Theresa May’s departure—What does the future hold for Brexit?

After nearly three years in office, today marks Prime Minister, Theresa May’s, official resignation as leader of the Conservative party. As the PM’s new successor is due to be announced in the week of 22 July 2019, Richard Eccles, partner at Bird & Bird, addresses how May’s departure could impact the future of Brexit.

How does May’s departure impact the future of Brexit?

Richard Eccles:

'The Brexit conundrum will be just as difficult to solve for the next Prime Minister as it has been for Theresa May. The EU has made clear that any deal for a new UK/EU relationship must first cover the Northern Irish border, citizens’ rights and the financial settlement, all of which are covered in the unsigned Withdrawal Agreement which the EU has repeatedly said it will not reopen. Meanwhile Parliament has opposed the principle of a no deal Brexit and few would predict that that vote in the House of Commons would be reversed.

The draft Withdrawal Agreement became known as Theresa May’s deal, whereas by the time it was negotiated at the end of 2018, it was the only deal available to the UK as a basis for a negotiated, agreed exit. Many of the Conservative leadership candidates are talking about renegotiating the Northern Irish backstop and the other terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, but this seems to ignore the EU’s stated position.

The default position continues to be, as it was in March, that the UK will have a hard Brexit on the expiry of the Article 50 notice, which is now 31 October. The only way to avoid this (other than agreeing the Withdrawal Agreement) is to agree a further extension with the EU, on the basis that the EU does not want a no-deal Brexit either, and persuade President Macron not to exercise a French veto.

Another postponement just might result in increased calls for a second referendum, with Remain on the ballot paper, on the basis that the 2016 referendum did not feature any decision as to the basis of a withdrawal from the EU, and that Parliament has not been able to approve a negotiated deal or a no-deal Brexit. This makes it a logical solution to put the issue back to the public in the light of developments in the three years since the referendum.'

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