Theresa May: How to herd cats

Theresa May

Theresa May has a task of Herculean proportions: to negotiate a Brexit deal that will gain approval from a divided British parliament and an obstinate EU. Securing a deal would make herding cats look easy.

But Mohamed El Erian argues in Bloomberg that the British prime minister is close to a deal with which everyone is “equally unhappy”. And it is “possible that May has managed to corner both her internal position and the EU, opening a wider window for the government to secure support for her deal in the coming weeks. To understand this, consider how the bargaining positions are changing not just because of the pending March 28 deadline but also, and more importantly, because of the European elections scheduled for May 23-26.

More than the March 28 deadline, the European elections could well constitute a binding practical constraint on both the UK and EU, thereby significantly raising the probability of forcing the clarity and sufficient unity and cooperation needed for a workable proposal…..

With many European officials likely to oppose UK participation in the elections, the prospects of a disorderly hard Brexit essentially imposing itself will prove very threatening to British politicians on both sides of the argument. In other words, a May-proposed deal that includes some further EU concessions will certainly still not be optimal for them but will be better than being widely blamed for the alternative. And Brussels would go ahead, also fearing the alternative.

Here’s how this likely, though not yet overwhelmingly probable scenario would proceed: The May government would get agreement from parliament on a short-term extension to the March 28 deadline. This would be accepted by Brussels and allow for negotiations on some further concessions. Parliament would consider the revised deal and, after lots of noise and jockeying, agree to it before the European elections in which the UK would not participate.”

With an extension beyond April out of the question, parliament faces a clear choice: accept Theresa May’s deal or face a no-deal, hard Brexit. Securing approval of a negotiated deal would be a massive win for May, Britain and the EU.

Hat tip to Greg McKenna.