Monday

25th Mar 2019

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's call to compromise helps mask party disunity

  • May’s expected offer to opposition parties is yet another reminder of how spectacularly her election gamble backfired. (Photo: Council of the European Union)

One of the messages Britons sent on 8 June was that they didn’t want to give Theresa May a blank cheque on Brexit.

A survey published by Survation shortly after the election found that 55% believed that a coalition of all political parties would be best placed to negotiate Brexit. Only 32 percent wanted the Conservative party to go it alone.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

That message appears to have been heard. In a speech on Tuesday (11 July), May is expected to urge Labour and other opposition parties to “come forward with your own views and ideas” on what post-Brexit Britain should look like.

“No political party has the complete monopoly of wisdom,” May’s de facto deputy prime minister, Damian Green, said on Monday.

May’s unprecedented "call for consensus" comes in the week that the government publishes its repeal bill on Thursday, the first part in the process of reversing the 1972 European Communities Act that took Britain into the bloc.

This will be the start of a hugely complicated process of Brexit negotiation in Westminster. The repeal bill will transpose all EU law into a single consolidated UK law. Brexiteers had hoped that the bill would allow them to scrap swathes of EU law. Shorn of a Conservative majority, that looks unlikely. The government will have to compromise.

The first concession is likely to be over the status of Britain’s membership of the Euratom treaty, the little-known agreement on nuclear power.

According to the May government’s position that the UK cannot remain subject to rulings by the European Court of Justice, Brexit also means leaving Euratom, the regulator which covers the transportation of nuclear materials around Europe.

However, nine Conservative MPs are prepared to defy this government position, enough to deprive May of her majority. They also have allies from an unlikely source. ‘Those in government wanting to leave Euratom are morons,’ offered Vote Leave’s campaign director, Dominic Cummings.

A cross-party group on EU relations led by two arch-Remainers: Labour’s Chuka Umunna, often touted as a possible party leader, and Conservative former minister Anna Soubry will also be launched this week.

“We won’t accept MPs being treated as spectators in the Brexit process, when we should be on the pitch as active players representing our constituents,” said Umunna. He will hope to use the group to keep alive the flame of single market membership.

But the room for manoeuvre is limited for the moment. A la carte is only available to politicians who accept the line of both the Conservatives and Labour: that leaving the EU and the single market must be part of the menu.

Unity on these points allows both parties to paper over their internal divisions on Brexit. Ministers who, deep-down, support single market membership are still taking to the airwaves to propose a lengthy post-Article 50 transition period.

Labour, meanwhile, is also sticking to its pre-election stance. Jeremy Corbyn sacked three shadow ministers who were among 49 Labour MPs to vote in favour of an amendment demanding continued single market membership two weeks ago.

The dilemma for Corbyn, who is instinctively Eurosceptic, is that the surge in support for Labour on June 8 was, in large part, based on an unprecedented turnout by Remain supporting under 25s. University towns and constituencies which voted ‘Remain’ in 2016 produced large swings to Labour in June.

At the same time, Labour’s heartlands in the north of England were promised an end to freedom of movement, which means leaving the single market.

If the anti-Brexit coalition cannot yet explicitly challenge the referendum result, they can play the long game. The weakness of the May government and volatility of voters means that no option can be ruled out.

Vince Cable, who will become the next leader of Liberal Democrats, hinted at this on Sunday when he opined that he was “beginning to think Brexit may never happen". A future election in the next two years could yet provide a mandate for that.

Given how entrenched the political fault-lines are across Britain – on a range of social and economic issues besides Brexit – seeking some kind of cross-party coalition is a sensible act of self-preservation by Theresa May. For the Conservatives, regardless of whether they decide to replace May in the coming weeks, compromise is the only way of avoiding another election which they would probably lose.

But only a mortally wounded politician asks for support from their opponents. May’s offer is yet another reminder of how spectacularly her election gamble backfired.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a freelance writer.

Barnier sets price for hard Brexit

The EU Brexit negotiator warned that a customs union between the UK and EU will not be possible if the UK doesn't want to respect single market rules, and "no deal" would send the UK back to "a distant past".

Column / Brexit Briefing

Taking back control at home, not from EU

A year after British voters chose to leave the EU, "taking back control" from the bloc is firmly on the back-burner, as May government’s main ambition is its immediate survival.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May loses election bet

The British prime minister called the election to strengthen her grip on power ahead of Brexit talks. Her gamble could not have backfired more spectacularly.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Repeal Bill enters land of unknown

Lawyers will love the bill that organises the EU exit, but leaders of Scotland and Wales see it as a "naked power grab" from their devolved administrations.

News in Brief

  1. May admits 'not sufficient support' for third Brexit vote
  2. Orban vows more EU 'information campaigns'
  3. May 'effectively out of power', says Scottish leader
  4. May under pressure to resign over Brexit endgame
  5. Million march against Brexit, five million sign petition
  6. Italy first G7 country to sign China Belt and Road deal
  7. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  8. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks

Feature

'Swexit' off menu at election for first time in 24 years

The Swedish Left Party have abandoned euroscepticism to campaign on climate change - whilst the hard-right Sweden Democrats spy possibilities of a link up with Matteo Salvini of Italy and France's Marine Le Pen.

Opinion

Brexit vs Grexit: The six stages of losing to the EU

Theresa May's venture seems very similar to the attempt by Alexis Tsipras in 2015 to persuade Brussels to accept his terms for the bail out - a huge negotiation failure, presented to the public as the best possible deal.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  2. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  3. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  4. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  5. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  6. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  7. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  8. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us