Posts Tagged 'Theresa May'

Brexit won’t be over until it is over: reflecting on Theresa May’s strategy


Janice Morphet

Following Theresa May’s survival of this week’s no confidence vote, Janice Morphet, author of Beyond Brexit?, reflects on May’s Brexit negotiating strategy over the last two and a half years.

“In 2016, after the referendum and Cameron’s resignation, Theresa May ended the selection process for a new Prime Minister as the only candidate. She seemed ideal for the task ahead, having earned a reputation for quiet efficiency at the Home Office, a sometimes difficult department which had kept out of the news during her long period as Home Secretary.

What was less clear was her approach to negotiations with the EU in the coming months. Over the period since, we have seen three distinct phases of these negotiations. In those first months, the Prime Minister took charge of shaping the negotiation agenda, with her political rather than civil service advisers. There were some issues of concern about the implications of Brexit for ‘just in time’ manufacturing and services, but these appeared to be bought off by Government assurances of no disturbance to the current methods of working, including an undisclosed letter to Nissan.

In this ‘Brexit means Brexit’ period, there was not much outward sign of the PM’s negotiating strategy – shared with either Cabinet or Parliament. She chose rather to be guided by her political advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill who moved from the Home Office to No. 10 when she changed jobs, whilst her ambassador in Brussels resigned after his advice was ignored. Timothy persuaded the PM to adopt a package of red lines that would lead to a very restricted future deal for the UK with the EU. Although it was clear that, under WTO rules, the EU could not negotiate a future trading relationship with the UK until after Brexit had been implemented, just as the UK could also not conclude any trade deals in its own right until that point, the Prime Minster was adamant that she wanted to have commitments to a future trading relationship as part of the process of the UK’s departure. The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier threw an olive branch to the UK, indicating that the preliminary discussions on the future UK EU relationship could commence once there had been sufficient progress on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Once she had a plan for the negotiation, despite several denials, the PM called a general election in June 2017. What was promoted as a snap election was conducted over the same period as others. It resulted in the loss of her Parliamentary majority. She also lost her political advisers, Timothy and Hill and these were replaced by her new civil service advisor, Olly Robbins, who has subsequently undertaken the negotiation directly on the Prime Minister’s behalf. She also made a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP in order to provide her government with a working majority.

The election marked the beginning of the middle passage of the Brexit negotiations for the PM. Coming quickly afterwards, the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire exposed the impact of austerity policies and deregulation which were the hallmark of the coalition government in which May served.

This period extended to the Windrush scandal which demonstrated what the PM had been keeping quiet while she was managing the Home Office. Her obsession with migration over all other aspects of Brexit started to emerge in the third stage of Brexit, as her main sales strategy to the British people. This destroyed her reputation and, with Amber Rudd’s resignation, started the unwinding of the government.

“Under pressure, she gives way, making agreements or commitments which she subsequently attempts to forget.”

However, the middle passage also demonstrated another aspect of May’s negotiation style. Under pressure, she gives way, making agreements or commitments which she subsequently attempts to forget. In December 2017, the PM wanted to agree a position with the EU that substantial progress on the withdrawal agreement had been made so that she could proceed to discussions about future relationships. In all-night negotiations, she agreed the guarantee to maintain the commitments made to Northern Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement 1998, subsequently known as the backstop. This meant that there would be no borders on the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland remains in the Customs Union and Single Market. Those around the PM were told that this political agreement was not binding. David Davis echoed this view on the Marr programme on the following Sunday, only to be met by Barnier’s riposte that the backstop was binding and would now be included in the final agreement as the UK did not understand the political commitments it had made.

So what about the third stage, where the previous promises the PM has made in the Brexit negotiations are coming back to haunt her? Many in her party have come to distrust her promises which appear to reflect the wishes of those she is speaking with, rather than any intention to keep them. Dominic Grieve found this when he was persuaded to withdraw from an opportunity to defeat the government only to have the promises made to him removed the following day. The humiliation of the Salzburg Council demonstrated her weak position to the UK and was a prelude to the final text of the Withdrawal Agreement as she gave way to pressure again and abandoned her commitments to members of her party and the DUP on the backstop. She also had to give way to Spain on future negotiations that affect Gibraltar. Her red lines have meant that much of what was promised has not been delivered and even the PM’s Chequers proposals, which caused more Government resignations, appear to be a better deal for the economy compared with what is available now.

“There is still no trading relationship proposed for services – which comprise the largest part of the UK’s economy.”

Her Political Declaration on future relationships between the UK and the EU is vague and not politically binding. There appears to be no Parliamentary support for a ‘no deal’ position and trading on WTO terms only would put the UK in the WTO’s division four, the lowest. There is still no trading relationship proposed for services – which comprise the largest part of the UK’s economy.

Further, can Brexit be resolved until some of the other outstanding questions are answered?

  • Who funded the DUP’s intervention in the referendum?
  • Is there a relationship between Leave.EU, Banks and Russian money? If so, would this result in the referendum being declared void?
  • What will emerge about Farage’s role in the Mueller investigations on the role of Russian influence in the US?
  • Is the Government fettered by promises made in the 2015 Parliament about the referendum as any Parliament cannot fetter a future Parliament and we have had a general election since then?
  • The People’s Vote has offered an opportunity to rally remain supporters but will it solve anything? What questions would be on the ballot paper and will 16 year olds and EU citizens be allowed to vote this time?
  • While Norway+/EFTA provides a means of coming to terms with remaining in the EU, this retains the four freedoms including freedom of movement but no participation in the CAP, Fisheries policy or in decision making.
  • The ECJ has determined that Article 50 can be with withdrawn until 29th March 2019 with no detriment to the UK’s opt-outs and rebates so what would trigger this course of action?
  • Can the terms of the UK’s position in Brexit be changed?
  • What will be the Conservative Party’s approach to maintaining power at all costs lead it to do both in the short term to avoid a general election and longer term to attract the millennial rather than grey vote?

Brexit won’t be over until it is over – whether now or in the years to come.

And a final question: how many more Conservative prime ministers will wrestle with this issue?”

Beyond Brexit? by Janice Morphet is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £7.99.

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The Lady is not for Wobbling: Mrs May, social care and spending political capital

A shorter version of this blog was originally published by Prospect magazine.

Matt Flinders

When is a wobble not a wobble?

This might not seem the most obvious question to be asking in the context of the current General Election campaign but that’s exactly what makes it so important. Could it be that Theresa May’s recent backtracking on the costs of social care was nothing of the kind? Instead part of a more subtle game of preparing the public for tough choices that will inevitably have to be taken? Have we just witnessed the political equivalent of a footballer’s fake dive?

Partisan politics aside, there is little doubt that Theresa May is an incredibly astute politician.

She plays the game well and to some extent she has re-written the rulebook. The game of politics is rarely as simple as kicking the ball or scoring goals; more concerned with playing other players off against each other, often within your team, and knowing exactly when to go for the legs instead of the ball. The simple point I am making is that Theresa May has climbed to the summit of the British political system as if it really were a weekend wander with Philip.

“[The manifesto] highlighted the existence of major and increasing inter-generational inequalities…”

Continue reading ‘The Lady is not for Wobbling: Mrs May, social care and spending political capital’

Why the Government’s ‘back to the future’ approach to education won’t work

Patrick Ainley3

Patrick Ainley

Following Justine Greening’s speech at the Conservative Party Labour conference yesterday, Patrick Ainley, author of Betraying a generation: How education is failing young people reflects on the state of English Education under Theresa May’s government.

Theresa May has reorganised English state education by putting teaching in the universities and colleges together with schools for the first time.

Despite university research remaining at the service of industry in the renamed Department of Business, this consolidation gives an appearance of strategic planning but relentless competition remains the misguided method to ‘raise standards’ from primary to postgraduate schools. This leaves students at all levels studying harder but learning less as assessment increasingly takes the place of teaching.

Grammar schools: playing politics with education

The grammar schools proposal has taken playing politics with education to a new low. Perhaps deliberately disclosed before the Party Conference, it was seemingly intended to appear reassuringly retrogressive, keeping on side Tories sympathetic with UKIP, the only other party wanting more grammar schools. As it is likely to be defeated in parliament, May has already clarified, ‘It does not mean bringing back binary schooling but opening up the system’.

“The grammar schools proposal has taken playing politics with education to a new low.”

Continue reading ‘Why the Government’s ‘back to the future’ approach to education won’t work’

Will putting schools, colleges & universities under one roof improve English Education?

With the passing of the second reading of the Higher Education Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday 19 July, UK Higher Education steps closer to the creation of new universities by ‘new providers’ as well as the raising of tuition fees. This comes on the back of government reorganisation which ends the separation of schools from colleges and universities, whilst moving university ‘research’ and ‘teaching’ under different departments. All change then…

Author of recently published ‘Betraying a Generation: How education is failing young people’ Patrick Ainley, explains the potential impact of these changes

Patrick Ainley

Patrick Ainley, author of Betraying a generation

A little remarked feature of Theresa May’s new order is the amalgamation of schools with further and higher education in a unified Department for Education.

Like my book, the enlarged Department covers everything from primary to postgraduate schools, including training. It ends the previous unclear division of schools from colleges and universities – criticisms of which under the Coalition were not pressed too far lest they ended in Michael Gove running FHE and training as well as schools!

However, the reorganisation leaves research within what is now the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. Continue reading ‘Will putting schools, colleges & universities under one roof improve English Education?’

Power to the people? The renewed importance of localism in England today

In her new book Locating Localism: Statecraft, citizenship and democracy academic and today’s guest blogger Jane Wills, takes a thorough look at the history and geography of the British state, its internal divisions of political power and the emergence of localism as a new form of statecraft. In the aftermath of the EU referendum and the rapid appointment of Theresa May as Prime Minister Wills explains why now more than ever the localism debate needs to be brought to the fore….

Jane Wills

Jane Wills, Queen Mary, University of London

In her speech on the steps of Downing Street on 13th July 2016, our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, promised to govern in the interests of the whole country, staking her tent on the middle ground.  In committing to govern in the interests of the many not the few she promised to “do everything we can to give you more control over your lives”.

This call for ‘control’ played large in the EU referendum as well. The leave campaigners argued that it was time to ‘take back control’ and now Theresa May is promising to ‘give us control’. There are few details about what this control will look like but in many ways the language is in keeping with debates that were already well underway. Continue reading ‘Power to the people? The renewed importance of localism in England today’

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