Brexit: One step forward, two steps back

Five hours have passed since Prime Minister May was able to announce a step forward in the Brexit negotiations. After an „emotional“ debate last night, she succeeded in uniting her cabinet and securing the approval of her ministers for the backstop solution. At least yesterday evening, it again seemed that May was able to retain her calm even in the biggest storm and not to let herself be unsettled by the commotion surrounding her. This morning, however, a new storm is already looming: May’s Brexit Minister Dominic Raab and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey have announced their resignations and there is a good chance that other ministers will follow suit in the course of the day. Everything now depends on whether May succeeds in saving her government from collapse and being able to remain in office herself.

First May will have to reshuffle her cabinet and fill the vacant positions. In an ideal case this will give her a chance to secure fresh support. At the same time, she will have to face parliament and convince its critics that the agreement it has reached with the EU is the best possible solution. Speculation about May’s downfall is currently rife. This could come about in two ways: a) a coup within the party or b) a vote of no confidence in parliament. The former would happen if at least 48 conservatives from the House of Commons were to write a relevant letter to the so-called 1922 Committee. The party would then be forced to call for a vote for a new party leader. A vote of no-confidence in parliament can be introduced either by the Prime Minister herself or by her party or the opposition. If the incumbent Prime Minister loses this vote, there is initially a two-week period during which the parties must try to form a new government. If this does not prove successful, new elections are called. However, we still doubt whether any of the parties have a real interest at the moment in new elections, quite apart from the fact that the tight Brexit timetable actually rules out the possibility of a new election or the election of a new conservative party leader.

In the next few days, the main task will be to secure approval for the departure agreement. A tough road lies ahead for May. The next EU summit, at which the EU hopes that the withdrawal treaty will be finalized, is to be held on 25 November. If the finalization can be agreed, the critical vote in the British parliament could then take place as early as the second week of December. However, at the moment things do not look too good: May will have to fight hard to secure parliament’s approval. But the fact remains that, when faced with the choice between an agreement (in conjunction with a two-year transition period) and a crash exit, most parliamentarians can be expected to succumb to the harsh realities.

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