So, barring any last minutes surprises, Theresa May is Britain’s new prime minister, she is, as The Economist says, “the last woman standing.” She is, also, The Economist says, in another article, the choice of the Tory establishment and of the majority of sitting MPs. She voted to remain in the EU but she is seen by the “in” and “out” sides alike as a serious, skilful politician who can lead Britain through this situation.. She is both a social progressive and a law and order Tory, but one who is not afraid to challenge the police and prison service orthodoxies. If things go as now expected she will be the first Home Secretary, “a notorious graveyard for political careers,” since the great Lord Palmerston in 1855 to move from that office to prime minister.
The question now is: what must she do?
The Financial Times suggests, not unreasonably, that her first challenge is “to give businesses and consumers confidence,” and it notes, in a separate article, that the selection of Ms May has already calmed both the markets and sterling.
It seems to me that Ms May faces two daunting political challenges …
- First: she must reunite the United Kingdom and I think this is going to be a herculean challenge; and
- Second: she must establish a negotiating position with the EU.
I will deal with British federalism another time.
How does Britain leave the EU without turning its back on Europe?
This was meant to be a bit of English humour, but, in fact, it is a good Brexit strategy for Ms May.
The formal process of leaving the EU doesn’t even start until the UK makes a formal application to leave … until then the Brexit vote and the angst in Britain and Europe is just “sound and fury,” it signifies nothing … no matter what Jean-Claude Juncker and his fellow travellers might wish and no matter if parliament considers a second referendum. The Brits are in the catbird seat.
On one level that part of the EU that yearns for a “United States of Europe” is better off with the British gone … it is hard to imagine any British government, Labour or Conservative, ever agreeing to surrender enough sovereignty to satisfy the “collectivists” in Europe. On another level, the loss of its second largest economy (after Germany) and its most important military power cannot but weaken the EU in every respect and, by now, just as markets are calming after taking a clearer, second look, many European leaders are beginning to ask: “how to we moderate the impact?” “How do we let the Brits leave without ‘losing’ them completely?”
The solution is fairly obvious in broad outline, but hideously complex in detail, and both Britain and the EU will have to take some time to arrive at it by their own, separate routes. The Brits, especially the English, need some time, months, to figure out that free trade with Europe is an unadulterated “good thing.” The English also need to reaffirm, for themselves, that what Scotland thinks matters more than what France thinks. Europe needs some time to work out that it is possible for some Europeans to have a (or maybe two or three) United States of Europe within a big, loose “free trade area” framework, which may look like something that British historian Niall Ferguson imagined for the Wall Street Journal about five years ago. The simple fact is that the EU, now, is to big and too diverse for a single United States of Europe but it may be possible to have a very, very loose federation of federations and ‘leagues’ and sovereign states and so on.
Now is the time for both Britain and the Europeans to “stare at the door” for a few months and imagine what might be on the other side.
In the meantime, now is the time for Canada to actively and aggressively pursue free trade deals with both the EU and Britain … something we might be doing if we had adults, rather than celebrities and limousine liberals in the cabinet and if our government was focused on our, not the Liberal Party’s, vital interests.