What Theresa May can do about her Brexit woes
FT editor Lionel Barber and political commentator Janan Ganesh discuss UK Prime Minister Theresa May's difficult week dealing with a warring Cabinet and opposition over Brexit in Parliament.
Studio filmed by Rod Fitzgerald. Produced by Josh de la Mare.
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It's been a bad week for Theresa May on Brexit. More defeats in the House of Lords and continuing splits in the cabinet over the future trading relationship between Britain and the European Union. Here with me to discuss Mrs May's plight and what she can do about it and how much it matters before the electorate is Janan Ganesh.
It matters hugely. It's almost coming up to the second anniversary of the vote for Brexit. And yet, there is still, not just technical wrinkles in the project to leave, but really disagreements over principle as to what form of Brexit there should be. And this week, Theresa May was defeated by the House of Lords, who voted for a cross-party amendment in favour of staying in the European economic area, which effectively means staying in the single market, observing.
That's a free movement of people, goods, and you also have to pay a big cheque.
Yeah, it would involve remaining within the single-most contentious bit of the European Union, which is the free movement. So that was a particularly wounding defeat. But there were also huge splits within her own team, her own cabinet, as to whether or to what extent to remain in some form of customs arrangement with the European Union.
And those options range from totally staying in, which actually relatively few people want, to something called maximum facilitation, which is a very technical policy that would slightly harden the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and then, Theresa May's idea of a compromise, a customs partnership, which would, to a certain extent, split the difference.
And she has done this incredible plan of asking the people who were against her idea of the customs partnership to represent that side and then another side that doesn't agree with the max fac, which sounds, by the way, like something in cosmetics.
It does sound like a bit of makeup. And I need quite -
They're making it up while they go along.
Well, I need quite a bit of max Fac to prevent the shine on this - when the light hits me.
That's OK. You look OK.
I think I look OK. But she's almost wargaming the two scenarios by splitting the cabinet up to plan them and make them work. And it's a bit of a political ruse to bind enemies into her policy. And she's actually played a fairly smart game recently. I mean, the idea took a beating a couple of weeks ago and it looked like it was dead after a cabinet committee discussion.
And then, she got business leaders and other cabinet ministers to come out in favour of it. And there was a certain amount of momentum until very recently when Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, dismissed it in the most extreme terms.
Yeah, and then the other thing is that other leaders seem to be at least importuned, like Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, who's sort of speaking much more positively about the idea of a customs partnership.
Yeah, it's almost as if there's a certain amount of political and diplomatic co-ordination, which you could say is cynical, but it's also quite impressive from a prime minister who can't count on sheer weight of numbers in parliament or even in terms of cabinet support to get her idea through. She has to be a bit more nimble. And I think she's shown that recently.
The additional problem, of course, she has to face is that neither idea, either max fac or customs partnership, is wildly popular with the other side of the negotiating table, which is the European Union, itself.
Now, talking about co-ordination, it does seem that your favourite football club, Arsenal, have actually come to a decision and that Arsene Wenger is leaving.
Yeah, well, having campaigned for Wenger to go for so long, I no longer know what to do with myself. They're struggling to find a new manager. And my nightmare scenario is that we'll be here at the end of August, Arsenal will have no manager, and they pick up the phone to a guy in Alsace called Arsene Wenger and invite him back.
On that optimistic note, thank you very much. And we did qualify for Champions League next year.