Professor Amelia Hadfield looks at how the question of EU membership continues to divide the Conservative Party and how these divisions could impact upon a future Brexit deal.
The White Paper, the 104-page document on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, officially entitled ‘The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’ which has to date caused the resignation of two Secretaries of State, three junior Ministers and two Vice-Chairs of the Conservative Party, is threatening to split the Tories in a way not seen since the Maastricht Treaty did during the 1990s. This reflects the tough balancing act May has been forced to strike throughout her Premiership, between Tories old and new, left and right, and fundamentally, pro and anti-Brexit.
The Brexit spectrum has hardened in the past two years, both within Parliament, and in the country at large. For some, the rudimentary in/out polarity still determines their stance. For others, the spectrum consists of May’s speeches, and her red lines: extracting Britain from both the EU Single Market and the Customs Union, ending freedom of movement and the jurisdiction of EU courts, reducing net payments to the EU budget, and striking free trade agreements.
Euroscepticism remains a key component of the contemporary Conservative Party. It greatly hampered John Major’s Premiership in the 1990s, with Major himself labelling his rebellious colleagues ‘bastards’, believed to be referring to Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo.
In terms of transforming the White Paper into legislation, May too has her own bastards to contend with, the most convincing of which is the increasingly authoritative European Research Group (ERG), chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg.
In truth, this has been a bruising month for the Prime Minister. She has lost a profusion of ministers, while the 1922 Committee continues to keep alive the threat of a leadership. Labour remains divided on Brexit and ideological matters, and the Conservatives themselves remain polarised, amidst indications of a recent rise in UKIP support.
To ensure that the White Paper and its legislation survives the summer, May and her ministers have undertaken a spate of diplomatic forays to Germany, France, Spain and Italy and beyond, to highlight its practicable aspects, despite chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier suggesting that much in it remains unworkable.
The White Paper may have much to recommend it, not least its softer Brexit components. But with just nine months left to negotiate Britain’s departure, and time still needed to navigate the departure bill through the UK and EU Parliament, it is possible that the White Paper is simply too little, too late.
The above is an extract from Brexit Hub blog, The July 2018 White Paper: carte blanche or tabula rasa.
Professor Amelia Hadfield is the Director of the Centre for European Studies.