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  July 13, 2016

New British PM Will Govern to the Right of Cameron

Economist John Weeks says Theresa May will negotiate Brexit to completion despite her previous opposition to leaving the European Union
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JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Britain’s next Prime Minister Theresa May called for the country to unite under her leadership promising to make a success of the country’s divorce from the EU. After receiving official confirmation she’d won her leadership contest of the ruling conservative party following the exit of the only other conservative candidate, May told reporters Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it. We need to unite out country.

THERESA MAY: During this campaign, my case has been based on 3 things. First the need for strong proven leadership to steer us through what will be difficult and uncertain economic and political times. The need of course, to negotiate the best deal for Britain in leaving the EU and to forge a new role for ourselves in the world. Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it.

NOOR: May is due to be installed as Prime Minister in succession of David Cameron on Wednesday. Well we now go to London to speak to John Weeks. John is Professor Emeritus at the University of London. Author of the book, The Economics of the 1%.

Thanks so much for joining us again John.

JOHN WEEKS: Well thank you for having me again.

NOOR: So as we know, Theresa May has said Brexit means Brexit and so now we’re at this moment where the party elites of the Conservative Party do not support the Brexit but now she’s the head of the Party and she’s promised to push this forward. What can we expect? What can this mean for the people of Britain, for Europe, and the world?

WEEKS: Yes, first of all let me say I swear to all the watchers I will not make any of the obvious puns on Theresa May’s name. Though that may be difficult. I think that the first thing to recognize is that Theresa May is from the right wing of the Conservative Party and the party itself is quite right wing. And she is putting herself forward as a centrist. Though she has a very conservative record. She’s very anti-immigration and it’s quite ironic that she has been chosen as leader because course she supported remaining in the European Union and the referendum went to get out.

So first thing we should recognize is that she’s a very clever politician. Because most people immediately after the Brexit vote said that no conservative politician supported remaining in the European Union would become Prime Minister. Yet she has. And not only did she do it but she saw off all her rivals basically without a vote. So she’s a very effective and clever politician. I regret to say, given my political preferences, she is probably more effective than David Cameron and further to the right.

To question how will she handle Britain leaving the European Union. It is extremely complicated. I’ll mention one complication, that people may not be aware of. The arrangement between Britain, the way that Scotland is included within the European Union, part of that act of union as it was updated in recent years, includes a pledge to be a member of the European Union. So therefore, a British government would be faced with a difficult problem that it is trying to maneuver out of the European Union yet it has a treaty, an effective treaty—with Scotland, an act of association that pledges it remain in the European Union.

This is just one of the many regulations. Another is all--if when the British Parliament passes laws to disassociate itself from European regulations, many of the regulations like on consumer protection and on other worker protection will become null and void. So new acts will have to be passed. So it’s not just a question of saying, we’re pulling out, we’re going to repeal the act that we’re rejoining the European Union. That in effect would leave a tremendous number of laws in limbo, you might say.

NOOR: And is there still a possibility that the government could drag their feet or despite the public pronouncement that we know that according to article 50 of the European Union charter, once that clause is activated it’s going to take 2 years. So there is still some sort of wiggle room to draw this out and further delay it?

WEEKS: Yes, well it would be quite easy to completely bore your watchers to death with the ends and outs but let me try to make it straightforward. There are many--there’s only one way to get in the European union you might say. But there are many ways--they are many versions of getting out. And those are being debated.

For example, one possibility which is being discussed is that Britain, instead of being a member of the European Union with a number of special privileges which it has, would become an associate with fewer privileges than a member has. So in effect what you would have is just a renaming of Britain’s status. You might say that that is what the remainders would like to see happen. They would like to in effect have the same relationship and just rename it. I personally--my opinion is that that is not possible.

If Theresa May were to try to have some type of what you might call faux Brexit that was actually just a cosmetic change in Britain’s status in the European Union, that there would be a revolt in their party. The most difficult thing for her is a question of immigration. Because that is what the people who wanted to leave fought their campaign on. Many versions. There was the most amount of appallingly xenophobic side of it. You know that all our problems are a result of these polls and Bulgarians and [Latins] that come over here.

Then there were the softer versions that says every country regulates the number of people that come into it and that being a member of the European Union doesn’t really allow us to do that which I think is not true. But in any way, a version. Keeping trade relations with the European Union as they are now, keeping in effect being in a free trade zone with other members of the European Union, requires a British government to accept free movement of labor within the European Union. So therefore to keep the trading relationship of the European Union, May would have to accept the free labor clause which would in effect say the Brexiters may have won the vote but they lost the war.

NOOR: Alright well John we have to leave it there but we’ll certainly have you on again soon. Thanks so much for joining us.

WEEKS: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.




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