A thematic guide to the UK
Brexit now be stopped ?
Is Brexit now
inevitable? Or it possible
that Theresa May has a plan B ? For Bremain?
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
The Independent, 25 Oct. 2016 Reference
2. Business Insider 29 March 2017 Reference
© About-Britain.com 2017 except where otherwise