LONDON – The leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson has given her biggest hint yet that she could make or break Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for a “hard Brexit.”
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.
“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.
“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.
“I think my 13 MPs are all individuals and each and every one of them will play their full part in the House of Commons. In Scotland we do come from a liberal tradition, we were a separate party at one time, and I would expect them to carry that tradition into the House of Commons and I look forward to their progress.”
I do think that there can be changes in the offer of Brexit as we go forward
May called for a snap election in April in order to win a bigger majority for the Conservatives in parliament. The greater the majority, the easier it is to push through legislation.
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).
While the Tories haemorrhaged seats across the UK, the Scottish Conservatives had huge success. Scottish Tory leader Davidson’s faction gained 12 seats north of the border, where usually the largest party behind the Scottish National Party is Labour. This is an increase from just one seat in 2015. Had they not done so Theresa May would have been unable to gain an overall majority through a deal with the DUP.
Former Chancellor George Osborne called Davidson the “heroine” of the election campaign. This is in stark contrast of his criticism of May, whom he called a “dead woman walking.”
Davidson’s Brexit stance is dramatically different to May’s
Since then, the Tories have had to put Brexit talks on the backburner while it tries to form a minority government with Northern Ireland party DUP leader Arlene Foster. There were statements from Downing Street that the DUP had agreed to the terms of a so-called confidence and supply deal. But the following day, the government backtracked on the statement.
The DUP opposes same-sex marriage and Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where it is not legal. Davidson, who is gay, responded by tweeting a link to a speech she gave on the importance of equal marriage. She also told the BBC that she sought assurances from May that the Tory approach to gay rights will not change if the party enters into an agreement with the DUP.
May intended to gain a majority in the snap general election, instead of waiting until 2020, in order to make it easier to push through her Brexit agenda.
Although she campaigned for “remain” during the EU referendum, the prime minister ended up pushing for a “hard Brexit” – relinquishing access to the Single Market in lieu for full control over immigration.
But Davidson positioned herself on the soft-Brexit wing and advocated single market access. Something that would entail a “soft Brexit.” She told the BBC that she wants Britain to have the “largest amount of access” to the Single Market after Brexit and that free trade was more important to her than immigration.
Considering how popular she is, and May needs as many votes as possible to push through legislation, it looks like Davidson could be the linchpin for Brexit talks going forward.