Expert comment: instability in the British Government
Dramatic perturbations have recently occurred in the British government. But what does all this chaos stand for? We spoke to our expert Murad Muradov on the issue.
What stands behind the recent turmoil within the British government? Why have Ministers Davis and Johnson resigned?
As it is the case with most of the turbulent events in British politics, the trigger is definitely the Brexit debate. Both Davis and Johnson, Ministers for Brexit and Foreign Affairs respectively, were known as ardent supporters of “full” Brexit wherein the United Kingdom would be independent from Brussels in terms of its legislation and decision-making. Boris Johnson even put forward the concept of “Global Britain” which would engage with the world without any restrictions put by the European rules. So, when after the London-Brussels negotiations came to a complete stalemate and the British government felt rising pressure from the influential economic groups whose interests directly related to Britain remaining in the common European market, Prime Minister decided to concede and agree to a considerably softer Brexit scenario which she announced on the long government meeting on Friday, 6 July. Davis and Johnson, feeling unable to acquiesce, resigned afterwards, while the former MFA wrote an eloquent letter claiming that “the Brexit dream is gone”. However, when it comes to Mr. Johnson’s decision, his personal ambition must be taken into account too: it is well-known that he was ready to get into a power contest back in 2016, so probably his calculation is that taking a principled and uncompromised approach on Brexit may turn him into a leader of the Eurosceptic wing of the Tories and gain more popularity among the public. Hence, Boris Jonhson will still try to finally make it to the top of Westminster.
How do you estimate the prospects for Prime Minister Theresa May whose position has been long considered rather frail?
Immediately after the resignations, the talk of an inescapable no-confidence vote for Theresa May was ubiquitous. There are grounds to suggest that her days at the helm of Britain are soon to be over, of course: over the 2 years, she has shown herself as an inconsistent leader who lacks spontaneity and empathy and switches her position on the most important issue- Brexit- too often. However, these years have also revealed a deeper crisis of leadership in the country: the party heavyweights are too concerned with their personal ambition and turf to be able to forge a consistent strategy for the UK’s demanding negotiation process. What is even worse, this domestic situation, exacerbated also by the utter lack of a clear stance on Brexit within the Labour party, made it rational for Theresa May to obstinately stick to a “no-solution” scenario while selling it domestically as an act of principle and consistency. The internal party struggle has empowered very divisive, radical candidates, such as Mr. Rees-Mogg, an arch-conservative of the type much more common in the U.S. politics rather than in traditionally moderate Britain. While he is revered by the radical Brexiteers and social conservatives alike, a liberal, “Cameronite” wing of the Tories would never accept this man as a party leader. On the other hand, the Conservatives definitely do not want to make ground for new snap elections after the uninspiring performance last year. So, with all her faults, Theresa May is now perceived as a more or less safe choice, and it is likely to preserve her premiership for a while.
What, in your opinion, will be the continuation of the Brexit saga?
The current stage of the negotiations shows that the ball is on the European side and it is Brussels that has to take decisive steps. As I have mentioned above, the government has recently felt considerable pressure and is much more tolerant of the idea of “soft Brexit” that would keep Britain within the customs union, live the border with Ireland open etc. than it was even a month ago when “hard Brexit” was the major option on the table. However, Brussels has also shown itself as an intransigent negotiator and if it continues to put further and further demand, the re-radicalisation of the British position can be expected. Completely giving in all the European demands is hardly possible to sell for any British government and would probably result in its fall. So, although there are now clearer prospects for an eventual compromise, it hinges on the parties’ willingness to subdue the matters of prestige and authority to that of an efficient resolution. It is not guaranteed at all, given the weakness of the British government and the internal crisis in the EU which may prompt European leaders to play a hard line.