By Campaign Agent Imogen Granger
Increasing tension within the Conservative Party has been a significant characteristic of the ongoing Brexit deal. The Prime Minister has had a tough time battling to keep all sides of the party in check whilst simultaneously making progression with what seem like never ending negotiations. The recent Chequers summit, in which Teresa May pitched the freshly devised ‘third model’ for leaving the EU, has proved to be the catalyst triggering tension to erupt and cause political chaos, as both David Davies and Boris Johnson successively resigned.
Leading a party divided by the most important issue facing the UKs political agenda has not been an easy task. May’s cabinet is rightfully wholly representative of the party (and the nations) varied views on Brexit, being 50/50 Remainers and Brexiteers. However, pressure from prominent Eurosceptic ministers such as David Davies and Boris Johnson, as well as backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, has proved troublesome for the PM. Leading up to the Chequers meeting, Rees-Mogg, an ardent Brexiteer, threatened a backbench rebellion and to vote against the PMs proposed Brexit deal if she were to break her promise to deliver a ‘clean break’ with the EU.
Since the decision to leave the EU, these Brexiteers have pushed for a ‘hard’ Brexit, meaning one in which the UK leaves the EU Single Market and Customs Union. Membership of the Single Market means there are no taxes and tariffs on trade between the 28 EU members, and membership of the Customs Union means members agree to the same tariffs on goods coming from elsewhere in the world. Thus, these Eurosceptics also want the ability and freedom to trade with any state and to restrict the free movement of people, powers which might be limited by a ‘soft’ Brexit.
So, what exactly happened during this 12-hour meeting with the PM which caused all this chaos? Summing it up in an interview with the BBC, May stated that the cabinet had reached a “collective agreement”. This agreement consists of plans to create a UK/EU free trade area which requires the approval of parliament. May argues that this will avoid friction with trade and protect jobs and livelihoods whilst also meeting commitments made to Northern Ireland. This is alongside a ‘business friendly’ Customs Model which will grant the UK the ability to trade around the world.
Yet, while the PM wanted to paint the picture that an agreement had been made and progress was to follow, many Brexiteers left the country retreat feeling outnumbered and disappointed. The following day the press released a private statement by Boris Johnson saying that attempting to sell the PMs Brexit plan would be like ‘polishing a turd’ which accompanied his resignation later that day. Similarly, David Davies, the PMs very own Brexit Secretary, resigned from his position that same day, claiming that the deal would leave the UK vulnerable and therefore one which he could no longer back.
What followed these resignations was a speedy reshuffle, with Dominic Raab being made Brexit Secretary and Jeremy Hunt replacing Johnson as Foreign Secretary. While it has been no secret that Davies and Johnson have opposed the PMs views on Brexit it is plausible that resignations like these were planned for and contingencies were in place.
Although resignations are never good for the strength and moral of a party, arguably the absence of these two Brexiteers will make the PMs life a lot easier. Raab and Hunt have less hardened Eurosceptic views and so represent less of a threat to May’s leadership and Brexit plans. Entering into this new phase of negotiations with a more unified Cabinet, with less dissent from prominent ministers, might mean that the deal can be more readily completed, and the final deal in sight.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Steven Swinford, ‘Jacob Rees-Mogg: Theresa May must keep her Brexit customs union promise or risk revolt by Tory MPs’, The Telegraph (2 July 2018)
- ‘Brexit customs plan will offer 'best of both worlds'’, BBC News (2 July 2018)
- ‘Brexit: Cabinet agrees 'collective' stance on future EU deal’, BBC News (7 July 2018)
- Heather Stewart, Pippa Crerar & Dan Sabbagh, ‘May's plan 'sticks in the throat', says Boris Johnson as he resigns over Brexit’, The Guardian (9 July 2018)
- ‘Why have David Davis and Boris Johnson resigned?’, The Week (9 July 2018)
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