Archive for the ‘Article 50’ Category

Enough wishful thinking. The next PM must confront hard realities on Brexit

The Lord Chancellor has watched Theresa May struggle to deliver Brexit for three years. Here he explains the challenges facing her successor

We will have a new prime minister but the task facing them is the same one Theresa May faced for three years: how do we deliver the 2016 referendum result in a way that is good for the prosperity, security and integrity of the UK?

If anyone thinks this is an easy task, they don’t understand the magnitude of the situation. Having served in her cabinet, I know that no one could have worked harder or shown greater determination than Theresa May to find a way through.

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Inside Theresa May’s Great British Failure

LONDON — Theresa May knew the futility of her last stand, but was determined to make it anyway. She needed it.

The prime minister and her closest aides and officials had gathered in her office in Number 10 Downing Street to discuss their next steps following the collapse of cross-party talks with Labour.

It was May 16, 2019 — and no-one in the room could see a way forward. Their only option was to make one last offer to MPs: a chance to vote for a second referendum.

“Are you telling me it’s not going to work?” May asked the assembled aides sitting around her table or on sofas nearby, according one senior official familiar with the discussion that day. Her aides did not sugarcoat it: None thought it would work.

It was the moment May and her team had tried for so long to avoid — the end of the road. From that point it was only a matter of time. But the prime minister was determined to roll the dice anyway.

Theresa May had inherited the biggest political challenge for any U.K. prime minister since 1945

The scene reveals a prime minister whose commitment, duty and determination crashed up against an almost unprecedented evaporation of authority, power and influence after a series of catastrophic miscalculations. None was more damaging than her decision to call a snap general election in 2017, robbing her of the majority she needed to take Britain out of the EU with a deal acceptable to her Conservative Party.

“The imperceptible and unquantifiable phenomenon of political power” had drained away, said one Tory minister who backed her until the end. “It had gone.”

Theresa May had inherited the biggest political challenge for any U.K. prime minister since 1945 — and  proved unequal to the task. Personal and political shortcomings met the inescapable reality of parliamentary arithmetic, EU power and the Irish border

Instead of delivering Brexit and making the country work for provincial Britain, as she promised, she departs leaving an even bigger crisis than the one she inherited, with little — if anything — by way of domestic achievements to show by way of mitigation.

Not delivering

May had taken the job with a warning that failing to deliver Brexit would only empower the political extremes. Brexit meant Brexit, she said — it was a revolution that had to be enacted to stave off more dramatic disruption.

“We face a time of great national change,” May declared outside Number 10 on July 13, 2016 — her first day on the job. “And I know, because we’re Great Britain, that we will rise to the challenge.”

By May 21, 2019 — less than three years later — she had nothing to show and nothing left to give. “I have tried everything I possibly can to find a way through.”

Three days later it was over, but the message was the same as it had been almost three years before — a warning that the revolution would not go away.

“I feel as certain today as I did three years ago that in a democracy, if you give people a choice you have a duty to implement what they decide,” she said. “The referendum was not just a call to leave the EU but for profound change in our country.”

That call for profound change ultimately cost May her job.

After March 29, her third and final attempt to force through her Brexit divorce deal, the Conservative Party’s poll ratings nose-dived amid a surge in support for Nigel Farage’s populist Brexit Party demanding a no-deal withdrawal.

May herself admitted she had tried to deliver a Tory Brexit first

With May forced to take her finger out of the dyke, the surge now risks overwhelming the British political establishment.

The candidates to succeed her as Tory leader and prime minister — Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Steve Baker, Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt — have all spoken of no-deal being preferable to no-Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour — a radical proposition in and of itself — is moving toward backing a second referendum. The crisis is not going away.

Will Tanner, who advised the prime minister for five years, and was her deputy head of policy at No. 10 until 2017, said it was ironic that May had been dragged from power by the very forces she warned against.

“I think she has long known the political consequences of not delivering on the referendum result and several of her speeches foreshadowed the return of Nigel Farage,” he said. “She has tried always to bring politics back to that mainstream middle-ground of public opinion. The difficulty is that she herself has not been able to be the leader, the prophet for the mainstream middle-ground vision. Partly that has left a vacuum for other people to fill.”

Party before Brexit

With an eye on her political obituary, May used her resignation speech Friday to insist she had left nothing on the pitch.

The truth, her critics counter, is that this is not the case. May went as far as she possibly could without breaking the Conservative Party.

She never considered a national government, a confirmatory second referendum or a soft Brexit deal inside the single market and customs union that Labour and the Scottish National Party might be able to support, because to do so would almost certainly have cost her the leadership of her party, or caused a permanent split.

Even at the end, she would only compromise so far: Her “bold” final offer to Labour was a guarantee that MPs would be given the chance to vote for or against a second referendum. This was not an offer to support a second referendum in order to pass her deal — it was an offer her aides knew was hollow, because parliament would not support it.

“She ignored certain strategic options because she wanted to keep the party together,” one leading Tory MP said. “But the party still imploded. It’s just total, total failure.”

Amongst contenders for May’s replace are Tory stalwarts Boris Johnson and Michael Gove | STF/AFP via Getty Images

May herself admitted she had tried to deliver a Tory Brexit first. “It is true that initially I wanted to achieve [Brexit] predominantly on the back of Conservative and DUP [Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party] votes,” she said Tuesday.

It is this which her critics say reveals her hopeless naivety as a politician.

Having surrendered her majority in the 2017 snap election, she clung on promising to stick the course — a promise she could never keep given the competing demands within the Conservative Party and its DUP allies.

A former Tory minister who was one of her early supporters said from the moment she lost her majority, the only way Brexit could be delivered was through compromise with the opposition because she would never be able to meet the demands of her backbench ideologues.

“She has showed incredibly poor judgement. She confused ideological big beasts with people who are actually capable of delivery,” the former minister said. “Drawing the red lines, triggering Article 50, calling a snap election — all of these were proffered by the big beasts in the party. She was incapable of working out who her real allies were and who were just pushing her in an ideological direction. Even after they tried to get rid of her she always pushed in the way of the hard Brexiteers.”

Others think her major strategic mistake was not committing to no-deal seriously.

Speaking to POLITICO, former Brexit Secretary David Davis said: “I don’t think her worse enemies would accuse of her of not having a sense of duty. But she interpreted it in a way that was bound to fail.”

Squandered advantage

May is an unusual politician, let alone prime minister. She is introverted, robotic, uncommunicative. She is almost uniquely comfortable in awkward silence. She has few friends and even fewer true confidantes.

“Her inner circle consisted of herself and her husband, that’s it,” said one senior official who worked closely with her.

One Tory MP who worked with her closely was more blunt. “You had a prime minister who had almost no politicians as her friends. She never discussed things, she just received advice from people who owed their jobs to her — officials and advisers. She was permanently tone-deaf. It’s really hard to see what is positive of what has come out of this.”

But others — non politicians — who have worked for her reveal a woman who was good to work for — considerate, even kind.

May’s real legacy, he said, was the withdrawal agreement

At the end of the Chequers summit which saw ministers David Davis and Boris Johnson resign over plans for Britain to adopt a “common rulebook” with the EU, champagne was served to all the officials, aides and ministers who were there. The prime minister, avoiding conversation with her political colleagues, approached one of her more junior aides who was standing without a drink. She asked whether he’d been missed, which he had. “Let me go and get you one,” she said, and before he could stop her she had left the room to find him a glass.

“That’s what she’s like,” the official said.

For a period near the beginning of her term, this unshowy, intensely private politician seemed untouchable, on the brink of a landslide so huge it would have embarrassed Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. Her aide Nick Timothy was boasting that they were redefining Toryism in months, in a way David Cameron and others had failed to do for years.

In March 2017, May was, at times, more than 20 points ahead in the polls and set for a majority comfortably more than 100. In the space of three months, she threw it all away, squandering her advantage on an election which exposed her flaws in the glare of a national campaign.

And yet she still took home comfortably more than 40 percent of the vote. “[She got] the highest Tory vote share since Margaret Thatcher, more votes than Tony Blair ever received, more working-class votes than a Conservative government has ever got,” Tanner says. “We very quickly forget that at a time when everyone is calling for her head.”

Brexit ‘Magna Carta’

Whatever May’s personal strengths or weaknesses, her legacy is not only one of tragic, total failure but also a noose her successors will struggle to escape from: the thrice rejected withdrawal agreement.

Within hours of May’s announcement, the EU confirmed it would not change the deal.

“There is no change,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva confirmed. The deal is the deal, whoever is in Number 10. Irish deputy PM Simon Coveney was quick to reiterate the same point.

“The chance of the EU looking again, making any changes, is absolutely minuscule,” one aide close to May said.

Even after no-deal, it will come back to the withdrawal agreement, he added. “It will always come back to this. As soon as you have no-deal and you start negotiating, the Irish will demand it goes back to the backstop.”

One Tory minister who now favors no-deal was unsure what May’s successor could realistically do

May’s successor will, therefore, be left with the same problem: a parliament which will not willingly allow a no-deal.

One Tory minister who now favors no-deal was unsure what May’s successor could realistically do. “I’m very skeptical that anyone who comes in will do any better,” he said. “The real issue is how you can negotiate with the EU. To put it all at her door is really harsh.”

“The only way anything might have been any different is if we had been united and committed to no-deal if we didn’t get what we wanted,” the minister added. “But that was never the case, and therefore we were stuffed — and that’s not her fault.”

A second senior Tory MP agreed. “My own question is whether it could’ve been avoided, because Brexit is a complete wrecking ball for the Tory party, in fact for anybody. It just toxifies whoever touches it.”

May’s real legacy, he said, was the withdrawal agreement, which was “pickled” whichever individual occupied Number 10. “It’s there forever — a Brexit Magna Carta.”

The longer the Conservative Party refuses to face up to this fact, the longer the crisis will last. “The Tory party will still be in delusion land because the party is not prepared to face the trade offs, and therefore to be a frontrunner in the contest you still have to indulge the party’s fantasies,”  the MP said. “If they indulge these fantasies, they will simply end up in the same place as Theresa May.”

Even this arch-critic did not believe May would be remembered as the real Brexit enemy. “She is the prime minister who played a bad hand really badly,” he said. “But in the league table of blame, Cameron will rank higher than her. Cameron was just gambling more than even he realized he was gambling.”

The Guardian view on Theresa May: a poisonous legacy | Editorial

She was doomed by her failure to face honestly the real choices of Brexit, and to make her party face them too

Prime ministers do not get to dictate their legacies from a lectern outside No 10, and there was some pathos in Theresa May’s attempt today to list accomplishments in government to offset her colossal failure to take Britain out of the European Union. That she oversaw a reduction in the use of disposable plastics is laudable, but it is not how history will remember her time in office. But Mrs May never saw Brexit as her sole purpose in Downing Street. Her inability to grasp from the outset how all-consuming and difficult the project would be played a large part in her downfall.

She was poorly advised by ideologues who thought a hard Brexit could be achieved at minimal cost, but that is no excuse. She chose to take the bad advice when it chimed with her own prejudices and rejected wiser counsel. She entered negotiations in Brussels ill-prepared and was schooled in brutal realities of economics and diplomacy. That was humiliating enough, but her failure to pass those lessons on to a national audience was unforgivable. If she did understand the cruel calculus of Brexit trade-offs, she did not confront her party with the truth. Nor did she use the amplifying power of her pulpit to shape public understanding of the issues. She preferred vacuity and dishonesty – “Brexit means Brexit”; “No deal is better than a bad deal”. She decommissioned the truth, afraid it might be used as a weapon against her.

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EU leaders stick to Brexit guns as they prepare for ‘different breed’ of PM

Bloc united in respect for May and refusal to budge on withdrawal agreement

EU leaders are to hold emergency talks next week as they prepare for a “different breed” of Brexiter to replace Theresa May as Britain’s prime minister.

A dinner to discuss candidates for top EU jobs following the European elections is to be hijacked by the Brexit saga as concerns grow that May’s resignation had increased the risk of a no-deal withdrawal.

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Theresa May quitting does not change EU’s Brexit stance: Commission

The EU’s position on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has not changed as a result of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation announcement, officials warned on Friday.

May fended off her political demise for so long that it still landed with an element of shock when she finally surrendered to Brexit defeat on Friday. And EU leaders who long regarded May as their best hope of achieving an orderly departure quickly began issuing tributes.

But they also issued a stern warning to those who might want to succeed May at No. 10 Downing Street, by reiterating their commitment to the existing Brexit Withdrawal Treaty that the British parliament has refused to ratify.

“President [Jean-Claude] Juncker followed Prime Minister May’s announcement this morning without personal joy,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said. “The president very much liked and appreciated working with Prime Minister May and, as he has said before, Theresa May is a woman of courage for whom he has great respect. He will equally respect and establish new relations with any prime minister, whomever they may be, without stopping his conversations with Prime Minister May.”

As for the EU’s negotiating positions on Brexit, Andreeva said: “There is no change to that.”

“Respect to Theresa May, who fought for a stable solution and a viable deal”  — Manfred Weber, conservative European People’s Party nominee for Commission president 

Pressed by a reporter, she replied: “Indeed, we have set out our position on the Withdrawal Agreement on the Political Declaration, the European Council in Article 50 format has set out its position and we remain available for anyone else who will be the new prime minister.”

She said the EU was still operating on the basis that the U.K. would leave the bloc on the new deadline of October 31.

“The working assumption is still that Brexit happens on the 31st of October, as the willingness has been expressed by the voters in the United Kingdom,” Andreeva said. “So this is our working assumption. In terms of preparedness, I think we have issued enough preparedness communications, legislative acts, contingency planning. So we are ready. We have been ready. We continue to be ready whatever the scenario is.”

“Of course,” she added, “our continued preference, as expressed by the president, is an orderly withdrawal on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement that has been negotiated with the U.K.”

Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, tweeted: “I would like to express my full respect for @theresa_may
and for her determination, as Prime Minister, in working towards the #UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU.”

“Theresa May strove to chart a new future for the United Kingdom. I want to wish her the very best for the future” — Leo Varadkar, Irish Prime Minister

National capitals also reacted swiftly to May’s teary speech setting her departure date for June 7.

An Élysée Palace official said May “has led courageous work to implement Brexit in the interest of her country and earned the respect of the her European partners. The president sent her a personal message of support and thanks.”

“It is up to the U.K., according to its procedures, to designate a new PM. France is ready to work with the new British PM on all European and bilateral issues. Our relationship with the U.K. is essential in all fields. It is too early to speculate on the consequences of this decision,” the official said.

“The EU’s principles will continue to apply, namely the priority of preserving the good functioning of the EU, which requires a speedy clarification. This should also remind us, at the moment of an important choice, that votes of rejection without an alternative project lead to an impasse,” the official added.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Twitter: “Just expressed my thanks and respect to Theresa May. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands are closely linked. The agreement reached between the EU and the United Kingdom for an orderly Brexit remains on the table.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar offered up a large heap of praise in a statement posted on his official website.

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street on May 24, 2019 in London, England | Leon Neal/Getty Images

“I got to know Theresa May very well over the last two years,” Varadkar said. “She is principled, honorable, and deeply passionate about doing her best for her country, and her party. Politicians throughout the EU have admired her tenacity, her courage, and her determination during what has been a difficult and challenging time. Theresa May strove to chart a new future for the United Kingdom. I want to wish her the very best for the future.”

The Irish leader added, “And I look forward to working closely with her successor.”

Manfred Weber, the conservative European People’s Party nominee for Commission president, issued a statement saying that May’s resignation only highlighted the broader Brexit mess: “Brexit is a total disaster,” he said.

“Respect to Theresa May, who fought for a stable solution and a viable deal,” Weber wrote on Twitter. “We have once more for a constructive approach from our British partners. I appeal to the U.K.’s sense of responsibility and leadership in these times of great uncertainty.”

Rym Momtaz contributed reporting from Paris.

Theresa May’s successor ‘must break Brexit deadlock’

Business leaders fear Conservative leadership contenders will back no deal

Business leaders have warned that Theresa May’s successor must table an immediate plan to break the Brexit deadlock, amid mounting concern that candidates in the Conservative leadership contest will back a no-deal withdrawal.

Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said MPs had already squandered too much time going around in circles on the departure deal, causing harm to the economy as the latest Brexit deadline of 31 October approaches.

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Shocked by the rise of the right? Then you weren’t paying attention | Gary Younge

The seeds of Trump, Brexit and Modi’s success were sown by endemic racism and unfairness. Tackling that is the answer

The morning after both Donald Trump’s victory and the Brexit referendum, when a mood of paralysing shock and grief overcame progressives and liberals on both sides of the Atlantic, the two most common refrains I heard were: “I don’t recognise my country any more,” and “I feel like I’ve woken up in a different country.” This period of collective disorientation was promptly joined by oppositional activity, if not activism. People who had never marched before took to the streets; those who had not donated before gave; people who had not been paying attention became engaged. Many continue.

Almost three years later the Brexit party, led by Nigel Farage, is predicted to top the poll in European parliament elections in which the far right will make significant advances across the continent; Theresa May’s imminent downfall could hand the premiership to Boris Johnson; Trump’s re-election in 2020 is a distinct possibility, with Democratic strategists this week predicting only a narrow electoral college victory against him. “Democrats do not walk into the 2020 election with the same enthusiasm advantage they had in the 2018 election,” said Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, the largest Democratic political action committee.

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