Theresa May is reputed to be a very tough negotiator. However, she is also pragmatic and she is very well conscious that she won’t have a free hand to negotiate with the EU. As Prime minister, she is going to face two major domestic policy issues.
Firstly, she will have to compromise with a cabinet including at the same time Remainers and Brexiters. She perfectly knows that the most competent British politicians are in the Remain camp thus she will also have to take into account their opinion. Should the opposite occur, she will be quickly forced to call for early general election which will increase political instability in the UK and have a harmful impact on growth. Secondly, her legitimacy as Prime minister could be questioned as soon as she will make a political gaffe. She was neither elected by the British citizens, nor by all the members of the Conservative Party. She was appointed as candidate for office by the direction of the party thus she suffers from a lack of legitimacy.
Theresa May will also face two other challenges in the battlefront while she will be negotiating with the EU. She is well aware that the negotiations will take more than two years, although it is the statutory deadline set by the EU treaties. The issues of immigration and financial services will certainly require more time to find an agreement. It is likely that she will postpone as much time as possible the activation of Article 50. Therefore, she will be under increasing pressure from other European countries. Moreover, regardless of the agreement that will be reached with the EU, it will inevitably be less economically advantageous for the UK that membership of the EU. This will raise frustrations among the British population who will realize that the Brexiters lied to them. The successor of David Cameron is a fatally weakened Prime minister, no matter what happens in the coming weeks and months.
The exit of the UK will profoundly change the balance of power within the European Union. De facto, Germany will be the only real EU leader. The Franco-German couple no longer actually works, especially because the French president influence is weakened by the approach of the presidential campaign that will take place in spring 2017. There will be no real countervailing power against German hegemony. Until now, the United Kingdom has often played this role. We can consider that this is an historic opportunity for Poland, that often shared the point of view of the UK about EU integration, to become a leading European country able to challenge the position of France and Germany. The country is well-positioned to replace the UK as countervailing power against Germany because it could have the support of many of the CEE countries. The exit of the UK is an incredible political opportunity for Poland to make its voice heard in Europe. Hopefully, it won’t be a missed opportunity.