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Being prime minister is not easy, particularly with Brexit negotiations looming. As Christmas approaches and festivities begin, Theresa May might have been hoping for some seasonal goodwill. Alas, there looks to be no such respite and trouble seems to be lurking round every corner. 

This week has brought further headaches for the prime minister. From government ministers straying from its stated position to a crushing electoral defeat, here are five things she probably didn’t want to happen this week:

1, The Liberal Democrats triumphed in the Richmond Park by-election, defeating former Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith. The result was a resounding rejection of Goldsmith’s support for leaving the EU in a campaign that divided candidates on the basis of Brexit rather than on Heathrow’s third runway, as Goldsmith had intended. It’s not just the loss of a Tory MP with a 23,000 strong majority that will be troubling May, who has a very slim majority in the Commons as it is (and lots of difficult legislation to get through). What’s perhaps more worrisome for the prime minister is that it could mark the start of the anti-Brexit fightback.

2. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, sent a letter clarifying why there has not been agreement to secure the rights of UK citizens resident in other member states and EU citizens resident in the UK. In response to disgruntled Tory MPs pointing the finger at Brussels, Tusk made clear that the EU would not be negotiating any aspect of Brexit until the UK has triggered Article 50. The fiasco could have been avoided and is a diplomatic embarrassment to the prime minister amid rising tensions with Brussels. 

3. David Davis, longstanding eurosceptic and passionate Leave campaigner, appeared to row back from his previous inferences about favouring a hard Brexit. This week he opened the door to two possibilities he had not previously acknowledged. The first came in the House of Commons, where he did not rule out making payments to the EU in return for access to the single market, potentially reneging on one of the Leave campaign’s core pledges. The second came at a CBI dinner, where he hinted that the government was considering plans to allow low-skilled migration to continue post-Brexit to prevent labour shortages.

4. Boris Johnson, who is no stranger to gaffes, helped undermine the government’s negotiating position when it was alleged that he expressed support for free movement at a private meeting with EU diplomats. Though he has strongly denied the reports, said to be confirmed by four ambassadors to the UK, rumours that the foreign secretary does not personally agree with one of the prime minister’s red lines on Brexit are far from the headlines she’d hope for.

5. To top it all off, May will be left without Christmas dinner. She will attend the December meeting of EU member states as usual but there will be one empty chair in the evening of the summit. In what looks like a deliberate snub, Donald Tusk did not include the prime minister in the invitation list of EU leaders attending an end of year dinner in Brussels. While all other 27 EU members will be present, Theresa May will start to get a taste of what it’s like not to sit round the decision-makers’ table.

by Rachel Franklin | 02.12.2016


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