The evidence of Tory Brexit confusion continues to pile up, and Theresa May has been dealt further blows. After veiled criticism from Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond, and open arguments within her cabinet, the Prime Minister’s strategy has now been attacked again. Britain’s ambassador to the EU is among her latest assailants.
On 13 December, the PM’s authority was brought into question by the Chancellor. Hammond suggested that in the wake of Article 50, more than the stipulated two years would be needed to negotiate a trade deal with the EU. As a result, he called for an “interim deal”. This raised doubts over May’s insistence on invoking Article 50 by March 2017.
May’s strategy, or lack of one, received further condemnation on 15 December, when the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, led by Tory MP Crispin Blunt, accused her government of “gross negligence”. Blunt stated:
It is hard to believe that the Government has done no thinking about the legal and technical issues regarding a potential ‘no deal’.
A tough week for May
May’s position was further damaged by Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s EU ambassador. His comments from October were published on 15 December. Rogers told MPs that a trade deal is likely to take as long as ten years to negotiate. Not only that, but even after that period of time, it could still fail.
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Any free trade deal reached would have to be ratified individually by each of the 27 EU member states, he said. Rogers emphasised that such a process would be time consuming and fraught with complication.
The reality is that once Article 50 is implemented, in March 2017, there is no going back. Britain would then face an uncertain period from March 2019 onwards, in which World Trade Organisation tariffs would come into effect on British goods. This would cripple the UK economy.
With the attacks on her leadership coming from all sides, even within her own cabinet, the pressure is mounting on May. Cracks are already beginning to show.
In becoming PM in the wake of the EU referendum, her job was definitely a difficult one. Yet she has given no sign of being able to manage the task. And unless change is swift, Britain’s next decade could be very bleak indeed.
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