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4 ways to stop Brexit if Tories oust May

by Hugo Dixon | 23.04.2019

If Tory MPs get rid of Theresa May as their leader, the political crisis will get even messier. But there will still be lots of ways to stop Brexit.

Hardline Brexiter Conservatives are fuming at the prime minister’s latest u-turn – her decision to delay Brexit again and, as a consequence, the high likelihood that the UK will hold European Parliament elections next month. MPs from the backbench 1922 committee are meeting this afternoon to consider changing its rules so she can face an early leadership challenge.

The prime minister successfully fought off a leadership challenge last December. Under current rules, she would be safe until this December. But so furious are both MPs and local party activists (who have called a special meeting to hold a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister) that the rules may be changed to allow a challenge as soon as June 12 – unless she agrees to go of her own free will.

If May is ousted, and it’s possible this rebellion will fizzle out like others before it, she is likely to be replaced by an extreme Brexiter. Boris Johnson is currently by far the most popular candidate among the local members who will ultimately decide who is their leader. But even if he is pipped to the post, whoever wins the contest is virtually bound to take a harder line on Brexit than May.

This might seem bad news for those who wish to stop Brexit. But it’s not necessarily so. There are at least four ways that the choice of a hardline Tory leader could result in the Brexit project being cancelled.

Commons takes control from lame-duck May

It may take several months for the Tories to kick out the prime minister and replace her. In the meantime, Parliament – which has flexed its muscles in recent months – could take more control of the Brexit process.

If pro-European parties do well in the European elections, MPs will be emboldened to call for a new referendum on whether we should leave the EU at all. A lame duck prime minister might struggle to stop them.

National unity government

The Tories don’t really have a majority in the House of Commons as things stand. If somebody like Johnson took over from May, more Conservative MPs would defect – perhaps to sit as independents or join the new Change UK party.

The loss of a majority might trigger a general election (see below). But it might also lead to a national unity government – where Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and other MPs joined forces for a short period to sort out Brexit. Probably the only policy such a government could agree on would be to put the decision on whether to go ahead with Brexit to the people in a new referendum.

General election leads to People’s Vote

The Tories don’t at present look well placed to win a general election. They are languishing in the opinion polls. They are being attacked both by pro-Europeans and even more extreme Brexiters such as Nigel Farage.

A new leader such as Johnson might hope to regain ground, presumably by tacking further to the right, and win. But if Jeremy Corbyn unequivocally embraced a pro-referendum policy, he would probably be best placed to win – although, on current polls, he might need the support of the SNP to get a majority in the Commons.

Such a government would then launch a People’s Vote – provided, that is, there was enough time.

New government cancels Brexit

Brexit has only been delayed until October 31. It would be impossible to oust May, hold a general election and have a new referendum in the next six months. So an incoming Labour government might well ask the EU for a further delay to hold such a People’s Vote.

But maybe the EU will say no to extra time. Or maybe Corbyn will say that the public has been so exhausted by elections that he would just cancel Brexit. He could argue that the election was a People’s Vote.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “4 ways to stop Brexit if Tories oust May”

  • John Rogers Once again we are witnessing the fate of the Tory party being placed ahead of the fate of this country. It is perfect obvious to all but the most dedicated, brain dead, pipe and slipper Tories that Mad Boris has as much chance of getting this country out of the Brexit mire that we have descended into as Donald Trump has of becoming the next Pope. Until now Boris’s instinct for self survival has prevented him from taking a huge gulp from the Poisoned Chalice of Tory leadership, and the prospect of being branded as the PM who lead the UK over the cliff will probably be enough to send him scurrying into the long grass once again. Boris would sell his own grandmother to be the PM but not until some other Mug has seen Brexit through to it’s conclusion. It will be interesting to see which (if any) Tory Grandee is reckless enough to throw his hat into the ring, but my guess is they will move heaven and earth to keep the hapless Theresa May where she is for the time being.

  • This is becoming silly. Corbyn is, at best, lukewarm over Brexit. The idea that he might suddenly embrace the idea of cancelling it is pie in the sky, he is too focused on those Labour voters who voted to leave the EU. Any government that unilaterally cancels Brexit will be committing political suicide (much as I’d like that to happen). Stop banging on about a “people’s vote” because it’s almost certain that you will get a rerun of 2016. The number of newly enlightened voters out there is unlikely to outnumber the thickies who voted out last time, despite numerous polls. Bear in mind that the recent demo which attracted over a million, was being held in a city of 12 million. Since London voted to remain, where were the other 7 odd million who could have added their presence to the march ?

    The vote was three years ago. The only chance of staying in now is that this process drags on and on until everyone is sick to death of it and just says, “enough, we’ll stay in”. For what it’s worth, I think we will leave with a deal which may very well include a customs union (which is sensible) and possibly even some sort of access to the single market. This will have to be enshrined in law in case some fanatical future Brexiteer PM cancels the deal. It must be blindingly obvious to anyone who can read, that Fox’s attempts to arrange fantastic world-wide deals just ain’t working. Six so-called deals on the table, most of them with countries nobody’s ever heard of (excepting Switzerland, of course, which exports, er, um, something, I suppose).

    Rant over.

  • Absolutely agree. The whole country is well and truly bed-bound with Brexit fatigue and nobody is hearing let alone listening to the tired arguments over Brexit. The result of another referendum, which in any case would take months to arrange, is almost certain to give a similar result. Dogma will condemn the UK to it’s fate and the best we can hope for is to find ways to live with the millstone we have placed around our own necks. We are all fiddling while the UK burns.

  • Nah, if Corbyn got into power, he’d never cancel brexit, or be pro-referendum, except as a last resort. He’s a hardcore leaver and just wants “his version” of brexit – same turd, different name.

    As much as I’d like to back Labour to stop brexit, since they’ve got the numbers to win an election, I can’t do so since Corbyn has forced the party to be pro-brexit, with a possible referendum a distant last. Absolutely useless opposition and no representation for Remain.

    Therefore, I have to turn to the tiny remain parties, of which I think the Lib Dems are the most viable at the moment, especially as remaining is front and centre with them, among other reasons.

  • This is a response to John Morrison’s uncertainty about Swiss export capability. I’ll point out the Brexit angle to this in a moment. By the way, I don’t live in the country and have no affiliation with it. What I do know is this:
    – Switzerland has a world-class manufacturing economy, especially manufacturing high-value added exports and precision enginering.
    – The engineering industry, together with metals and electronics, employs about 9 percent of the country’s workforce and contributes around 40 percent to Swiss export revenues. There are many leading manufacturing and engineering companies with world-wide brands for:
    – Precision clocks and watches manufacturers;
    – Scientific instruments;
    – Heavy engineering and train manufacturing (ABB);
    – Generators and turbines;
    – Food products (Nestle)
    – Chemicals and pharmaceuticals (Roche, Novartis)
    This is just basic knowledge from sensible newspapers and magazines.
    The connection with Brexit is this. Many of the things which I read here and elsewhere are from people who tend not to read and wise-up on topics.
    It’s all there available to everyone to read. If more people who lean towards Brexit simply visited say the EU website they might just see that there is considerably more democratic accountability than they ever imagined.
    Just wait for the next person who says that the UK doesn’t manufacture any more and doesn’t really export much.
    I’ll be happy to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.