Jacob F. Farr
Naked Politics Blogger
The government has just experienced it’s most tumultuous and absurd 24 hours just three days after the Conservative cabinet had apparently agreed on a common Brexit policy at Chequers.
In a embaressing turn of events on Sunday night the then secretary of the Department for Exiting The European Union, David Davis, resigned along with his deputy, Steve Baker.
As soon as the media and public began to digest the news another bombshell had been dropped, Boris Johnson the Foreign Secretary, also resigned, citing that “the Brexit dream is dying” and “being needlessly suffocated by self-doubt” in his resignation letter. So what does this all mean and what happens next?
May left the Chequers crunch talks having appeared to have done the impossible: unite the government behind a Brexit policy. Media over the weekend had reported on the events as if the staunchest of Brexiters had come on side and acknowledged that compromise was necessary. Michael Gove publicly backed the Prime Minister at the first opportunity and urged his colleagues to do the same. Meanwhile it was reported that Boris was speaking passionately as the evening wore on about making the plan work.
By midnight on Monday morning everything appeared to have changed. David Davis had been heard throughout the weekend stating that he had been kept out of the loop and that the agreement reached was a Brexit in name only.
He stood little chance of making an impact as Secretary for Leaving the EU due to the government’s lack of a coherent plan. Davis found himself incapable of breaking away from the ties to the hard-core Brexiters in an apparent neutral role within the government. Chequers simply forced the inevitable hand he would have to play.
Number two in the brexit department, Steve Baker, a supposed up and coming member of the Conservative party and passionate Brexiter, followed his former boss in stepping aside for someone capable of delivering May’s supposed softer Brexit. Baker in an interview with the BBC reckons that the Chequers agreement “blindsided” his department and what was said to the Cabinet on Friday was in direct conflict with what was being drafted in the White Paper.
What about Boris?
Yesterday afternoon news broke that the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had resigned. This came as a shock but not a surprise. It was well circulated that Davis had perhaps forced Johnson’s hand. Johnson had long been May’s chief opponent when ever she attempted to find common ground on Brexit; a mantle he was long proud of and if resignation letters are anything to go by, a mantle he would like to hold onto. “It is as though we are sending our vanguard into battle with the white flag fluttering above them”, citing the weak position we were putting ourselves in when starting negotiations Davis and Johnson both shared the idea that the UK would become a “vassal state”- the same kind of language that chief Brexiters like Jacob Rees-Mogg have often muttered.
What does it all mean?
These three resignations were an attempt to stop what they see as a Brexit that does not deliver on the will of the people. If they had not made this move, then it was almost certain that the policy would have been adopted and ran with. That is until the EU inevitably reject the stance as being too similar to what was offered almost a year ago. Any talk of a unified position coming out of the meetings with the 1922 committee on Monday evening was wishful.
What can and will be achieved by these resignations and the pressure asserted by Brexiters is unclear. However what we have learned is that Brexit is going to be all but impossible without a second say from the public. Labour is divided amongst MP’s representing leave areas and those set on a deal to leave the EU passing “The Six Tests”; the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MP’s are likely to vote in their national interests; whilst the Conservatives are divided between a Brexit that means closer ties with Europe and one that means severing them to the greatest extent.
A leadership challenge is highly unlikely due to the precarious nature of the government’s majority. Not to mention that the hard-core Brexiters are too few in parliament to be able to push through their desired goals.
The resignations in the last 24 hours have only compounded the fact that Brexit is an unsolvable riddle. Theresa May has suffered a body blow and the whole of British politics now looks more lost on Brexit than we were the morning of the referendum result.