When Theresa May became the Prime Minister, after a dramatic leadership race in which she came across like the only grown up in the room, it was predicted that she would bring strong and assured leadership. Having immediately been labelled the new “Iron Lady” she went on to give a fantastic performance in her first Prime Ministers Questions.
The “honeymoon period” ended swiftly and if there had been an effective opposition it is safe to say Mrs May would’ve had a tricky few months. Her premiership has been marred by backtracking and dithering on domestic policy and accusations of uncertainty when it comes to Brexit.
On Tuesday, the PM attempted to draw a line under that with an very impressive speech setting out the core aims of the Government’s Brexit policy. It was an important reminder to the country that she is a serious politician.
Finally, all that speculation about the Single Market and the Customs Union has been answered and it can no longer be said that the government has no idea what it wants. There is an acceptance that there will be no “cherry picking”, and that a different trade relationship will have to be sought. So, is it full steam ahead on the Brexit train? Not quite, there are some major obstacles in the way before we can even begin the process.
First of all, British politics is now dominated by the countdown to Article 50 notification. Yet when the prime minister set an arbitrary March deadline for invocation at the Conservative Party Conference she clearly didn’t anticipate the subsequent legal battles she is now entangled in. The complexity of the task at hand and the resistance of the Remain movement were seemingly underestimated. Now the deadline seems like an unforced error.
The London High Court Decision took the timing of Article 50 notification out of Theresa May’s hands by declaring it unlawful to use the royal prerogative without a vote in Parliament, this was politically damaging. The Supreme Court will decide whether to reject or accept the Government appeal at 9:00 AM on Tuesday 24th. The failure of the appeal will be another political embarrassment that could have been avoided by announcing an early vote last year.
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So if the appeal fails, what comes next?
The wrong move would be to immediately try and rush legislation through parliament via a hastily written bill. Clearly the referendum gives the government a democratic mandate for leaving the EU, but not by any specific date. The risk is that remainers from both sides of the House, infuriated by the Government’s plan for Brexit, will attempt to tangle the bill with amendments and push for delays with various motions.
We have already heard the dribble from the nauseatingly disingenuous Tim Farron – the champion of democracy who previously made a pledge to take the UK back into the EU despite the referendum – about the PM’s aims being a ‘theft of democracy’ and signalling his intent to push for Single Market membership and a referendum on the deal (in defence of democracy, of course). The Liberal Democrats can be expected to push back against the March deadline, and they will have plenty of allies.
There is one sure fire way for Theresa May to steamroller the inevitable resistance: move to repeal the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act and call an early election. The Conservative Party can stand on a Brexit platform based on the core points set out in yesterday’s speech. The choice will be clear, if you support Theresa May’s leadership and want Brexit to move forward and be delivered in full; vote for the Conservative Party. The Lib Dem’s can stand on reversing Brexit and Corybnite Labour can be put to the ultimate test, with UKIP targeting their northern heartlands.
The Conservatives would come out of the election with a whopping great majority and an unequivocal renewed mandate for Brexit. The Labour Party would be completely and utterly decimated and Theresa May could move forward with renewed confidence having gone to the country and received unequivocal endorsement for her leadership. This will strengthen her hand for Brexit and domestic policy. Going forward, she may well stop showing the dithering signs of uncertainty we remember so fondly in Gordon Brown; which we can well do without.
Given that this is a parliamentary system and we are not the United States, I would not ordinarily say that the new PM needs a mandate for her leadership; but these are not ordinary times. As we move towards the implementation of the biggest political project in living memory, Britain needs a firm leader with a sense of confidence and a strong and stable government with a clear majority. For this, we need to go the polls.
Ben Kelly is an Executive Director of Conservatives for Liberty.