Tory Veterans Tell May to Lay Off the Hard Brexit – Bloomberg
Major governed in the 1990s when the question of European integration threatened to tear apart the Tories and he put his own leadership on the line to get the Maastricht Treaty — the blueprint for the European Union — passed through the House of Commons, with the support of the Ulster Unionist Party.
Two decades later May’s own grip on power is tenuous. Having united the Tories behind her Brexit approach she called an election only for voters to end her party’s parliamentary majority. That’s weakened her premiership and revived a battle between Conservative hardliners who want a clean break from the EU and the emboldened pro-EU lawmakers who see a chance to fight back and soften the landing.
Staying in the single market or customs union, two things May had taken off the table, could now be back on with negotiations a week away and the government rethinking its strategy.
“The views of those who wish to stay in are going to have to be borne in mind to a much greater extent after this election: a hard Brexit was not endorsed by the electorate,” Major said on Tuesday in a BBC radio interview. “We have to recognize that the election changed if not everything, then a very great deal, and the government are going to have to respond to that.”
With the Daily Telegraph reporting secret talks between May’s Cabinet minister and Labour lawmakers on a soft Brexit, the political climate has changed amid a spectrum of possible options. Liberal Democrat Tim Farron sent a letter to May demanding a cross-party joint cabinet committee which “would become the front line of negotiations with Brussels.”
Two former Tory leaders weighed in. William Hague called on May for a much more inclusive approach that brings business leaders and the opposition into the conversation. It’s “utterly improbable” that the different sides would agree, he wrote in the Daily Telegraph, but “there is little downside to trying, and there is the major upside of recognizing that the political world has changed.”
Iain Duncan Smith, who led the Conservatives but never into a general election, has been one of the loudest voices in favor of a so-called hard Brexit and he ruled out any change in the U.K.’s stance: “Our position is settled, we try to get the best deal we can.”
Five days after a general election that wiped out her majority, May on Tuesday held discussions in London with Democratic Unionist Party Leader Arlene Foster to secure the backing of the party’s 10 lawmakers in the House of Commons for the Tories’ program for government. A government official said the talks were proceeding well and Foster tweeted that “we hope soon to be able to bring this work to a successful conclusion.”
Major said he was worried that a deal with the largest party in Northern Ireland could imperil a truce that requires the government to be a honest broker. “I am concerned about the deal, I am wary about it, I am dubious about it both for peace process reasons,” he said.
Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said it’s not too late for the U.K. to change its mind.
“The British government has said we will stay with the Brexit,” Schaeuble said in a Bloomberg interview. “We take the decision as a matter of respect. But if they wanted to change their decision, of course, they would find open doors.”