candidate Odds, Source: Odds Checker, May 2019
This means the three ‘bookies’ favourites are Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove. However, it is also true that in previous PM elections the favourite has tended to lose out.
1. ‘Boris’ Johnson. His Canada style Brexit plan gets the backing of many grass root activists. A key figurehead of the 2016 leave campaign. However, we have just learned this has landed him in court accused of political misconduct.
2. Dominic Raab is a committed Eurosceptic and one of the biggest critics of the backstop. He will attempt to reopen negotiations with the EU and will leave without a deal if pushed.
3. Michael Gove who, alongside Boris Johnson, campaigned to leave is now convinced the UK must avoid a no-deal Brexit. Some say he has more potential to unite the Conservative Party, but memories of his ‘betrayal’ of allies linger. This may dampen his chances.
What does a new leader mean for Brexit?
All the candidates have stated their desire to complete the Brexit process. None of them plans on holding a second referendum, but how they will manage what Mrs May failed to achieve is unclear i.e. to secure an acceptable, negotiated, deal approved by most parliamentarians, so that we leave on the 31st of October.
Keeping matters interesting, the EU insist there will be no further revision to the withdrawal agreement, including the Irish backstop provision.
What can change?
• Another extension to article 50 could be agreed. However, France’s president Emmanuel Macron has rejected the possibility of Brexit extending into 2020, despite German chancellor Angela Merkel stating that the UK should have the opportunity of trying to secure an agreement instead of facing a “no deal” departure.
• A successor might make better progress renegotiating the future framework for the UK-EU trade relationship. EU leaders have signalled a willingness to revise this part of the agreement.
• A ‘no deal’ Brexit breaks the impasse and we leave as planned. However, this could be scuppered if enough politicians, including Conservative MP’s vehemently opposed to no-deal in an attempt to bring down the government through a vote of no confidence. This would prompt a general election.
The recent EU election result shows the nation is divided. The two mainstream political parties must reorganise themselves to deliver a consistent, clear, message. If not, they face a very uncertain future as the battleground for now is no longer ‘political right’ or ‘political left. For a very large portion of the electorate it is ‘leave regardless’ or ‘remain regardless’. The middle ground requires a compromise that many in parliament, and in the country, seem unable to contemplate. This may shift with a new leader, but how and which way is anyone’s guess at this point.