Brexit Brief: Warming Up

Posted on 9th May 2019

Local elections: small parties, big wins

While the local elections last week failed to give a clear Brexit verdict, one thing is certain: the people are frustrated with the main parties. An electoral hit for Conservatives was expected given the stalemate in Westminster and May’s failed attempts to solve Brexit, but the 1330 net loss seems almost hyperbolic. The main opposition, Labour, also paid a price, with Remain-leaning voters opting for Liberal Democrats and Greens. It lost 84 seats which, when facing a government in office for nine years, does little to encourage the opposition.

European elections: a clear verdict?

Attention is now on the European elections on 23 May. Here, voters have an opportunity to express a clearer view on Europe, with more unambiguously Leave- and Remain-supporting parties in play and less incentive to vote tactically. The two main parties will likely lose support as the (very much pro-) Brexit Party — led by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage —  gathers enough steam to attract anti-EU Conservatives and pro-Brexit Labour voters. Meanwhile, Corbyn’s Labour Party is vulnerable to losing Remain-supporting voters to the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Change UK (formerly known as the Independent Group).

Just as importantly, although not as clear in the campaign, the rest of the continent is participating in an election that will decide Britain’s interlocutors in the next phase of the negotiations, should they ever arrive.

Cross-party paralysis

In an unsurprising turn of events, cross-party talks are at a stalemate with no accord in sight. While May expressed her intention to table the withdrawal agreement for a fourth time before the European elections, any deal with Labour leader Corbyn may not receive enough support in Westminster. Concessions on Labour demands of a permanent customs union will alienate Conservative MPs while many Labour MPs are pushing for a confirmatory vote on any outcome. At any rate, Labour has yet to be sufficiently assured the deal will be honoured by May’s successor, who is likely to push for a tough stance on the EU. With the Commons already having rejected a customs union (and everything else), there is no particular reason why fourth time should be the charm.

Caught in the crossfire

A staggering defeat and poor electoral forecasts have added fuel to the fire for party activists who want to see May out of No. 10. Senior party activists are contemplating a leadership bid before newly elected European lawmakers meet in June while local party associations vocalise their loss of faith in their leader. May is set to meet with the 1922 Committee, which represents rank-and-file Conservative MPs and oversees leadership elections, to discuss her future as she balances Brexit talks and governing a country. The committee has previously insulated May from bids to change the rules to allow the party to oust her sooner but is increasingly growing impatient with May’s refusal to name a date for departure.

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