Some of the European Union’s most prominent politicians are giving Prime Minister Theresa May the option to cancel Brexit. Politicians within May’s Conservative party as well as the former Prime Minister David Cameron is urging her to push for a “soft Brexit.” Considering May’s Conservative party failed to win a majority on June 8, she is effectively forced to reverse Article 50 or soften her Brexit stance due to lack of power in parliament.
LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May is being encouraged to either reverse Article 50, and cancel Britain’s plan to leave the European Union, or seal a “soft Brexit” deal that is less harsh than what she was pushing for before the snap general election.
May triggered Article 50 in March, which kickstarted the official two year period where Britain has to negotiate its deal to leave the EU. Britain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019 – unless she calls to reverse it and all other 27-EU member states vote unanimously to allow her to cancel Brexit.
Some of the most powerful people in Europe are now gathering around and telling May (and the public) in no uncertain terms that Britain is welcome to cancel Brexit. On Tuesday afternoon that was made incredibly clear when two prominent EU politicians made that abundantly clear.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Bloomberg that while it was “up to the British government to take their own decisions,” Germany would not stand in the way of the UK returning to the union.
“If they wanted to change their decision, of course, they would find open doors,” he added.
The door is always open as long as the negotiations on Brexit have not finished
Shortly afterwards, French President Emmanuel Macron pretty much said the same thing. “Of course the door is always open as long as the negotiations on Brexit have not finished,” said Macron in a press conference.
He even said that once Brexit talks start “we need to be collectively clear that it’s more difficult to reverse course.”
It seems like a big change of tact from what the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said just hours earlier. He warned Britain that it risks crashing out of the EU without a Brexit deal if it continues to “waste” time by delaying talks.
“Next week, it will be three months after the sending of the Article 50 letter. We haven’t negotiated, we haven’t progressed. Thus we must begin this negotiation. We are ready as soon as the UK itself is ready,” said Barnier.
“My preoccupation is that time is passing, it is passing quicker than anyone believes because the subjects we have to deal with are extraordinarily complex. I can’t negotiate with myself.”
So the pressure from the EU is either start talks right now – even though May is scrambling to form a minority government – or to just reverse Article 50 altogether. And the pressure from within Britain’s parliament, as well people within her own Conservative party, is not any less hard.
It looks like she only has two options:
1. Reverse Article 50.
2. Push for a “soft Brexit.”
The general election killed “hard Brexit” plans
- REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
May campaigned for “Remain” during the EU referendum but after she took over from David Cameron as prime minister, she has continuously pledged for a “hard Brexit” – relinquishing access to the Single Market in lieu of full control over immigration and freedom for the UK to do its own trade deals as and when it pleases.
This plan is popular with hardcore Brexiteers, where immigration was the biggest issue for those wanting to leave the EU, since the Freedom of Movement act allowed any citizens of EU member states to move freely between countries without onerous visa protocols.
Brexiteers say that it should be a Brexit no matter what – and a “hard Brexit” does make that unequivocally so – but the Brexit vote barely won by a huge margin. On June 23 last year, 51.89% voted to Leave and 48.11% voted to Remain. The country is pretty much split 50/50.
And “hard Brexit” is also deeply unpopular with a whole host of sectors of the economy, society, politicians from other parties, as well as within her own Conservative party.
So, May called for a snap election in April to gain a bigger majority than the seats her Conservative party had at the time. The greater the majority, the easier it is to push through legislation.
I think there will be pressure for a softer Brexit. Over Brexit,[May] is going to have to talk more widely, listen to other parties.
But the Conservatives failed to win 326 seats in the general election – the number needed to have an outright majority. The party still won the largest number of seats and votes – with 318 seats and 12,667,213 votes (42.8% of the overall vote).
The problem is now, that although May is trying to form a minority government through a deal with the Northern Ireland party DUP, she will still need to convince most of her party to vote for what she pushes through.
But what key members of the party want is a “soft Brexit” – which effectively is exactly what we have now (full access to the Single Market, adhering to the Freedom of Movement) but without negotiating power at the table once we leave. And at a cost too.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron said to the Financial Times that May should adopt a “softer” Brexit and even urged her to talk to the main opposition – Labour – about coming to an agreement over the type of Brexit deal Britain should go for.
“It’s going to be difficult, there’s no doubt about that, but perhaps an opportunity to consult more widely with the other parties on how best we can achieve it,” he said. “I think there will be pressure for a softer Brexit. Over Brexit, [May] is going to have to talk more widely, listen to other parties.”
Davidson, who led the Scottish Conservatives to their best result in a general election since 1983 and helped buoy up seats for the party overall, said that her powerful faction of Scottish Tories will be a “separate party” when it comes to Brexit talks.
- Jeff J Mitchell / Getty
“I think what is clear is that there is a commitment from around that cabinet table, from within the Conservative Party, to now work with others to make sure that we go after the best economic deal,” she said.
“In terms of how we reach out to others and how we take on board their ideas there is lots of work to be done. But I do think that there can be changes in the offer of Brexit as we go forward.”
So really, May is stuck.
She cannot feasibly push for a “hard Brexit” anymore. She will not get enough backing to do that. So that leaves only one other option – reversing Article 50, thereby cancelling Brexit and making the last two years one of the biggest wastes of time in political history.