23rd Mar 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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • 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.


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.

Column / Brussels Bytes

EU e-privacy proposal risks breaking 'Internet of Things'

EU policymakers need to clarify that the e-privacy should not apply to most Internet of Things devices. The current proposal require explicit user consent in all cases - which is not practical.

News in Brief

  1. EU will be exempted from tariffs, says US minister
  2. Malmstroem: EU 'hopes' for US tariffs exemption
  3. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says
  4. Italy's centre-right set to share top posts with 5-star movement
  5. Brussels condemns tear gas in Kosovo parliament
  6. Finland pays billionaire €400,000 in EU farm subsidies
  7. 44 leaders sign up for Africa free trade area deal
  8. British 'blue' passports to be made in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU summit takes hard look at Russia
  2. Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing
  3. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  4. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  5. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  6. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  7. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  8. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections