Theresa May has proven to be remarkably resilient since taking over as Prime Minister and has constantly proven the bookies wrong. Few would have expected her to last this long and the betting markets still expect an election to take place this year or next, with the odds of an election any later than 2021 at 14-1.
The reason for pessimism is obvious. May has spent her time in office pursuing completely incoherent objectives and has constantly kicked the can down the road to avoid making difficult decisions. She can’t please the left and the right of her own party, keep the EU on board, and win a majority in parliament because, at some point, she needs to abandon ‘constructive ambiguity’ and set out a deal that can win the support of MPs and our European partners. The alternative, as set out by Jacob Ress-Mogg this week, is to threaten to walk away from the negotiations altogether if the EU doesn’t provide concessions that would allow the UK to leave the single market and customs union without creating a border on the island of Ireland.
The whole reason the country is in this mess is due to the fact that Cameron put politics before country, promising an EU referendum in order to win votes from UKIP in 2016. He assumed that he wouldn’t win a majority and so he would be able to bargain the EU referendum away in coalition negotiations. Having won in 2016, he gambled that he could win the referendum, putting the issue of Europe to bed and ensuring that it wouldn’t destroy his government as it did the governments of Thatcher and Major before him.
If May follows a similar script (as she has up until now) she will strain at the sinews to somehow keep the Conservartive Party united around a common vision of Brexit, but she will come unstuck because no agreement that could command the consent of the hard-line Brexiteers will win the assent of Parliament and the EU. Instead, she must put party ahead of country and avoid a ruinous Brexit by backing some kind of EEA option. This is best for the country and, crucially, it is the only option that can win the consent of Parliament.