Brexit Brief: May Ends 10 June

Posted on 30th May 2019

May to resign

Last Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will resign as Conservative Party leader on 7 June, and as prime minister once a successor is in place. After three years in power, May has exhausted all her options in an attempt to deliver Brexit. Passing her deal through parliament failed three times. Engaging in cross-party talks failed. The prime minister had previously announced that she would table her deal for the fourth time next week but amid revolt from her own government and party, she opted for an earlier departure.

Race begins

After May resigns, the leadership contest for the Conservative Party begins on 10 June. Among the contenders are former foreign secretary and leading Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock. All are committed to leaving the European Union; all will face the same challenge that eluded May: building a majority in parliament for a deal, or for leaving without one. Conservative MPs will reduce this list to two through a series of votes, leaving the final decision to the approximately 160 000 Conservative party members. The next leader of the Conservative Party will shortly after become prime minister.

Compromise Brexit policies lose

The European Parliament election results reaffirmed what most already knew: the public is split on Brexit and they’re taking it out on the two main parties. While Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won the most votes, 31.6%, and the most seats, 29. However, Remain supporters split a greater percentage of the vote between the Liberal Democrats, Greens, the Scottish National Party and Wales’ Plaid Cymru, as well as Change UK. Conservative won 9.1% of the votes while Labour came third behind the Liberal Democrats, to whom it lost votes in pro-Remain areas, and the Brexit Party, to whom it lost in Leave-voting areas. The Labour leader faces intense pressure to unambiguously back a second referendum with an option to remain – even from his own allies – but has so far steadfastly refused to do so.

Populism rises

Lost though it is on some commentators, elections also happened across the rest of Europe, setting the stage for London’s Brexit interlocutors to change. On the continent, the new composition of the parliament reflected discontent with the conventional left- and right-wing blocs. The European People’s Party and Socialist and Democrat blocs lost their decades-long absolute majority to the benefit of greens, liberals and populist candidates, although the latter did best in Italy and France. European leaders must now balance these election results to choose a new European commission president and a host of other leading roles who will take over Brexit from the EU side. (For more, see our series on the European Parliament elections.)

What does this mean for Brexit?

The next prime minister will have to continue discussions with both Westminster and Brussels. While the latter has previously refused to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, they are open to amending the political declaration outlining the future relationship between the UK and EU. However, any discussion on the Northern Irish border or a customs union will result in fierce opposition from Leave-backing Conservative MPs. While a new leader may be able to finish the job, finding a compromise will continue to be difficult. Despite persistent political turmoil, a no-deal scenario remains unlikely as it would incite strong opposition in Westminster.

For more on 2019 EU Elections, read our EU Elections Special: New Dynamics are Emerging.

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