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Brexit deal reaction: What next for May?

Thursday 15 November 2018

AS Government Ministers resign in the wake of Teresa May presenting her Brexit deal, academics from Salford react and predict what might happen next in the political world, and also what the implications are for security in a post Brexit world.

Dr Ben Williams, Lecturer in Politics and Political Theory at the University of Salford, said: “It’s been a dramatic few days in British politics, and the situation is changing rapidly. 

“May has faced an unenviable task since taking office in mid-2016, inheriting a ‘poisoned chalice’ and thrust into a high-stakes constitutional issue of removing Britain from the European Union. Her priority has been to respect the referendum result and to manage and reconcile a bitterly divided party and a polarised country.   

“Yet the apparent rejection of her ‘deal’ with the European Union, with pro-Brexit MPs condemning it and ministers resigning steadily through the day, places the UK in an unprecedented crisis situation, with both its domestic stability and its internal credibility on the line.

“May’s options now seem restricted. If more ministers resign as this week progress, her position may well be untenable and she could very likely resign as Prime Minister. This would heighten the sense of crisis, and may well lead to her government completely collapsing unless a ‘unity’ candidate emerged to bring both the Conservative Party and the country together. However, given the divisive nature of this issue, this prospect seems unlikely. 

“She could well face a leadership challenge rather than resigning, or her government may indeed face a vote of no confidence- both of which are bleak prospects for her and would likely be very damaging and could well accelerate her enforced departure. 

“The Prime Minister could alternatively seek to suspend Article 50 and extend Britain’s process of departure beyond the agreed date of March 2019, but this would undoubtedly enrage the Brexiteers on her backbenches, as well as significant swathes of the leave-voting British public. 

“There are also many MPs across all parties calling for a second referendum, a so-called “People’s Vote”, but Mrs May has repeatedly ruled this option out. On this basis, perhaps the most likely outcome is she resigns at some point this week and a general election is triggered due to the absence of national leadership and the inability for any Conservative successor to regain political control. If this happened, it would be the UK’s third general election in four years, which would further reflect the country’s instability. This could potentially pave the way for a Labour Government under Jeremy Corbyn, who would face immediate pressure to impose a solution of his own to this highly complex problem.”

Dr Dan Lomas, an expert in intelligence and security at the University of Salford, said: “The UK government have been keen push the line that the EU withdrawal agreement continues the close security and intelligence cooperation. Writing to Conservative MPs, the Government maintains the deal includes 'arrangements for effective data exchange on Passenger Name Record data, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, alongside extradition arrangements' and the 'timely exchange of information and intelligence'. But the problem remains, what next? 

“The uncertainty around future EU-UK security remains the same as before. Frankly we don't know what will happen if, and it's a big if, this deal is approved. Will permanent arrangements be agreed in the transition period? The European Arrest Warrant operates for the remainder of the transition period and UK law enforcement will continue to have access to the European-wide Secure Information Exchange Network Application (SIENA). Of course, much of Britain's existing bilateral intelligence exchanges between the Security Service (MI5), Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and their European opposites will continue, working above EU arrangements, while exchanges will also continue with our European NATO allies. Threats such as cyber-security, terrorism and other states (especially Russia) will continue to be discussed by European intelligence agencies. In June, GCHQ's Director Jeremy Fleming told NATO delegates: 'We're leaving the EU but not Europe. And after Brexit the UK will continue to work with the EU and the EU Member States. We have excellent relationships with intelligence and security agencies right across the continent' - something, I think, that needs to be repeated today. 

“But there will be uncertainty and limitations. The withdrawal agreement makes it clear that the UK will not have access to the SIENA network after 2021 (though it can pay to access this) and Home Office officials - like their EU counterparts - have already admitted that the UK will not be in Europol, threatening information exchanges on EU-wide crime and security issues. All this remains up for discussion in the UK Government's next round of talks on the future relationship with the EU.”


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Sam Wood

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