May might have to quit very soon
Brexit blues cast a shadow on her political future, writes Arun Srivastava
With D-day approaching fast, Theresa May has gone from impassive Prime Minister to a recluse within her own party. If the party has been officially maintaining a passive silence about her future, a section of the law-makers of her party has nevertheless been quite impatient to remove her from the office.
The prospect of Brexit has cast its shadow on her political future. A couple of days ago, her government had to eventually back down on the Brexit date. Conservative MP Oliver Letwin's amendment tweaked the government's own amendment, leaving the Brexit date (March 29, 2019) in the legislation, but giving the MPs the power to push it back if the EU27 agree. May had to burn midnight candle for getting this reprieve. In fact, her government has accepted a compromise over its plans to put the Brexit date into law.
Paul Blomfield of Labour's shadow Brexit team said: "After a humiliating defeat in the Commons last week, the government has now been forced into an embarrassing climb-down by amending its own amendment. Theresa May would be well advised to use the Christmas break to reflect on her chaotic approach to Brexit and stop putting party politics above the national interest." The withdrawal bill is aimed at bringing EU law onto the UK statute book in preparation for Brexit. In the House of Commons, MPs clashed repeatedly about Britain's future relationship with the European Union.
A briefing note sent to Labour MPs ahead of the debate said, "this amendment would not keep the UK in a customs union with the EU"; adding that it is "not possible to "unilaterally" remain in the customs union - or create a new one. This "can only ever be part of negotiations".
"I haven't begged the European Union for two more years," she said. "This is not two more years to negotiate with the EU. This is two years when practically both businesses and governments will be able to put in place the changes necessary to move from the current relationship to the future partnership we will have."
Little doubt May has lost her moral command. She has cut such a sorry figure that some conservative MPs attempted a party coup against her. The situation has come to such a head that even the British newspapers and politicians are openly wondering whether she can last in power, and if so, for how long. It is also being debated whether her continuation in power will hurt the interest and self-respect of UK.
Though May claims that her Cabinet was 'fully behind' her, there is no denying the fact that her position has turned shaky and is getting weaker with passing of every day. UK's complex negotiations to leave the EU have not gained much shape since the country voted for "Brexit" last June.
May has been in a state of utter puzzle about how she would act. She lacks guts to adopt a "hard Brexit" which would cut the country off from both the customs union and the single market of Europe. It is also wary of pursuing a "soft Brexit," which would ease the country out of the EU in a traumatic manner.
After May replaced David Cameron, though opposed to EU withdrawal herself, she, however, reassured hard-liners with the vague declaration that "Brexit means Brexit". She wanted to present herself as a no-nonsense pragmatist. Her calling a snap election in April was seen as a savvy political move that would allow her to consolidate her power and gain maximum leverage for the tough negotiations ahead. But it proved to be worst political action of May. The election eclipsed her public image.
While she wore the image of an uninspiring leader, Corbyn galvanised a liberal movement. Eventually May had to suffer losses in the election and was forced to ally with the far right. In contrast, Corbyn, who barely a year back was written off to become Prime Minister, is inching closer to power.
Notwithstanding her losses and gains, she is all set to move out. There is no dearth of contenders in the party. May insisted she would not be deflected from delivering her vision of a clean Brexit, while working to overhaul the U.K. economy.
Only a week ago, May in her desperation to galvanise the party and rejuvenate her supporters, had said the government is 'proving the doubters wrong' with its Brexit negotiations. She vowed that she would 'not be derailed' from securing an 'ambitious' deal. In her write-up to two newspapers, May also said the last 10 days had 'marked a watershed' in the Brexit process and that the government would now 'begin to build that new, deep and special partnership' with the EU. "This is the exciting part of the negotiations and there is no limit on our ambition and creativity," she said.
The Prime Minister lost in the Commons earlier this week when MPs - including 11 from her own party - voted to give Parliament a legal guarantee of a vote on the final Brexit deal struck with Brussels. Following the vote, there were calls for the Tory rebels to be deselected by the party and even some received death threats.
May also suffered her first Commons defeat as Prime Minister a week ago as Tory rebels joined forces with Labour and the SNP to vote for a plan to give MPs a bigger say in any Brexit deal. A number of Conservative MPs had echoed Labour concerns that the move would box Britain into a corner if negotiations with the EU go to the wire.
Apprehensions are being expressed on the style and nature of the negotiations. Some MPs are scared that the agreement would turn UK into a colony of EU. Obviously for them the EU's terms for a transition period are unacceptable. A leading Brexiteer has said the UK cannot become a 'colony' of the EU during the two year transition period after Britain's withdrawal in 2019.
During the transition, the UK will have to accept the full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and all four freedoms - including the freedom of movement of people. Incidentally, May has largely conceded to the EU on the structure, timetable and substance of the negotiations.
During his three decades on Labour's leftist edge, Corbyn consistently opposed European integration and described it as a capitalist body. Corbyn had campaigned for Britain to remain in the bloc, but held the ground that Labour would deliver Brexit if in power, albeit with very different priorities from those stated by May. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)