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Can Brexit now be stopped ?

Is Brexit now inevitable? Or it possible that Theresa May has a plan B ? For Bremain?


To brexit or not to brexit

 5 May 2017

      Imagine the scenario. After the June 2017 General Election, Theresa May has a large majority in the House of Commons. She now has a "strong personal mandate from the British people" to conduct Brexit negotiations and "get the best for Britain".
   But what if the best deal for the UK were actually to mean remaining in the EU and abandoning Brexit.... as most "Remainers" believe ? Could Theresa May then.... maybe in the autumn of 2018 or early 2019, solemnly turn to the British people and to Parliament and say?
"The settlement that the EU is offering Britain is not in our interest. And in the light of this, I have decided to call off negotiations. I have told you all along that I would work for the best outcome for Britain, and it is now my firm belief that the best outcome for Britain entails remaining as a member of the European Union. The UK will work diligently from now on to reform the EU from the inside, not from the sidelines. This is the national interest " 
   Is it likely? No. Is it possible? Yes. And are there any signs that already suggest that this may be how events will in fact unfold? Yes, there are... though no political party with the possible exception of UKIP has any interest in drawing attention to them, and the mainstream media  - for the time being at least - have other stories to fill their columns.

   The first important point to remember is that before the Brexit referendum, Theresa May campaigned - albeit unenthusiastically - for Britain to remain in the European Union. She was not in favour of Brexit, and although she never campaigned enthusiastically in public for Britain to remain in the EU, she campaigned quietly on the side. For instance a month before the referendum, she told a private meeting of investment bankers: “I think being part of a 500-million population trading bloc is significant for us. I think, as I was saying to you a little earlier, that one of the issues is that a lot of people will invest here in the UK because it is the UK in Europe." 1.  
   Was her low profile as a "Remainer" before the referendum already part of a plan? Was she hedging her bets, so as to be able to participate in, and even lead, the winning team whatever way the Brexit referendum result turned out ?  
    It is impossible to know. Theresa May is renowned as a loner. She pores over her dossiers in private, by herself; and although she listens carefully to her advisers, she is someone who draws her own conclusions from the evidence, and may well do so in private. Even those closest to her do not always know what she really thinks, particularly because she keeps her thoughts to herself, and when she does make pronouncements she may well remain ambivalent or ambiguous.
   So the first point to be taken into account is that it is very difficult indeed to really know exactly what Theresa May thinks, or is planning.

   The second point to bear in mind is that unlike Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May is – at least on the surface –  "a lady for turning" and  has shown herself to be quite capable of making what seem to be dramatic U-turns.    
    After the Brexit referendum, she claimed that she did not want to be Prime Minister; but old friends knew that she had long harboured a burning ambition to reach the top spot.  A remainer before the Referendum, she became the leader of a pro-Brexit government; then for six months she insisted vigorously that she would not call an early general election, before astonishing everyone by calling one for June 8th.
   But has Theresa May really U-turned on anything? Has she changed her mind on anything? Or has she just given the impression of doing so ?  Is it actually the case that nobody really knows her plans? Did she intend all along to call an early general election?  Was she trying, all along and in spite of the competition, to become Prime Minister after David Cameron? By giving the impression of only half-hearted support for remaining in the EU, she successfully hedged her bets, and by doing so achieved her ambition to lead the Conservative party as a consensus candidate, in opposition to the very unconsensual Andrea Leadsom.
   It is worth remembering that in the Tory party leadership contest, May was not the candidate of the right-wing of the party, but the sensible moderate; and her ideological distance from the right-wing of the party was highlighted in her keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference last autumn which, with its accent on helping ordinary people, could almost have come from the mouth of a leader of the Labour party.

To brexit or not to brexit? That may still be the question.

   On the surface, and by her public pronouncements, Theresa May is certainly the captain of the good ship Brexit. But could she be still, deep down, a Remainer?  Is she still hedging her bets with regard to Brexit? Is the good ship Brexit commanded by Captain Jekyll, or by Mrs Hyde ?
   These questions are imposible to answer; but it would be highly presumptive to suggest that she could not possibly change her mind and abandon Brexit – if indeed her current plan really is to attempt to get a good deal for Britain outside the EU, but as a close partner.
  May is renowned for her constant refusals to say clearly what she really thinks of Brexit. At first it was just "Brexit is Brexit", then it was a "red white and blue Brexit", and all along a Brexit that is "good for Britain". But behind the soundbites and the catch phrases, nothing of substance has yet emerged, so it remains quite feasible, though improbable, that behind the Brexiteering bravado, the real Theresa May is still the secretive remainer that she was prior to June 2016; and there are tell-tale signs that suggest that this may be the case.

  May's original blustering claims that even  "no deal" would be best for Britain have mellowed into something less alarming. The original "Brexit at any cost" rhetoric was designed to destroy UKIP by bringing UKIP voters over to the Conservatives, convincing them that Brexit is in good hands with Theresa May. UKIP's virtual elimination in the May 2017 local elections in the UK has vindicated this strategy... to the point that Douglas Carswell felt able to make the claim that he was not only UKIP's first but also its last MP.
   With UKIP a spent force, and Labour a failed opposition, Theresa May looks set to achieve a large majority in the House of Commons following the June elections, a majority which will allow her to lead Britain into Brexit negotiations claiming a massive mandate. And while this will make no difference as far as EU negotiators are concerned, it will make a huge difference as far as Theresa May's ability to lead public opinion in the UK is concerned.
   Whatever she does, she will be able to assert that she is doing so with the backing of the British parliament and the British people. She will have not just the authority to take Britain out of the European Union, but also the mandate to decide what is best, even if this means making concessions. And if she has the authority to make concessions, she also has the authority to go beyond concessions to the point of recognising - or finally admitting -  that the good ship Brexit is actually the Titanic, and will not be good for the UK.

   Could this happen? Yes it could. If there is one person who can now reverse the Titanic of Brexit and get a majority both in parliament and in the country behind her to do so, it is Theresa May.
   As from June 2017, she is likely to have a big enough parliamentary majority to sideline the hardest of the hard Brexiteers in her own party. She will then go into Brexit negotiations wearing the bonnet of Brexiteer-in-chief; and having given the three top Brexit jobs to the "Three Brexiteers" Fox Davies and Johnson, she will clearly demonstrate that she is doing her utmost to make a success of Brexit.
   But if then, come late 2018, in spite of May's valiant utmost,  "the best for Britain" is coming to look increasingly like a poor deal, risky and unattractive, if by then inflation is rising the economy is stagnating and public opinion is becoming increasingly sceptical about the whole Brexit process, Theresa May will at that point be able to turn round again and say "Stop! Brexit has been a terrible mistake. For the sake of Britain, I'm going to ask Parliament (or the people) to call the whole thing off".
   At this point, she will take a large swathe of public opinion with her, all those who have put faith in her. She will leave behind, still hankering for a hard Brexit at any cost, just the most ideological of right-wing Brexiteers. Either Parliament will vote to call off Brexit, or else a second referendum will do so. Or both.

  Politics fiction ? Maybe. But if so, just another bit of politics fiction to follow the countless scenarios of politics fiction that have already been written and published and regurgitated about what Brexit will mean. Starting with that big red Brexit battlebus.
  But unlike the message on the big red Brexit battlebus, this scenario does stand up to reality checks and remains possible. Theresa May has done apparent U-turns on major issues, including Brexit. We don't know what she really thinks. She started out as a Remainer, not a Brexiteer. The British economy may go pear-shaped once the reality of what "the best possible Brexit deal" actually means. Public opinion may well shift away from Brexit. None of this is beyond the realms of possibility.
   It could conceivably be that Theresa May has been a closet Remainer all along. It certainly doesn't look that way; but then it wouldn't, would it? If Theresa May is, by some remote chance, a closet Remainer, this by definition must remain a complete secret; and the best way to keep it a secret is to give all the outward signs, as she has done, of having undergone a full and total conversion to the Brexit cause.
   But who knows what Theresa May has said in strict confidence to Angela Merkel, or to Jean-Claude Juncker? Nobody apart from a handful of very close advisers, all sworn to secrecy. Leaks, apparent leaks, and stage-managed spats are all weapons in the arsenal of manipulating public opinion, and there is absolutely no reason at all for imagining that Theresa May would somehow be above all that.
   Finally if that weren't enough, there are other pointers too. UKIP, as it tries to claw back lost support, claims that May may go soft over Brexit;  and May herself is now beginning to prepare public opinion in the UK for the possibility that Brexit negotiations will be tough, and that the UK may well not get everything it wants - contrary to the alluring assertions of the Brexit hard-liners. On May 4th, standing outside No. 10 Downing street, she clearly admitted that a good Brexit deal was not, after all, a foregone conclusion.    
If we do not get this right, the consequences will be serious. And they will be felt by ordinary, working people across the country….  Your economic security and prosperity will be put at risk and the opportunities you seek for your families will simply not happen.
   Coming from Lib-Dems or other remainers, claims that the UK may not get a good deal from Brexit cut little ice with Conservative grass-roots voters. Coming from Theresa May, the same claims will seem far more credible; as could, one day, a begrudging acknowledgement that Brexit should be called off.
   Quietly, and very much in the background, an alternative stage is being set. Probably it will prove to be just a standby stage, for use in the event of an emergency. But for the time being, the lighting system for the alternative stage has not been disconnected.

   There is just the question as to whether Article 50 can legally be revoked, and what would happen if Theresa May did decide to stop the Brexit process. The legal consensus seems to be2 that Article 50 can be revoked: but at what cost that is not clear. Judging from noises coming out of European capitals, the EU would generally be happy if the UK changed its mind; but that happiness would not be shared by everyone. There would also be those both in Britain and in the EU who would challenge any attempt to derail Brexit. That, if it happened, would be another step into the unknown.
   

   
1. The Independent, 25 Oct. 2016  Reference
2. Business Insider  29 March 2017 Reference




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Theresa May
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