May’s meltdown makes it easier to stop Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 05.10.2017

Theresa May’s disastrous conference speech is a golden opportunity for pro-Europeans.

There are now three main scenarios: the prime minister quits soon, leaves next year or soldiers on until the Brexit talks are finished. The bookie’s odds of each scenario are about one in three. In any of them, there are ways to stop Brexit.

PM soldiers on

If May soldiers on, she will have zero authority. It is hard to see how she could then knock heads together in Cabinet to make more concessions in the Brexit talks. Boris Johnson will have a free hand to lob yet more hand grenades in her direction.

The EU won’t take anything the prime minister says seriously either and it won’t offer us any olive branches. With no concessions on either side, the talks won’t move forward. Business will panic.

The public, which already thinks the Tories are making a horlicks of Brexit, will get increasingly anxious. It will then be easier for pro-Europeans to argue that we need a referendum to check that voters really want to quit the EU once they know what Brexit means.

PM quits soon

What about the second scenario, where May quits soon? No Cabinet minister, not even Johnson, seems ready to plunge the knife. But The Telegraph reports up to 30 Tory MPs are ready to  tell her to go. That’s not enough to force a leadership challenge but she might see the writing on the wall and lose the will to fight.

Even if the Tory MPs bottle it, the prime minister might conclude she just can’t take the humiliation any more. She was already on the edge of a breakdown following June’s disastrous general election, according to The Sunday Times’ political editor.

The problem, for the Tories, is that May’s departure might unleash a civil war that would tear the party to pieces. There is no consensus on who would replace her. Though Johnson is still the bookie’s favourite, the odds of him taking over as leader are only 4/1. There are four other candidates with 10/1 odds or better: David Davis, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond.

If either Johnson or Rees-Mogg wins, soft Brexiters in the Tory party could go wild. Similarly, if either Rudd or Hammond wins, hard Brexiters may not be able to contain themselves. Davis would presumably run as the unity candidate, trying to hold an awkward middle position like May has.

The one thing that unites the Tories is the fear of letting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. But the government is so fragile that it wouldn’t take a lot to bring it down. The bookie’s odds of an election by the end of next year are about 30%.

If there was an election in such circumstances, Labour would probably win but struggle to get an overall majority. This would be the best scenario for pro-Europeans because Corbyn would have to cut a deal with the SNP and perhaps the Liberal Democrats, who might demand a referendum in return for their support.

PM leaves next year

What about the third scenario, where May goes next year?

There are lots of risks here. If a Tory civil war erupted in 2018, the Brexit talks could blow up when there was little time left in our two-year negotiating period. We might then crash out of the EU with no deal at all – which would be disastrous.

But a government collapse next year might also be just what’s needed to bring the country to its senses. By then the public might be so fed up with Tory shenanigans that there was real momentum to stop Brexit.

None of this, though, can be taken for granted. Brexit is still the central scenario. If pro-Europeans are going to exploit May’s troubles, they need to get their act together fast.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

9 Responses to “May’s meltdown makes it easier to stop Brexit”

  • Ruth Davidson is not among your list of top candidates ?

    guess it says a lot about the english Tories if the most capable candidate if not even considered

    • Ruth Davidson is a member of the Scottish parliament, not a member of the Westminster (UK) parliament and therefore not in the running.

      • why do you need to be a MP for Westminster to apply for the job of Tory Party chairman ?
        isn’t the first requirement to be a member of the Tory party ?

        it’s true that by tradition, the PM has also been a MP, but is there really any such requirement beyond being an elected representative member of society.

        in addition, would there be a change of Tory leader, a new general election would have to be called (considering the last pne result, a game of musical chairs is not gonna make it) and Davidson could actually throw her hat in a scottish disctrict for Westminster AFTER she has been selected for Tory leadership

      • Hi Vero,

        after writing the reply above, I went to look at the legal/constitutional requirements for PM in the UK
        actually, I was quite surprised at seeing that it’s even more libertarian in theory than I had first assumed


        that doesn’t mean that my hypothetical idea of a Ruth Davidson’s bid would fly.
        but I think that there is more flexibility in the choice of candidates than one would assume (it might come from beyond cabinet ministers)

  • I guess when you have a giant banner saying ‘stop brexit’ up the top, and then this is suppose to be the ‘analysis’ section, that the analysis will always be widely skewed. Why did LiveSquak even retweet this? I have no idea, as it doesn’t exactly look good on their part. Finance should focus on rational and impartial analysis.

  • The longer things carry on towards Brexit, the more likely it is that some of the huge revenue and tax earning businesses will have relocated to Frankfurt or Dublin. And once they’ve had the expense of one move they are hardly likely to come back to London. The sooner the whole business comes to nasty and probably painful head and bursts like a boil, the better. Then the Brexiters can be cleaned away and we can go back to trying to restore what was once an enormous reputation within the EU.

  • Davidson is currently not an option. For purely practical reasons, the PM has to be an elected member of the Commons. In theory Davidson could relinquish her Scottish seat and look for a seat at Westminster, but that would be too long winded.

    I can’t see May stepping down voluntarily. She has a massive ego and fought for the job because she wanted to be famous. They will have to throw her out, but they won’t do it because they simply could not agree who would be next.