by Frank Schnittger
Mon Jun 10th, 2019 at 01:13:28 AM EST
Theresa May has stepped down as Tory party leader with an approval rating of -49% and to the regret of almost no one. She had outstayed her welcome, and even that welcome had come mostly from the Tory faithful. She was admired by some for her perseverance and staying power in the face of almost insurmountable odds, although for many it was just a manifestation of her stubbornness and crass insensitivity to all but her own views.
In the end, even those who had felt some sympathy for her because they felt she was being treated more shabbily because she was a women, had been handed a poisoned chalice by her predecessor, and was no worse than her Tory colleagues, found it difficult to justify her policy positions. Her last days as leader were spent having to endure listening to Donald Trump telling her who should run the UK and how.
She remains a ghostly presence in 10 Downing street until a new Tory Leader has been elected to replace her - almost certainly someone she has sacked or who has resigned from her cabinet in protest at her policies. Most of her key allies - David Liddington, Damian Green, Philip Hammond - aren't even running to replace her. Their goose was cooked with her failed policies and political defeats. With her previous responsibility for harsh immigration policies, Windrush, Grenfell Tower, social welfare cutbacks, privatisation and austerity policies, it is difficult to think of a single positive achievement to her name, although for some on the far right her attacks on immigrants, asylum seekers and the poor were to be welcomed.
On the day that May resigned Labour narrowly won the Peterborough bye-election with the Tories coming third despite the fact that Labour's outgoing MP in the marginal seat had been forced to resign following a conviction for lying about a speeding offence, and their candidate and incoming MP had to apologise during the campaign for "liking" an anti-Semitic Twitter post that said Mrs May had a "Zionist slave masters' agenda". Nigel Farage's Brexit party came second despite the fact that Peterborough had voted 60% in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum. But if it wasn't a great result for the Brexit Party it really couldn't get much worse for the Tories who are trying to put May's deal and her regime behind them as fast as possible.
The main contenders for the Tory Leadership - Johnson, Hunt, Gove, and Raab - are all competing with each other in trying to demonstrate their virility on Brexit because the ultimate electorate for the leadership is the 100,000 strong party membership with a reported average age of 70+ and views somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. However the emergence of the Brexit party also represents an existential challenge to the Conservatives' hold on power, and indeed their membership of the duopoly of power at Westminster created by the First Past the Post single seat constituency electoral system. It would be ironic indeed if the system they fought so hard to retain proves to be their ultimate undoing as a party of Government.
What all these candidates have in common is a belief that the EU can be persuaded, or indeed can be forced to re-open and renegotiate the Withdrawal agreement, especially in relation to the hated Irish backstop. Quite when such a renegotiation is to take place is less clear: The Commission will be on holidays in August and is due to be replaced in November. It is hard to see the current Commission undoing what is seen as one of their few singular successes in office, and harder still to see the European Council agreeing a further extension of the A.50 notification period beyond October to facilitate a renegotiation with a hard Brexiteer led UK Government.
The response of the Brexiteer candidates is to threaten a no deal Brexit as if this would somehow put the UK in a stronger negotiating position post Brexit. However, if the UK reneges on the deal freely negotiated with the May government the EU will probably refuse to negotiate on stage 2 - a FTA or whatever future trading relationship the UK wants. What is the point of negotiating further with a country that doesn't honour previous agreements?
No deal means NO DEAL, so the EU may even refuse to negotiate landing rights for UK carriers to destinations in the EU = no flights for UK airlines, although some "sectoral arrangements" formal or informal, might persist - e.g. security cooperation, intelligence sharing, and NATO related matters. The EU might even impose tariffs on UK goods to recover the "lost" 39m Billion from its budget, to reduce congestion at borders by reducing trading volumes, and to compensate for increased administrative costs and the loss of competitiveness created by a radical devaluation of Sterling...
You will note that all the talk of trading on WTO rules is coming from the UK hard Brexiteer side whereas the EU has given no guarantees that this will be the case. Trump has driven a coach and four through WTO rules and if the UK takes Trump's side in any US/EU trade disputes, it can expect to be the first hit in the front line. For Brexiteers, this is all project fear stuff, but in reality it doesn't come close to describing what a rapid deterioration of relations post Brexit could lead to. No one wins trade wars, but the weaker side can lose pretty badly. Take, for example, The Anglo-irish Trade war 1932-38 which devastated the Irish economy at the time.
The alternative scenario is that a hard Brexiteer led Tory/DUP government so alienates Remainer and soft Brexiteer Conservative MPs that it loses a vote of Confidence in the House of Commons. While most Conservative MPs are unprincipled careerists, it only takes a handful to overturn the Governments narrow Commons majority, and some are probably on the way out of politics to more lucrative jobs in the City in any case.
In that scenario a general election could ensue and become, effectively, a second referendum on Brexit. Corbyn will be under as much pressure from the Remain side to prevent a leakage of votes to the Lib Dems and Greens (and SNP in Scotland) as the Tories are from the Brexit party on the Leave side, and would probably campaign for a renegotiated "soft Brexit" subject to a second confirmatory public vote.
By that stage the 2016 referendum will be an increasingly distant memory, the Tories will largely own the failure to deliver on it, and Labour will be free to campaign for a fresh approach - which might also include the option of continued membership of a "reformed" EU. The electorate are allowed to change their minds, and a general election is the chief constitutional means they have to do so. The question is whether Corbyn is still capable of doing so...
So much for speculation about he future. What we know now is that Theresa May's premiership has been an epic and historic failure achieving almost nothing except dividing the UK down the middle (and threatening to do the same to Ireland). She has almost no redeeming qualities and yet her chief claim to fame may yet come to be that she was not as bad as her successor. Will it be kamikaze Johnson or one of the other lesser luminaries from the cast of this rather sad and pathetic chapter in UK history?
In the meantime, come what May, the best we can say is: Good Riddance.