Brexit Brief: Brexiteers Walk

The British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and the Foreign Secretary have resigned from the government, saying they cannot support the prime minister’s Brexit policy — which only managed to secure cabinet approval on Friday.

Brexit, Foreign Secretaries Resign…

The British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and the Foreign Secretary have resigned from the government, saying they cannot support the prime minister’s Brexit policy — which only managed to secure cabinet approval on Friday. Former Brexit secretary David Davis resigned overnight on Sunday, writing to the prime minister that she had already conceded too much in the Brexit negotiations, over which he felt he had no real influence.  Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson resigned dramatically on Tuesday. Johnson told the prime minister the UK was “heading for the status of a colony.” He said he tried to support the Chequers compromise reached last Friday (on which more below) and, while “government now has a song to sing,” he had “practised the words… and found they stuck in the throat.”

… Prompting Even More Questions About May’s Future…

The resignations bring us back to a recurring question in UK politics: can May survive?  Her leading Brexiteers have resigned, effectively accusing her of reneging on her mantra: “Brexit means Brexit.”  Some Brexit-leaning backbench MPs are in uproar and are rumoured to have enough support to trigger a leadership contest. However, it’s unlikely they’d have the votes to win a contest, and May has let it be known she would fight. In the absence of viable candidates to replace her and with no wing of the party keen for a general election, May’s hold on the Conservative party is secure for now. The prime minister has been told that unless her policy changes, she will see more high-level resignations. While people have left junior positions within the Conservative party and other parliamentary ministerial aides have walked, there are still at least six Leave-backing ministers in the cabinet who are under constant watch for hints of a coming resignation.

May’s Policy Holds – For Now

The cabinet — or at least, as previously constituted — signed off on May’s policy in the prime minister’s country retreat, Chequers. More than two years after the referendum result, May presented a hard-won compromise among her cabinet ministers for a “EU-UK Free Trade Area” based on a “common rulebook” in goods and agriculture. Such an agreement, combined with an unprecedented level of customs cooperation, would eliminate the need for a border in the island of Ireland, although the agreement does not allow for current levels of market access in the service sector. However, committing to indefinite, ongoing alignment with agricultural standards would likely preclude a deal with the US — a sacrifice too far for Johnson and Davis. Curiously, the man who would negotiate such a deal, International Trade Secretary and ardent Brexiteer Liam Fox, has not come to the same conclusion, and has been defending both the deal and May.

Reshuffle Changes Digital Portfolio

Davis was joined in his walkout by two other Brexit ministers and has been replaced by Dominic Raab, previously housing minister. Johnson has been replaced by Jeremy Hunt, promoted from health. The UK’s digital ministry has also been reshuffled. Its secretary of state, Matt Hancock – having only secured the top job in the department six months ago – takes health. His replacement is Jeremy Wright, former attorney-general.

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