May gets blunt Brexit warning from old Dutch ally & EU statesman Rutte: Part I

With the “Bercow Bombshell” (BB), his statement to the house on March 18th, quoting Erskine May’s 1844 anthology of Commons’ customary laws and Standing Orders, that Theresa May can’t have an eternal Groundhog Day rotation resubmitting her Brexit Deal, it has become impossible for May to offer anything new to the EU summit of March 21st.

According to Laura Kuensberg (late BBC evening news, March 18th), that means the EU has no reason to grant May a short prolonging of article 50, making it inevitable that the EU leaders will propose a long prolongation; which would result in a much softer Brexit (the UK having to remain subject to more EU directives, procedures and institutions than under the May deal).

To predict the mood of that EU summit, one can quote the French journalist in Newsnight (March 18th), who indicated that Le Monde, on March 15th, lost hope of May rescuing her deal, saying “let’s get cracking, let’s make a do-able (prolongation) arrangement”. Earlier, Macron said on March 13th that “the solution lies entirely in London”, which must offer a reason for prolongation to make him consider that. The French mood looks unwilling to tolerate any more British “one more heave” pleas for a prolongation; and to start asking concessions.

A  second way is looking what Dutch liberal VVD leader and (since 2010) Prime Minister Mark Rutte had to say on March 14th, after the Commons massively rejected May’s second attempt to get her Brexit Deal accepted. And to accurately gauge the weight of Rutte’s opinions with May, one has to know the history of the Rutte-Cameron-May triangle that started around 2008-’09.

In this double article, I’ll try to sketch how that relationship, starting with how the strong Rutte-Cameron bond evolved, and how from Cameron’s resignation it transformed into the close Rutte-May relationship we’ve witnessed these past few Brexit months.

As Wikipedia points out, Cameron was a more pragmatic than ideological one-nation Tory, with liberal economic views, promoting socially liberal policies.

He succeeded as Tory party leader after Hague, Duncan Smith, and Howard, in 1997-2005; failed to break Blair’s big Labour majority; and positioned himself slightly to the left of IDS and Howard. Cameron befriended his Tory-gone-Labour predecessor MP for Witney, and started writing Guardian columns; and in 2002 abstained on gay adoption, being whipped to oppose. He broke through in the 2005 Tory leadership contest with his speech about “making people feel good about being Tory again”, and about wanting to “switch on a whole new generation”. This chimed with Theresa May MP’s speech as 2002 Tory party president about losing the “Nasty party” image.

May, 10 years older than Cameron, had been an MP from 1997, and had served in shadow cabinets under Cameron’s three predecessors. On becoming leader, Cameron retained her as shadow Leader of the House and shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

That was the situation when in 2006 Mark Rutte emerged as VVD party leader after a bruising leadership race against the more hardline, populist Immigration/Integration minister Rita Verdonk.

In the second piece I’ll describe how the Rutte-Cameron-May relationship evolved.

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I’m afraid I don’t follow the logic of this article. Surely from the point of the EU the more obvious alternative to “a short prolongation” is not “a long prolongation” but no prolongation at all?

  • Bill le Breton 21st Mar '19 - 12:57pm

    It is deal or no deal.

    That has been my opinion of likely events for months now. Expressed here every now a then. With hours to the 29th or the 20th April or 30th June it remains Deal of No deal.

    Bear with me for a minute. Suppose I am right.

    Then also please appreciate that the withdrawal treaty and political declaration remain compatible with Labour’s version of a customs union or a Norway-style outcome, or Boles’ Common Market 2.0 if/when the UK Parliament forms a future majority around one of those.

    As Andrew Duff has tweeted an hour ago: “Maybe the Corbyn Barnier meeting here today will turn out to be more important than May at #EUCO.”

    So actually the choice in the next few days is deal followed by Norway+ or Common Market 2.0 or no deal.

    Those who resist voting for the WA are in effect waving through no deal.

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