May vs Hardliners
British PM Theresa May (Photo: AFP)
The government of Theresa May has been jolted to its foundations and Whitehall faces the gravest crisis in the two years since the Brexit referendum. However much the Prime Minister may have tried to hold the Conservative party together, Monday’s resignation of the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, close on the heels of the stepping down of the Brexit Secretary, David Davis , would suggest that Mrs May will have to win the battle on two fronts ~ on Brexit vis-a-vis Europe and no less crucially the battle against the diehards in the “Leave” camp.
Palpably enough, last week’s agreement at Chequers has served to bring matters to a head and it is now obvious that both Mr Johnson and Mr Davis were opposed to what they had binned as a “sell-out” that Mrs May had recommended as a patchwork quilt towards the consummation.
The Prime Minister is reported to have persuaded her cabinet to “blur some of the red lines”, clarify the vagueness, and make some of the choices that are required for the frictionless post-Brexit relationship with the European Union that she rightly prefers, verily a compromise, if not a halfway-house. After two years in 10 Downing Street, she has now realised that the inhouse political cost can be considerable. And it shall not be easy to shore up Britain’s standing in the perspective of the EU headquarters in Brussels.
Speculation that there may be more resignations are not wholly unfounded; as things stand, a vote of confidence in Mrs May cannot be ruled out. It is open to question whether the hardliners in the “Leave” segment will allow Mrs May to helm the government with a nuanced Brexit policy that is apparently pro-Europe. Should the pragmatic school of hardliners have their way, it is bound to denude the position of the Tories as a party of government.
Politics is in a flux at Westminster and the core issue now is whether the May camp has the power to prevent the anti-European, anti-regulatory, English nationalist segment of the party from vetoing what the Prime Minister seeks to do. It might sound uncharitable but nevertheless is true that the soul of the party may be at stake. The break with Europe remains an uncertain quantity not least because the government’s existence depends on Brexit. Mr Davis has resigned on a matter of policy.
He had an issue with the new Customs arrangement and disliked the role that the European Court of Justice might play in arbitrating future trade rules. At another remove, the resignation of Mr Johnson ~ often lampooned as an “embarrassingly useless foreign secretary” ~ can have an impact both on Brexit and Mrs May’s political future.
He had diminished Britain’s standing in the world and his own reputation by his style of functioning, not least by his praise for Donald Trump. Both resignations are nearly as serious as the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016. The UK has been buffeting since that momentous day.