Tuesday, August 23, 2016
As the politicians who triumphantly led the UK out of the European Union fled the scene, the job of filling the power vacuum created by the exit of David Cameron and extricating Britain from the European Union, besides ensuring the unity of the nation has ultimately fallen on the shoulders of Theresa May, who incidentally happened to be the known campaigner to ‘remain’ in the European Union.
For May, the longest serving home secretary for 50 years, who is being considered by many as an “incredibly tough, shrewd, determined and principled person to lead the negotiations for Britain”, while a few others consider her as the “Angela Merkel of Britain”, the lady Chancellor of Germany known for her firmness, pragmatism and discipline, the task being pretty monumental, compels one to wonder: Is the new PM—who incidentally dabbled around every portfolio of the State such as transport, culture, the environment, work and pensions, the family, education and women, except economy—up to the task?
Ironically, her effortlessly becoming a Prime Minister poses another challenge: any shortfall that she returns with from the negotiation table in Brussels vis-à-vis the fantasy that the ‘exit-politicians’ sold to the nation, the politicians who have fallen wayside after the exit results announced are certain to shout in chorus, ‘treachery’. This eventuality cannot, of course, be wished away by merely giving plum posts by her to some of those who strongly advocated exit.
Except to declare, “Brexit means Brexit”, she didn’t make her approach to the forthcoming negotiations with European Union, particularly her likely stand on striking a balance between restricting freedom of movement across the borders and securing access to the single European market, public. Nor is she showing any hurry to press the button for exit. Indeed, she made it clear that Article 50 will not be invoked until early next year which in itself is a good augur, for it gives her ample time to draft her negotiation strategy to get the best possible outcome.
This move would also give her enough time to build a team with requisite competency and select a leader of right mental-frame—realism rested on right data and a diplomatic craftiness—to undertake negotiations to extract the best possible way forward before Britain finally exits European Union. Further, it also affords her time to wean the nation from the disaffection that it was thrown into by the referendum process and make it ready to accept the deal whatever could be accomplished through negotiations at Brussels. If required she can even seek the public mandate for such a deal through general elections that will become due by that time.
She has already displayed her political shrewdness by appointing Boris Johnson—who is one among the leading levers of exit—as foreign secretary, making him thus responsible to deliver on what the ‘exit-advocates’ have so passionately willed on the nation. And then, pledging herself to govern for the many but not for the “privileged few”, she certainly set the right political tone for her stewardship. Nevertheless, she has to display her leadership skills to steer UK from the extraordinary times that it is passing through.
Encouragingly, on her first day at 10 Downing Street, May Theresa aired her concern for letting the angered feelings of social divisions caused by the referendum in the UK be cooled first. In the same vein, she should have made an announcement eliminating the uncertainties associated with the stay of EU citizens who have been residing in the UK prior to the referendum date. Instead, reports indicate that she used their stay as a ‘bargaining chip’ to ensure approval from the EU authorities for the stay of around 1.2 m UK citizens who are already living in the continent. Such an approach may do little good for creating the much required ‘goodwill’ between the UK and EU.
That said, we must also admit that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor too is threatened by an equal challenge, if not more of holding the rest of the European Union together. For, it is in the interest of the remaining 27 members of the European Union and of Germany too, that she works towards keeping Britain as close to the European Union as possible. After all, Britain, next to the US and France, is the third-largest importer of German goods, accounting for 7.5% of its exports.
Besides business, UK, along with France makes the worldwide intelligence services available to the European Union. Further, with its permanent seat in the UN Security Council coupled with the prime role it plays in the NATO, it offers strong military power to the European Union. None of these issues can be ignored by Germany while negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. At the same time, Merkel has to ensure that Brexit negotiations must not damage her election campaign due for next year. That being the complexity of the whole issue, Merkel too has to make tight rope walk in the days to come to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.
The developing world too will be watching with sheer interest how these two leaders conduct themselves in the near future, for the outcome of their negotiations has a say on the global economy too.