Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE)- Only 48 hours after trying to force a joint approach on Brexit onto her cabinet colleagues, Theresa May has lost two of her most senior ministers. First David Davies the Minister responsible for Brexit negotiations and then a day later Boris Johnson the Foreign Secretary. Davis was followed by his deputy Steve Baker. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson then followed and what was a big bump in the road became a cabinet crisis.
The two leading ministers maintain that May is giving away too much to the EU too easily and is not taking full advantage of the strong UK bargaining position. Mrs. May’s government is promising to pay 40 billion Euros to an EU that is strapped for cash. Her critics say she can call the shots if she wants to but she is too afraid of upsetting big business who themselves are afraid of short term trading turbulence. Her critics see long term advantages for Britain bearing in mind that most trade growth in the coming years will come from outside a largely stagnant European economy. David Davis has objected to the way Mrs. May’s office constantly interfered with negotiations he was supposed to be running and he said he could not in all conscience back the cabinet compromise the Prime Minister forced through because he said it was ‘unworkable’.
The governing Conservative party is wracked by divisions over Brexit and national sovereignty that cut across party lines. MPs in constituencies where voters want to remain in the EU inevitably adopt a pro-remain position. Similarly, where there is a big pro Brexit vote MPs will be pro Brexit. However, in theory all Conservative MPs were elected supporting a party manifesto that made it clear that Brexit was party policy and are committed to this. The divisions are common to many western countries were a large percentage of voters uncomfortable with internationalisation and globalization and all their consequences feel ignored by government.
The Labour opposition is not in much better shape but can more easily adopt fuzzy compromises because they do not have to deal with a European Commission famous for its devious negotiating tactics. On this occasion the European Union is remaining tight lipped and keeping out of the argument.
The resignation of Boris Johnson, who is reputed to have ambitions to be Prime Minister, indicates that a leadership challenge may not be far off. His strength is that he is popular in the country even if some MPs regard him as an opportunist and a loose cannon. He showed in his two terms as Mayor of London that he is a real popular leader. His comment that the compromise reached in the cabinet was like “polishing a turd” indicated that he is prepared tackle the Prime Minister head on. On the other hand, back bencher Jacob Rees-Mogg who leads a group of sixty or more Conservative MPs outside the government has said that he wants “changed policies not changed leaders”. He thinks Mrs. May is listening too much to the senior Civil Servants who never wanted Brexit and aim to keep Britain as close to the European Union as possible. He no doubt feels that triggering a General Election would be disastrous for the country and his party.
The situation remains highly volatile and it is not clear how the situation will develop even over the next few days. Mrs. May’s strength is that there is no obvious agreed alternative to her and she may be able to rely on some Labour votes to get her proposals through parliament. However according to a new Sky Data opinion poll some 64% of Britons do not trust her to run Brexit negotiations - up 31% from when the question was asked in March 2017.