United Kingdom: Turmoil over Brexit resignations
Two years after Britain voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May has finally cobbled together a Brexit plan, said Aletha Adu in The Sun. But it could bring down her Conservative government. During a meeting last week at the prime minister’s country residence of Chequers, May’s cabinet endorsed her vision of a “soft” Brexit agreement that would keep the U.K. “closely tied to Brussels” after it quits the EU next March. Under that deal, if Brussels accepts it, British producers would have to abide by the bloc’s rules on goods, and while the U.K. would leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, a new U.K.-EU joint committee would follow EU precedent in ruling on disputes. To avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—an EU member—Britain would effectively stay in the EU’s customs union and collect tariffs on behalf of the bloc. Supporters of a “hard” Brexit—who want a clean break with the EU—soon had second thoughts about the plan. Brexit Minister David Davis resigned two days later, saying he couldn’t negotiate an exit deal with the EU that he didn’t support. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson quit the next day, saying May’s plan would consign the U.K. to “the status of colony.”
These resignations are more evidence of May’s ineptitude as a leader, said Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. “Paranoid and controlling,” she tried to bully the hard Brexit supporters into accepting her plan, assuming they would not dare try to challenge her leadership so close to the final Brexit date. Ministers were even told that if they resigned at Chequers, they would lose their ministerial cars and have to cab it back to London. So they simply went home and quit. Then this week, May went to Parliament to “defend a plan that her most important foreign officials had just declared is a dud.” Trying to laugh with confidence, she “came off looking quite, quite mad.”
She should have fired both men, said Jonn Elledge in NewStatesman.com. Davis never handled his role with the seriousness it required, while Johnson is a pompous embarrassment who “treats politics as a game.” Why wasn’t the foreign secretary huddled with security officials last weekend to discuss the recent death of a British woman poisoned by a Russian nerve agent? Because he “was holed up with his political advisers, discussing the more important matter of his own future.” Johnson dreams of replacing May and pushing a hard Brexit, but the party isn’t interested, said former Conservative parliamentarian Malcolm Rifkind in The Guardian. Most Conservative lawmakers recognize that crashing out of the EU without some sort of transitional trade deal would result in tens of thousands of lost British jobs. With troublemakers like Johnson now out of the way, May should find it easier to pursue the “pragmatic British strategy” she outlined at Chequers. For both the U.K. and the EU, that is cause for optimism.