U.K.: With Theresa May Gone, What's Next for Brexit?

4 MINS READMay 24, 2019 | 14:11 GMT
The Big Picture

In its annual and second-quarter forecasts for 2019, Stratfor noted that the political crisis in the United Kingdom would intensify to a degree that the British government could collapse. Theresa May's resignation as prime minister confirms that the country will have to appoint a new government to deal with the chaos surrounding Brexit.

What Happened

After almost three years in power, British Prime Minister Theresa May has called it a day. On May 24, the British leader announced that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party on June 7. She also said the process to appoint the next leader of the party — and the country — would begin the following week.

What Happens Next

May's resignation means that her Conservative Party will have to appoint a new leader, who will then become prime minister. In the coming hours, several members of the party will likely announce their candidacies. Then, starting in mid-June, Conservative members of Parliament will hold a series of votes to whittle down the field of candidates. In each round, the prospective leader with the fewest votes will be eliminated, until there are just two candidates left. After that, all party members will vote (around 120,000 registered Tories are eligible to participate in the process) to choose their new leader. Shortly after May’s resignation, the Conservative Party issued a statement saying that the next party leader should be appointed by the end of July.

The challengers to succeed May are likely to include former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom.

Many of the potential candidates are Brexit hard-liners, which means that they could be more willing than May to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a deal in place. But no matter who the next prime minister is, he or she will likely try to negotiate a different Brexit deal with Brussels before making any sudden moves. Complicating the situation, the Commons could still pass a no-confidence motion against the new leader if lawmakers do not like the way he or she is conducting Brexit negotiations — in which case, an early general election would likely ensue.

The main reason for Theresa May's resignation is her failure to convince the House of Commons to approve the Brexit deal her government negotiated with the European Union late last year.

What About the Withdrawal Agreement?

The main reason for May's resignation is her failure to convince the Commons to approve the Brexit deal her government negotiated with Brussels in late 2018 (lawmakers, including many from her own party, have already rejected the deal three times this year). Before she announced her resignation, May was planning to put the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — the piece of legislation that would formally implement Brexit — before the Commons in early June, but her decision to quit means the vote will probably not occur.

Moving forward, the main question centers on whether May's successor will try to negotiate changes to the existing agreement with the European Union, or seek a completely new agreement instead. The problem is that Brussels has rejected both options, declaring that the existing deal is the best the United Kingdom will get. In the end, this means that while the next prime minister is likely to continue searching for a negotiated exit — thereby steering clear of a unilateral withdrawal from the Continental bloc before the official Brexit date of Oct. 31 — he or she is also unlikely to wring a substantially different deal out of Brussels. The selection of a new British prime minister will create more uncertainty in Europe surrounding the United Kingdom's departure from the union, spelling more negotiation hurdles and delays — but not necessarily a no-deal Brexit.

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