In November 2016 Britain’s High Court ruled that British Prime Minister Theresa May needed the backing of Parliament to trigger Article 50, a landmark ruling which fuelled speculation that Brexit may be thwarted by pro-EU politicians.
Three months on and May has not only secured Parliamentary backing with ease, but has also strengthened her position within Brexit negotiations and as Prime Minister. May not only secured the execution of Article 50, she also resisted amendments that would have allowed Parliament to reject the terms of Brexit and send the UK back to Brussels to attempt renegotiations. Instead, Parliament will simply have a “take it or leave it” decision to the agreed terms. May can now outline her position in negotiations with all parties knowing exactly what the fall-back position is.
This now places May into a powerful position. The 27 members of the EU now know the consequence of failed negotiations is a reversion to WTO terms. This now forces the EU to be constructive in negotiations, as individual member states receive benefits from trading and access with Britain and will not want to jeopardise their own national position by damaging their relationship with their own voters. May can offer favourable terms to individual member states, which can disrupt the unified voice of the EU and make their own agreement on terms difficult to conclude.
By drawing her line in the sand at this stage, May has reduced the risk to her own position by effectively eliminating the need to return to Parliament to have terms approved. In that regard, she can push for a considered and productive deal with the EU, which has to satisfy its own membership. In effect, one side has to satisfy all, the other only has to satisfy itself.
In creating a “take it or leave it” situation, May has basically provided an outlet for blame should negotiations not go as planned. If the terms are not favourable, she can firstly blame the EU for being unreasonable, and blame Parliament if they reject the offer. In the meantime, she has the intervening period to draw up plans for a Britain trading on WTO terms, enabling the Government to plan effectively for both possible outcomes.
May can also bank on popular opinion. Her success in the Commons at this stage means she is the leader who is executing a proper Brexit, one that had the reluctant backing of Labour leadership as they supported the vote. May can create a climate going forward where any attempt to resist her can be retorted with claims that her rivals are acting against the will of the people, for she is the one delivering Brexit for them.
This also allows May to focus on securing agreements which will most benefit her standing and her party. Her major challenge will be balancing the needs of all her MPs and their constituencies, as she needs to ensure she retains her Commons majority in future elections.
Ultimately, Theresa May has considerably strengthened her position as both Prime Minister and in negotiations with the EU going forward, and has provided herself with the opportunity to create a legacy akin to Britain’s last female PM, Margaret Thatcher, in the forthcoming years.
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