Unity to Crisis

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Posted on July 9, 2018

Having bullied, cajoled, and threatened her Cabinet to support what has become known as Brexit in name only on Friday at her Prime Minister’s retreat Chequers, the Prime Minister now sees herself again under pressure as her Brexit Minister, David Davis, walks away. He is to be replaced by ex-diplomat and Brexiteer, Dominic Raab. His appointment comes with the expectation that he is on side with the agreed Cabinet position on how to leave the European Union (EU).

On Friday, the ‘agreed Cabinet position’ was released as follows and which has become known as a soft Brexit:

  1. Agree to remain within a harmonization or common rulebook for all goods including agriculture, thus avoiding friction at the UK’s borders;
  2. UK standards on consumer protection, employment laws, environment, etc. would not fall below current agreements;
  3. Services, which make up the majority of the UK’s economy would be subject to as yet unspecified ‘looser arrangements’;
  4. A ‘joint institutional framework’ would interpret current agreements with decisions in the UK courts paying due regard to EU case law;
  5. Creation of a ‘combined customs territory’ where the UK would apply domestic tariffs and trade policies for goods entering the UK, and EU equivalents for goods heading into the EU. The main reason for this is to prevent a hard land border with Northern Ireland;
  6. A yet to be clearly decided ‘mobility framework’ allowing ‘easy’ movement to come and study and work in the UK.

This will all end up in a Government White Paper due to be published this week.

So that is where the UK’s position landed on Friday evening. Of course, Brexiteers were predictably incensed and vowed to vote against the government.

Fast forward to midnight of Sunday evening when David Davis, one of Brexit’s main protagonists and Minister responsible for the UK leaving the EU, handed in his resignation, bringing the government to crisis point. He was joined by a couple of his department’s other junior ministers.

For the last few months, he had been sidelined in the negotiations, leaving most of the heavy lifting to his civil servants. He had only been to Brussels twice in 2018. There were rumours that he was looking to quit before, but knowing he would find it impossible to promote the UK agreed line (so far), he resigned. Since he has left Government, he has since made a statement that he supports the PM, but not the agreed Cabinet position on leaving the EU. Davis’ critics have been quick to point out that he discovered that Brexit was indeed Mission Impossible.

So where does this leave the UK?

  1. If at least 48 Conservative backbenchers (i.e. not Cabinet Ministers) sign up, they can trigger a no confidence vote for the PM, forcing her to step down. This is unlikely, although not impossible albeit suicidal so close to the UK leaving the EU;
  2. The PM knows she has the votes across Parliament for a ’soft Brexit’ and is therefore pretty certain to get Parliamentary approval;
  3. The EU will certainly reject many of the UK government’s proposals. In their view, many would be unworkable or incompatible with the EU’s four principle framework. This will be handy for the Brexiteers should it all go south and they can blame the EU for the economic and social damage;
  4. There is a real fear that the Conservatives will hand power to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and therefore will want to minimize the damage;
  5. There could well be further Cabinet resignations. It’s marginal whether Boris Johnson would be more damaging outside government given his disdain and lack of support for the PM. But as we have said since the Referendum in June 2016, it is all about how he becomes Prime Minister. The sense now is that he has blown any chance of leading the Party and he is considered by many to be a laughing stock.

Further to this dynamic, U.S. President Donald Trump is in the UK this week, giving the UK government enough to worry about besides the Russians also appearing to have claimed their first Novichok victim. This is (Un)real politiks of the twenty first century.

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