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Theresa May has only one real option for survival left — a soft Brexit



theresa may brexit transition
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker

  • Theresa May is running out of options to secure her
    survival and the passage of a Brexit deal.
  • Conservative MPs are threatening to torpedo her
  • The only viable option left open to her is to change
    course and accept the softest of Brexits, with Britain
    effectively staying in the EU Single Market and Customs
  • Doing so would trigger fury from Conservative MPs but
    would open the door to securing support from opposition
  • May has just months to secure a deal or risk a
    catastrophic exit from the European Union.

LONDON — The last few weeks of the Brexit process must have felt
like the closing stages of a particularly brutal chess game for
Theresa May.

At every turn, the options open to her have been gradually
whittled away until all of the available moves are obviously bad
ones that will either lose her crucial lieutenants or rapidly
force her into an early checkmate.

As a result, she now enters what the Times
today calls
“the most perilous week of her premiership,” with
Conservative MPs poised to move against her.

And yet as she leaves Brussels late on Friday there remains just
one option left which promises, if not victory, then at least
short-term survival for the prime minister.

That option is a soft Brexit.

At first, this may sound like a ludicrous proposition. A soft
Brexit, in which Britain stays closely aligned to the EU single
market and the customs union, would trigger outright fury from a
large chunk of the Conservative parliamentary party, not to
mention the grassroots across the country who are even more
pro-Brexit than their parliamentary representatives. It would
also likely trigger a challenge against her with the necessary 48
Tory MPs submitting letters to party authorities calling for a
new leadership vote.

And yet were such a challenge to take place it is easy to see how
May could defeat it. With Brexit just months away and the
prospect of a no-deal increasingly frightening British
businesses, the case for her to stay on at least until after
Brexit day would be a very easy one for her to make.

A soft Brexit would also largely solve the Northern Ireland
dilemma, which currently threatens to wreck the entire Brexit
process, and risks triggering the break up of the United Kingdom.

Avoiding checkmate

Theresa May Jeremy CorbynStefan Wermuth – WPA Pool/Getty

Just as importantly, it is the only available option left which
has a potential majority in parliament. With Labour committed to
maintaining a customs union with the EU, while maintaining the
“exact same benefits” of the single market, a soft Brexit is the
only option that has even the possibility of securing their
support. Even if dozens of Conservative MPs and the DUP were to
vote against May, the deal could still potentially pass thanks to
the support of hundreds of Labour MPs.

The Labour leadership may still find a reason to vote against
such a deal, especially
given their main aim in this entire process is to force an early
general election
in which they expect to emerge as the
winners. But there would at least be a chance of a majority in
the UK parliament. Under May’s current Brexit plans there simply

Of course May could do all of this and still be forced out.
Staying in a customs union would prevent Britain from signing new
trade deals, destroying a major Brexit promise and rendering
Trade Secretary Liam Fox useless, while staying closely aligned
to the single market would mean accepting some form of freedom of
movement to continue after Brexit. Both risk potentially deadly
outrage in her own party and the country which she may be unable
to survive.

But a decisive shift towards a soft Brexit would at least leave a
path open to survival for May.

Right now there are only bad options left for the prime minister.
But while her current course points to certain checkmate, the
soft Brexit option would at least allow the game to continue for
a few more moves.

This reality will ultimately prove itself when MPs come to vote
on her deal early next year, whether May yet realises it or not.
The prime minister would be wise to wake up to that reality now
rather than have it forced upon her later.

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