Brexit 5: Ups and Downs

By Felix Zadek-Ewing May 10, 2019 2:53 pm

The return of Nigel

Hot on the heels of the local elections in England and Wales, which saw poor performances by both major parties and a surprising surge for the Lib Dems and the Greens, we have another election to look forward to on the 23rd May. For some, it may feel somewhat strange to take part in European Parliamentary elections, a parliament of which the country has voted to no longer be a part. But, through gritted teeth, Theresa May’s government has conceded that British citizens should be encouraged to participate.

May’s government could have much to fear in the upcoming elections. Having suffered a heavy blow in the local elections, the divided Conservative party is forecast to suffer more losses in Europe. For frustrated anti-EU voters, Farage’s Brexit party may seem a more attractive vote one for which to vote than the one currently led by May. A Brexit party triumph, which is beginning to look more and more likely, may be disastrous for the UK when it comes to returning to the negotiating table in Brussels; Farage’s nationalist rhetoric won’t sit too well with EU leaders, who might be far less willing to offer the UK further delays if and when the time comes. On the other hand, it may convince them that unless they make a better offer, Britain might choose no deal after all.

Given that May’s deal, which remains the only one negotiated and agreed with Brussels, has now been rejected five times by Parliament, the idea of the Brexit party sweeping up both Labour and Conservative European Parliament seats should not be ignored– it is a very real possibility and makes the prospect of a no-deal scenario far more likely.

Still strong and stable

Despite continued calls from Tory backbenchers to quit, Theresa May has confirmed that she has zero intention of stepping down as party leader, insisting she intends to “get Brexit done”. During Prime Minister’s Questions, she even compared her fighting spirit to Liverpool’s outstanding comeback against Barcelona in the Champions League earlier in the week.

Her refusal to leave Number 10 comes ahead of her meeting next week with the powerful Conservative 1922 Committee that represents the interests of backbenchers to discuss her future. The committee may change party rules and enable a new vote of no confidence in their leader. But even if rule changes are agreed, the likelihood of a no confidence motion passing is doubtful. Softer Brexiteers would much rather May passes a deal whilst in power than see her successor fast track a no-deal departure.

After a failed snap election, no confidence votes and defeat after defeat in Parliament, May is somehow still standing. “She’s leading us to oblivion – I don’t understand why she is hanging on,” lamented one former cabinet minister. “She’s using up the oxygen her successor will need to breathe,” cried another. How long can these voices be ignored?

With Conservative members becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Prime Minister, and still no clear timetable for her departure, could the hammering that the party is expected to receive in the upcoming European election be the thing that finally topples her not so strong or stable leadership?

Lib Dems fight back

After a number of surprising victories in the local elections last week, Vince Cable’s party has launched its European election campaign manifesto with the subtle slogan: “Bollocks to Brexit”. The phrase, coined during the march for a people’s vote in London, is now emblazoned across the Lib Dem manifesto – though more mildly mannered supporters may pick up one with the more understated tagline “Stop Brexit”.  Their manifesto, an unequivocal backing for Remain if you hadn’t worked that out already, calls for the “failed project” of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU to be abandoned and sets out a blueprint for what the UK could achieve should Britain’s departure from the bloc be cancelled.

Cable, the leader of the largest political party advocating Remain, said he regretted not being able to join forces with Change UK, blaming a lack of will on their competitor’s part: “I don’t think they disguised the fact that they wanted to stand on their own”. However, Cable is hopeful that the Liberal Democrats are the best-equipped to challenge Farage at the polls later this month.

Cable has also confirmed his intention to step down after the European election campaign this year, making way for a new leader to be in place by the summer. He has faced criticism for failing to make the same media impact as his predecessor, Tim Farron, or improve the Lib Dems’ ratings. But he sees the results of the local elections as a clear indicator that the party’s tactic of rebuilding itself steadily is paying off. Still, the future of the Liberal Democrats remains uncertain. Will they manage to disrupt the mainstream two-party political system any time soon? Probably not.  But success in the upcoming elections as the self-professed pro-Remain party could present an interesting demonstration of British attitudes towards Brexit almost three years on.

Luck of the Irish

Amidst the doom, gloom and confusion that is the current Brexit process, the government has found consolation. It has been agreed that the current rights of Irish and British people in the respective neighbouring countries will be guaranteed in the case of a no-deal scenario. The agreement, entitled the Memorum of Understanding between Dublin and London, ensures the free movement of people between Britain and Ireland, and guarantees access to social security, health and education in both states. Jacob Rees-Mogg has said that the deal is “a sensible reaffirmation of the status quo” and “a reminder of the fictional nature of the scare stories”.

The impact of the deal will be huge, benefiting an estimated 350,000 Irish people in the UK, as well as the 300,000 Britons living in Ireland. However, in light of the news that Dublin is set to open its first booze-free bar, reports suggest we needn’t worry too much about Britons wishing to stay on the Emerald Isle.

Ads takes a hit

ITV has declared itself the latest casualty of Brexit uncertainty. Shares in the broadcaster, Britain’s largest free-to-air commercial broadcaster, saw a sharp decline after advertising sales fell by seven percent in the first quarter of 2019. Revenues dropped by as much as sixteen percent in March compared to this time last year, ITV partly blaming the “continuing economic and political uncertainty” caused by the UK’s vote to leave the EU.  Numerous big brands, including Unilever, have withdrawn ads while they prepare for Britain’s departure from the EU.

Chief executive Carolyn McCall remains optimistic, describing the performance as “very much expected”, affirming ITV’s intention to “remain focussed on delivering in the areas we can control and actively mitigating the factors outside the company’s control”.  ITV have good reason to be positive as the summer draws near: next month sees the return of Love Island. The hugely successful reality TV show and annual cashcow is expected to save ITV from its Brexit woes over the summer.

By Felix Zadek-Ewing May 10, 2019 2:53 pm

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