Saturday

4th Feb 2023

Opinion

Britain preparing to jump off a cliff

  • If there is no deal, Britain will simply tumble out of the EU in March 2019. (Photo: Duncan Hull)

Theresa May's plan seemed so simple: we're way ahead in the polls, so let's call an election, grab a great majority and start building a strong and stable Britain.

Instead, she found out that the British people are tired of empty slogans and that they don't believe she is the right person to lead the UK through the complex Brexit negotiations.

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Theresa May remains the British prime minister so far, and is willing to do anything it might take to get life support from the Northern Irish extremists, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Nobody else is willing to touch the Conservatives, and thus May could soon be pushed out of 10 Downing Street.

So far, her survival strategy was to ritually sacrifice her closest advisers – but it is not only foreign secretary Boris Johnson (despite the loud public denials) that is sharpening his knives.

If May had learned her lesson from former UK prime minister David Cameron's EU referendum disaster and did not call the unnecessary election, London would be fully focused on finalising the preparations for Brexit negotiations right now.

Europe's strong hand

Europe is heading into the talks next week with a clear, detailed and published mandate, unanimously approved by all 27 member states.

However, on the British side of the table, there will be representatives of a very weak government with an unknown mandate, since the unrealistic phrases from the Tory election manifesto are exactly that – unrealistic.

Moreover, the European negotiators will have to keep asking: will our British partners even be at the table a few months down the road? Or will we have to go through every single issue again if there is another snap election and a new British government?

Maybe Theresa May will strike the deal with the Northern Irish Unionists and survive, maybe it will be somebody else who will close the deal and replace the prime minister.

But whatever survival agreement the Tories get, it will be very fragile and we may see another election in the fall.

If the Brexit clock were not ticking, we could simply watch the unfolding situation as an interesting case study on how a formerly successful political party totally lost its feel for reality and made two very bad decisions within two years, under two leaders – the unnecessary referendum on EU membership and the unnecessary early election.

Weakening position

However, May started the two-year Brexit countdown at the end of March and so far achieved only two things – wasting three out of about 18 months we have to close the deal before it heads to national parliaments for approval, and significantly weakening the British position.

May wanted the snap election to strengthen the Conservative majority, since her original majority of 17 votes was not enough to get many key things through the parliament.

And Europe hoped a stronger majority would liberate May from the choke-hold of the Tory Brextremist MPs, and enable her to agree to a deal that makes sense for both sides.

Instead, we will negotiate with a weak government that must rely on extreme partners and where basically every government MP holds a veto, thus reducing the trustworthiness of the British negotiators to almost zero.

Whatever the British negotiators claim, there is simply no guarantee that any agreement will be passed by the current UK parliament.

Unless there is a new election this fall that brings about a government with a reasonable majority, the risk of "no deal" scenario will increase immensely.

And, if there is no deal, Britain will simply tumble out of the EU in March 2019.

We will spend years fighting lawsuits about payments and liabilities, the Europeans will lose their rights in the UK, and British firms will smash their heads against the wall that will suddenly appear between the EU and the UK, as there will be no free trade deal in place.

If this worst-of-all scenarios does materialise, the UK will pay a terrible price for the foolishness of David Cameron and Theresa May. And it will all be for nothing.

Tomas Prouza is the former Czech state secretary for European Affairs

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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