- 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 former Prime Minister David Cameron are 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 because of a 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 started the official two-year window during which Britain must negotiate its deal to leave the EU. Britain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019 — unless she calls to reverse it and the 27 other EU member states vote unanimously to allow her to do so.
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 by two prominent EU politicians.
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,” Macron said in a press conference.
He added, however, that even 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 risked crashing out of the EU without a Brexit deal if it continued to “waste” time by delaying talks.
“Next week, it will be three months after the sending of the Article 50 letter,” Barnier said. “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.
“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 to 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 as people within her own Conservative Party, is not any less hard.
It looks as if she only has two options:
1. Reverse Article 50.
2. Push for a soft Brexit.
The general election killed ‘hard Brexit’ plans
May campaigned for “Remain” during the EU referendum, but since taking over for David Cameron as prime minister she has continuously pledged for a “hard Brexit” — relinquishing access to the European single market in lieu of full control over immigration and freedom for the UK to develop its own trade deals.
This plan is popular with hardcore Brexiteers. Immigration is the biggest issue among those wanting to leave the EU, a repudiation of the ease of travel among member states.
Brexiteers say it should be a Brexit no matter what — and a hard Brexit does make that unequivocally so — but the Brexit vote barely won. On June 23 last year, 51.89% of voters chose to Leave, while 48.11% voted to Remain. The country was pretty much split 50/50.
That was why May called for a snap election in April; she was hoping to gain a bigger majority for her Conservative Party in Parliament. The greater the majority, the easier it is to push through legislation.
I think there will be pressure for a softer Brexit. Over Brexit, she is going to have to talk more widely, listen to other parties.
But the Conservatives failed to win 326 seats in the general election — denying them even an outright majority. The party still won a plurality of seats (318) and votes (12,667,213, or 42.8%).
But the problem now is that while May is trying to form a minority government through a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, she will still need to persuade most of her party to vote for what she pushes through.
But key members of the party want a soft Brexit. That would seek to preserve access to the single market and freedom of travel but sacrifice the UK’s negotiating power post-Brexit.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron told the Financial Times that May should adopt a “softer” Brexit, and he even urged her to talk to the main opposition party, Labour, about coming to an agreement over the type of Brexit deal Britain should pursue.
“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, she 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 her powerful faction of Scottish Tories would 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,” 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 past two years one of the biggest wastes of time in political history.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.
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