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Brexit: Searching for a new leader

The resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May last week could not save the Conservative Party in the European elections. It was quite clear that the Brexit Party of Nigel Farage is the winning party, gaining 29 seats. The Liberal Democrats took 16 seats, the Labour Party 10, the Green Party 7, the Conservative Party 4, the Scottish National Party 3 and Plaid Cymru 1.

As the election results were devastating for the traditional parties, Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, indicated that the Brexit stance of Labour costed Labour a lot of votes. In particular, the unclear position of Labour towards a second referendum. In addition, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, one of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s closest political allies, told the BBC another referendum may be the only way to break the Brexit deadlock in Parliament.

But Brexit did not only had a huge effect on the elections in the UK, but actually in the whole European Union, at least that is what President of the European Council Donald Tusk claimed at yesterday’s informal European Council summit. Tusk argued that Brexit acted as a “vaccine” against Euroscepticism and, therefore, helped to limit the profit of anti-EU parties. Tusk also added that he is not optimistic about the future of Brexit, because “we are all aware of the state of things in London.” A no-deal scenario or the UK revoking Article 50 remains likely. Influential Tories, Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, are for example still willing to leave the EU without a deal.

In the meantime, the European Union is preparing itself for Brexit, with or without a deal. When Theresa May offered her resignation last week, EU leaders already warned that nothing had changed in Brussels. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, is one official who said the EU would never reopen negotiations on the Brexit divorce deal, whoever succeeded May. Furthermore, a spokeswoman for the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that “Brussels’s position on the withdrawal agreement has been set out, there is no change to that.” In addition, Sabine Weyand, Deputy Chief Negotiator and right hand of Michel Barnier within the European Commission’s Article 50 Taskforce, has been appointed today as the new Director-General of Directorate-General Trade. This indicates that the European Union is preparing itself for the next step in the Brexit process as Weynand will lead the EU’s negotiations with the UK on its future trade relationship in the post Brexit phase.

What’s next?

It is still unclear if there will be a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill next week as Theresa May announced earlier. For the time being the focus is more on the possible successor of May. Tory MPs have until 10 June to put their name forward, and the party hopes a new leader will be in place by the end of July. In addition, a possible general election seems unlikely. Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, already said that the Conservative Party would commit “political suicide” if a general election was held.