New PM will tear up Theresa’s EU plans but will it reboot Brexit?
Mrs May decided to set the date for her resignation as Tory leader when she realised she had no hope of winning Commons backing for her EU Withdrawal Agreement – at the fourth time of asking.
Her successor, whoever the Tories choose, is almost certain to want to tear up the doomed blueprint and start again.
The challenge now is to negotiate an entirely new package or accept the UK must leave the bloc without a deal.
Brexiteer Tories will want to see the next prime minister give Brussels a take-it-or-leave-it offer of a free trade deal similar to Canada’s relationship with the EU, with a no-deal departure as the only alternative on the table.
That would throw down a challenge to the EU negotiators who say the 580-page withdrawal deal agreed with Mrs May cannot be reopened.
With the current Brexit deadline set for October 31, a fresh stand-off with Brussels looms.
Many Tory MPs believe Mrs May’s biggest mistake – apart from calling her disastrous General Election in 2017 – was refusing to back down in the face of Cabinet opposition to the proposals she unveiled at Chequers last summer.
Her intransigence drove Boris Johnson and David Davis out of the Cabinet and shattered any hope of retaining the trust of Tory Eurosceptics.
Given that Mrs May has already proved that attempting to force a cross-party comprise with Labour is a dead end, her successor cannot put forward any proposals that alienate the 80-strong European Research Group of Tory MPs or the party’s parliamentary allies in the Democratic Unionist Party.
Any incoming prime minister will gain some goodwill from Tory MPs keen to give the newcomer a chance to rebuild the shattered trust left by the outgoing regime.
Backbenchers who had long ago given up listening to Downing Street will be prepared to give a new administration a fair hearing. But the new premier will also have to face the brutal truth that a change of personnel at No 10 will not alter the arithmetic in the Commons.
MPs have repeatedly voted to rule out a no-deal Brexit and will do so again if given the chance.
Yet those votes were not legally binding on the Government – Mrs May chose to be bound by them rather than use her powers under the Crown Prerogative to decide foreign policy.
It will only be worth considering calling a snap General Election if opinion polls point towards a sustainable majority for a Conservative government with a clear clean-break Brexit manifesto.
If MPs continue to vote against every possible Brexit outcome, the next prime minister could be forced to defy Parliament to force a no-deal Brexit, to ensure the result of the 2016 EU referendum is respected.
Mrs May repeatedly warned that rejecting her deal could leave a straight choice between no-deal and no Brexit.
Her announcement yesterday has paved the way for her successor to pick one of those two stark options.
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