LONDON ― As the Conservative Party conference kicks off Sunday in Birmingham, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will have to face the reality, in front of her own faction, that the deal to leave the European Union she has spent her time in office trying to cinch is looking less and less likely.
Intraparty schisms also continued to widen in the days leading up to the conference as former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson attacked her plan ― dubbed the “Chequers plan” ― as humiliating and disastrous in a scathing 4,500-word op-ed Thursday. Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd also lamented the “impasse” between the Tory party’s hard-line Brexiteers and its more moderate contingent, stressing that a second referendum might be the way forward.
EU leaders rejected the Chequers plan during a summit in Austria last week. They had already agreed to meet the weekend of Nov. 17 to try to seal a preliminary Brexit deal, although negotiations continue to stall over specific pain points including trade disputes and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Britain’s official exit date from the EU is March 29, but the EU has stipulated that a deal must be made by Jan. 21, 2019, otherwise May will have to decide on a plan of action within five days.
The only safe conclusion that can probably be drawn is that the outcome of any second ballot would most likely be close — just, of course, as the first one [in 2016] was."John Curtice
With the chances of a no-deal Brexit looking increasingly likely, Britain appears to be buckling under the impending uncertainty. Fears of chaos at the borders, food shortages, limbo for EU citizens living in the U.K. and catastrophic consequences for British businesses have begun to surface.
Two-thirds of British businesses are “either awaiting more clarity before they act or are suffering from Brexit fatigue and have switched off from the process because they don’t believe they will be affected,” the British Chamber of Commerce said Friday.
May will therefore have her work cut out for her in the weeks preceding the November summit, though which direction she will steer her efforts remains up in the air. Poll numbers released Friday show that 52 percent of Britons would choose to remain in the EU if a second referendum were to take place, versus 48 percent who would opt to leave.
“The only safe conclusion that can probably be drawn is that the outcome of any second ballot would most likely be close — just, of course, as the first one [in 2016] was,” said John Curtice, a politics professor at the University of Strathclyde who conducted the study.