After months of political wrangling over Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she would stand down on 7 June as leader of the Conservative Party. While the news triggered a leadership contest, it also sparked fresh concerns over the likelihood of reaching a Brexit deal.
In her resignation speech, Mrs May urged her successor to focus on “compromise” in order to deliver Brexit, saying: “A consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise”. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) echoed her words, stating: “Compromise and consensus must refind their voice in Parliament”, while the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) commented: “The UK is already paying the price for a political system at war over Brexit… a new Prime Minister must work to avert a messy and disorderly exit”.
Hopes that a Brexit deal can be agreed in the next five months are starting to fade
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU by 31 October this year and, against a backdrop of intense party and Parliamentary divisions, hopes that a Brexit deal can be agreed in the next five months are starting to fade.
In a move that shows the EU has absolutely no intention of re-opening talks on the treaty, Brussels has begun splitting up their Brexit negotiating team. The deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, who has an intimate knowledge of the negotiations, is leaving the Commission’s Article 50 taskforce to begin a new role leading the EU’s trade department.
Meanwhile, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has been named by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, as a good next president of the European Commission – suggesting that he too will soon change roles.
Jean-Claude Juncker has also repeated that he was “crystal clear” that there would be no more renegotiation, reiterating a Commission line that has been held since last October.
However despite these unambiguous messages emanating from Brussels, most Tory leadership candidates are still standing on platforms of reopening negotiations on the withdrawal agreement, which MPs rejected three times.
Elsewhere, in the elections for the European Parliament, pro-EU parties generally performed well, although leading conservative and socialist parties suffered a decline in support. The UK, France and Italy saw a surge in nationalist votes: in particular, the recently formed Brexit party garnered the largest share of the UK vote – 32% – followed by the pro-EU Liberal Democrats with 20%.
European anti-EU, populist, and far-right parties underperformed though despite high expectations. Speaking after an EU summit in Brussels attended by the bloc’s 28 presidents and prime ministers, Donald Tusk said Brexit had ensured the failure of anti-EU parties in last week’s contest.
“As Europeans see what Brexit means in practice, they also draw conclusions. Brexit has been a vaccine against anti-EU propaganda and fake news… I have no doubt that one of the reasons why people on the continent voted for a pro-European majority is also Brexit.”
Mr Tusk told reporters at a press conference that many eurosceptic parties had abandoned anti-EU slogans presenting themselves instead as “reformers” – a change he said was a “positive development.”