Will Theresa May survive as Prime Minister

Brexit : Theresa May - wedged between two irreconcilable camps

It is a formulation that sums up the complete criticism that Theresa May has to fend off from all sides these days: The Prime Minister is in office, says the parliamentary chairman of the Scottish National Party, Ian Blackford, but she is not in power.

If only it was Blackford who would think so! This week the long battle for Brexit in the British Parliament continued, and the Prime Minister had to reckon not only with the anger of opposition politicians, but also with fierce criticism within her own party. Both from the Brexit hardliners and from the pro-Europeans.

Struggle for political survival

So there was no time for the Prime Minister to breathe after the chaotic state visit by US President Donald Trump. In the last few days she had to fight again for her Brexit White Paper and her political survival in the debate on the draft law on trade policy after Brexit. The White Paper, which led to the resignations of Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Minister David Davis, is intended to unite their party behind a line that they could then present as a negotiating position vis-à-vis the EU. The last few days have shown, however, that May is still wedged between two irreconcilable camps.

Bad news every day

On Monday evening she conceded four changes to the trade draft proposed by the European Research Group, a backbencher group of Brexit hardliners around the conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg. That caused a sensation among the pro-Europeans in her Party and twelve of them rebelled against the government. On Tuesday, the rebels proposed another amendment that brought the option of a customs union into play if there was no deal with the EU on trade by January parliamentary vote only rejected because six Labor MPs voted with the government, and the rebels in the opposition saved May from their own rebels.

In doing so, May avoided not only an embarrassing defeat, but also the possible collapse of her party. If she had lost the vote, the Prime Minister feared, the Brexit hardliners around Jacob Rees-Mogg would no longer have been appeased. She feared a vote of confidence in the event of defeat and, according to media reports, even argued with this bogeyman when she tried to get the twelve rebels on line on Tuesday. For Anna Soubry, one of the most prominent “pro-Europeans in May's party, that was unbearable. "The problem is that the Prime Minister is no longer at the wheel," Soubry told the BBC on Wednesday morning. "The country is currently run by Jacob Rees-Mogg."

The opposition is as weakened as the government

Like Blackford, Soubry sees a prime minister who is still in office but has become powerless for fear of the split in her party. Soubry and other pro-European conservatives like Nicholas Soames are now talking publicly about a possible “unity government” that would bring the moderates from all parties together. After all, internal divisions have weakened the opposition just as much as the government. Labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn had to face anti-Semitism allegations again this week. In addition, the vote on Tuesday showed that there is no parliamentary majority in favor of a customs union, which the Labor party had always insisted on in its Brexit strategy.

The rejection of a possible customs union is also important because it makes further rapprochement with the positions of the EU extremely unlikely. Many had hoped that the White Paper would be the first step towards a possible compromise with the EU negotiators. At least since Theresa May gave in to the hardliners on four points on Monday, it has been clear that she no longer dares to take another step towards a “soft Brexit”. At the same time, the EU is not expected to accept the current position of the British government without complaint.

Treaties and agreements must be in place by March

As Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday when questioning the British Prime Minister: "Can you really imagine that the 27 EU member states will set up their own bureaucratic infrastructure to collect tariffs just to calm the squabbles within your party?" new Brexit minister Dominic Raab was apparently not present at a round of negotiations in Brussels on Tuesday, further clouded hope for progress.

However, the clock is still ticking. Negotiations with the EU are to be concluded by October so that all new treaties can be ratified in time for Brexit to take effect in March 2019 - i.e. in nine months. Until then, something has to move, otherwise May's government runs the risk of withdrawing from the EU without any treaties and agreements and thus in any case risking economic chaos.

Summer break brings a short break

May has a little time until then - also because the parliamentary summer break begins on Tuesday. So the risk of being overthrown by a vote of confidence should have been eliminated, at least over the summer. By October, Theresa May should have proven that she can not only survive, but also find a way out of the current dilemma. At some point she not only has to stay in office, but also exercise power.

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