This week Pro-EU Conservative MPs have quietly cemented their power in parliament, and are set to exert their influence over the direction of Brexit negotiations. It comes as no coincidence that yesterday Iceland have declared the door open, for the UK to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). A move that would equate to a soft-Brexit.
Since her election, Theresa May has been busy defining and following the ‘will of the people’. Having set out a hard-Brexit stall, despite being a proponent of Remain herself, Ms May assigned key-Brexiteer David Davis to help push through a disastrous hard-Brexit.
Beyond her control however is the parliamentary make-up of her own party, a majority of pro-Remain MPs. Whilst these MPs will never openly defy the Brexit-vote, they have set themselves up to keep the UK as close to the EU as possible. Current figures put a majority of anywhere between 40-80 Conservative MPs set to back soft-Brexit, bolstered by the 2017 snap election where a wave of Pro-EU Scottish MPs were elected.
The most open and direct warning came from Ruth Davidson, who immediately took her new mandate after the election to directly threaten Theresa May over her Brexit plans; ‘Rethink hard Brexit plan – we could sink it’ (source). By removing the whip from her 13 Scottish MPs, the Conservative parliamentary majority would already be wiped out.
Last month Chancellor Phillip Hammond has flexed his new found political muscle. Before and during the recent snap election, Theresa May was due to use her new super-majority to silence and replace the critics in her party. This included the then and now, Chancellor Phillip Hammond, and several other cabinet members, who openly speak out against her.
Having lost her majority, Theresa May is now beholden to her Cabinet members, whom are by far in majority favour for a soft-Brexit strategy. Phillip Hammond used his Mansion House speech to specifically highlight the dangers of a hard-Brexit, openly opposing the Prime Minister in public. However, Theresa May OR rival leadership candidates have bitten back at Hammond by leaking explosive comments.
Whilst Theresa May faces open challenges from the ‘glamourous’ roles in parliament, behind the scenes pro-Remain MPs from both parties have been busy winning important battles to control cross-party influential roles. It can be revealed that 80% of the House of Commons Committees will now be chaired by pro-Remain MPs, including the treasury-select committee which will be chaired by pro-EU, anti-Theresa MP Nicky Morgan. Her victory comes as she saw off arch-Brexiteer and internet sensation Jacob Rees-Mogg for the role. From these positions, the committee leaders will shape and guide the direction of debate and policy, with maximising market access already on the agenda.
So, what will happen?
With the collapse of parliamentary and public support for the hard-Brexit approach, MPs will rightly take the path of a transitionary period, or to join the EFTA permanently.
Under EFTA arrangements the UK would join; Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, in a group that still has access to the single market. The UK would be capable of negotiating international trade deals with 3rd party nations, a prospect that could see the British economy recover from a decade long slump. The EFTA option however still keeps the UK bound by the four freedoms; goods, people, services, and capital. With immigration being the core issue of the Brexit-vote, many voters would feel betrayed (unless a deal is struck). The UK would also be subject to EU law, although in the EFTA we would have no voice to help shape the laws created. The EFTA agreement could be a shorter-term solution until a hard-Brexit can be achieved, however with access to the free market, and the ability to trade with 3rd party nations, it could remain permanent.