The month of May looks to be somewhat challenging for Prime Minister Theresa May. Although she recently polled more popular (or more accurately less unpopular) than Jeremy Corbyn for the first time in a year - she now faces a new Brexit ‘ultimatum’ from MPs within, further dogged Brexit pessimism from various EU officials without, and following tomorrow may be answerable if any disappointment and losses across local council elections transpire.
The first wave of attack is from inside her Party and ‘Brexit War Cabinet’, some of whom today issued a 30-page ‘ultimatum’ against the proposal for a post-Brexit ‘customs partnership’ with the EU (favoured by Chancellor Philip Hammond) that would trade-off some autonomy for… well… some actual trade. The European Research Group, led by Jacob-Rees-Mogg and comprising 60 MPs, have written numerous letters against the proposal and today’s letter spearheads this opposition stating that ‘The new customs partnership proposed is undeliverable in operational terms and would require a degree of regulatory alignment that would make the execution of an independent trade policy a practical impossibility.’ Moreover the Telegraph reported that if unheeded, ‘Tory MPs would consider withdrawing support for Government Bills in Parliament, which would lead to legislative paralysis and put Mrs May's future as leader in doubt.’
Furthermore the constant piercing bombardment of EU Brexit deal pessimism is making it increasingly difficult for the Tories and the trade negotiation delegation to gain any ground. The latest shot across the bow was from Barnier stating, ‘There is a real risk; we have to be prepared for all options including no deal.’ and that, ‘The United Kingdom’s approach to the negotiations will need to change in some way’. The UK and EU ‘need to agree rapidly by June the scope of alignment’ and then quicken the pace of negotiations even further if they are to reach any agreement by an October target.
Lastly (if Theresa May is that lucky), there is the potential tomorrow for voters across 150 councils in England to expose the current political climate – of which Brexit remains a significant driving force – although recent scandals on both sides (from Windrush to alleged anti-Semitism) also muddy the water. Across these councils there are over 4,000 contested seats including all of the councillors across London’s boroughs.
The Conservatives face a natural uphill battle, given that parties in government tend to struggle more in council elections, receiving due and undue blame for recent failures. From Remainers using the elections to express their condescension and Brexiteers expressing their disapproval of slow progress, to catastrophes like Grenfell Tower in Kensington where the 37 Tory seats (of 48) may be held accountable via the ballot paper. There are also lots of native concerns against Conservative council plans (such as proposals to cut spending). Yet despite all this Prime Minister May could end up taking most the blame for any disappointments and apparent protest-votes. With this set to be the last UK election before leaving the European Union, anyone opposing her steering the UK through Brexit will likely strike before the month of May is out.