Tuesday

25th Sep 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

May stumbles her way to the finishing line

  • The prime minister's office, 10 Downing Street - who will be in there after 8 June? (Photo: Number 10)

Conservative candidates are suddenly getting nervous.

An election that, several weeks ago, promised a certain victory by a wide margin is suddenly too close for comfort. And, whisper it, the supreme leader Theresa May, who has made her party’s campaign solely about her leadership skills – with the word "Conservative" conspicuously absent – has been rumbled.

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

  • May has refused to debate against Corbyn or the other UK party leaders. (Photo: Reuters)

Truth be told, she’s not that good.

The reputation of the UK polling industry has taken a beating in recent years – mistakenly predicting victories for Labour and the Remain campaign in 2015 and 2016.

So, the latest surveys suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has narrowed the Conservatives’ lead from 20 points to within 5 need to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

A Tory victory on June 8 is still the most likely result.

But it hardly bodes well for the Brexit talks if May struggles to eke out a narrow win against a Labour party with a widely derided leader, for whom the election campaign interrupted a two-year civil war within the party.

If German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron, lead EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, et al were nervous at the prospect of facing Margaret Thatcher Mark II, they needn't be. The last month has revealed that May is no Maggie Thatcher.

Refusal to debate

She has refused to debate against Corbyn – a strange decision since Corbyn has little talent for thinking on his feet – or the other UK party leaders.

A frequent critique of May’s campaign is that she has offered little beyond platitudes and clichés, while backtracking on new taxes to fund social care. Her defence of the Conservative’s proposed levy on the estates of elderly care users last weekend was met with derisive laughter by reporters.

May’s response on Thursday (1 June) to tumbling ratings for her party and her personally was to double down on Brexit, telling voters that having “voted to leave the European Union and embrace the world” last year, next Thursday’s poll was the “opportunity to affirm that decision.”

Her other main message now appears to be personal attacks on Corbyn’s competence.

“With the Brexit negotiations due to begin just 11 days after polling day, he is not prepared” and would “find himself alone and naked in the negotiating chamber of the EU,” May said of Corbyn on Wednesday (31 May).

Brexit is the most important issue for the public, but it’s not the only game in town. YouGov’s latest surveys show leaving the EU as the most important issue for voters by a two percent margin, ahead of the National Health Service, followed by immigration and the economy.

The accusation that Labour has no plan to negotiate Brexit is fair. A large chunk of Labour supporters (and MPs) would love to turn back the clock on the June referendum.

Labour's Brexit woes

The party has conceded an end to free movement and ruled out a second referendum only with great reluctance. On Brexit, Labour is out of step with the majority of voters, including a large chunk of its own supporters.

Labour strategists are well aware of this, and are desperately seeking to focus the campaign away from Brexit and back to the state of Britain’s public services, emphasising the future impact of another five years of spending cuts.

Yet, the suggestion that the Conservatives have much of a plan is testing credulity.

For all the criticism that was aimed at former UK prime minister David Cameron’s government for failing to consider the implications of a Brexit vote, similar accusations can be made after reading the party manifestos.

Anand Menon, a professor at King’s College London (KCL) who leads the "Britain in a changing Europe" research project, argues that the next five-year parliament, will see MPs pre-occupied with “the implications of one of the most important and difficult decisions that Britain has ever taken”.

“What a shame that the parties haven’t properly factored it in to their plans,” he adds.

While the Conservatives insist that the two-year window for Article 50 talks is plenty of time to agree the financial terms of the Brexit divorce settlement and a successor trade deal, pundits on both sides of the Channel think this extremely optimistic.

KCL’s latest research estimates the economic impact of a hard Brexit, still the most likely scenario, with the UK resorting to trading on World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, would be "a reduction of the order 3 percent of GDP".

If that prediction is even close to being accurate, May’s re-election on June 8 will be the last word in pyrrhic victories. She and her party will have five years to flounder with their majority.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Ukip's last electoral stand

Nigel Farage's anti-EU party is unlikely to win any seats at the 8 June elections. After the loss of his charismatic leadership, the party is just a rag-tag of third raters.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Tories on manoeuvres, as Labour wakes from Brexit slumber

In Labour's programme for the June election, Jeremy Corbyn claims there will be no second EU referendum and promises a form of associate membership with the EU. For the moment, it’s as far as his party can go.

EU gives mandate for Barnier to take on Brexit

In its final preparatory act before Brexit talks begin, the EU has officially given the negotiating mandate to Michel Barnier. The French politician said he would like to start negotiations on the week of 19 June.

May promises hard Brexit in Tory manifesto

In her party's platform ahead of the 8 June elections, the British prime minister has asked voters to let her negotiate Brexit without guaranteeing a final deal.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The coronation that nearly lost the crown

It is highly unlikely, but far from impossible, that prime minister Theresa May will lose Thursday's election. But the way her campaign is staggering to the finish line suggests that her honeymoon phase is over.

Agenda

Brits and French go to polls This WEEK

The British election will determine who will lead the UK out of the EU, while French leader Macron hopes to secure his base for more eurozone integration.

News in Brief

  1. Migrant rescue ship heading to French port
  2. EU angry at British tabloids on Brexit
  3. UK to allow EU flights in no-deal Brexit
  4. Greek reporters arrested after story on 'mishandled' EU funds
  5. Austrian minister urges police to out foreign sex offenders
  6. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group
  7. Half of EU states at risk of missing recycling target
  8. Commission refers Poland to EU top court over rule of law

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses
  2. Russian with Malta passport in money-laundering probe
  3. Cyprus: Russia's EU weak link?
  4. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  5. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  6. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  7. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  8. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us