Theresa May launches the Brexit negotiations, but forgets her most important negotiating asset

Theresa May What
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On 19 June, Theresa May launched the Brexit negotiations. But she has forgotten her most important negotiating asset – an actual government behind her. The Conservatives still haven’t reached a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the extremist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). So the Conservatives’ version of the Brexit negotiations lacks the legitimacy of even a minority government.

Kicking off the talks, May sent Brexit Secretary David Davis to the opening meeting in Brussels. Davis began by exchanging hiking gifts with EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier. But behind the superficial pleasantries, chaos is bubbling on the Conservative-led UK side.

No government behind the Conservative leadership

The 2017 Queen’s speech – representing the formation of government after the election – was also supposed to happen on 19 June. In other words, the Conservatives planned both to form an increased majority government and to kick off the Brexit talks on the same day. But it hasn’t quite gone to plan. The speech has been postponed until Wednesday 21 June. The Conservatives have offered dubious reasons for delaying the speech, such as it taking a while for the ink to dry on goat skin parchment.

Hanging by a thread

In reality, it looks like the Conservatives are in chaos. On 19 June, Downing Street said that the Conservative and DUP deal would be published “if and when” it’s agreed, suggesting the deal may not happen. There are widespread warnings that a Tory/DUP deal would threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland. The peace process is dependent on the UK government having no strategic interest in Northern Ireland, and not taking sides. The Republic of Ireland’s former Prime Minister Enda Kenny has warned May against putting the Good Friday agreement, a major development in the peace process, at “risk”. So the arrangement doesn’t look sustainable.

Many have pointed out that the DUP knows how much power it holds as ‘kingmaker’:

May is looking weaker and wobblier by the day. A parliamentary vote on the Queen’s speech – where May’s DUP deal could be voted down – is scheduled for Thursday 29 June.

The Conservative leader has kicked off the Brexit talks without her most important negotiating asset – a functioning government behind her. Without even a minority government, the legitimacy of a Conservative-led Brexit is in serious question. May’s dirty deal with the DUP could collapse at any moment, bringing the Brexit negotiations down with it. Not quite the ‘strong and stable’ government May promised during her campaign.

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