The government is disintegrating - what does this mean for Brexit?
So, less than 24 hours after Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned from his post, and just a few hours after Dominic Raab was unveiled as his successor, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also resigned from the government.
It’s just a few hours since we analysed the potential ramifications of David Davis’ departure from his post - and Johnson departing was one of them:
If you think that he puts career before country,* then Johnson has to resign. He can't allow Davis to outflank him on the Brexit right, and be left in the middle, neither a leaver nor a remainer, mistrusted by all.— Nick Cohen (@NickCohen4) July 9, 2018
*And I do.
So what on earth happens now?
Why has Boris Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary?
For the same reasons as David Davis. Theresa May convened her cabinet at the Prime Minister’s country retreat Chequers and managed to convince them to agree to a way forward for a future relationship with the EU after the United Kingdom leaves in March 2019; namely, a ‘third way’, which has been termed a ‘facilitated customs arrangement’.
This would see goods charged at the UK tariff at the border - instead of the EU rate - and then if they were then sent on to Europe, they would then be charged the EU tariff upon exit. However, Britain would be beholden not to deviate from EU standards on goods, so would not be able to change regulations in any other trade deal. Thus, any new trade deals that the UK agreed with other countries would see us able to alter our tariffs, but not our standards. It would have solved the Irish border issue, but left the UK still under many of the EU’s rules.
It is worth noting that achieving even this aim would have been subject to the EU agreeing to it, and with every chance that they would have negotiated it to a position more favourable to themselves.
However, this was not deemed acceptable by Davis, with other hardline Brexiters agreeing with him, arguing for a clean break to give the country maximum freedom to alter whatever we desire - ‘full control’ to use a referendum slogan.
Now, instead of toeing the government’s line, Johnson has made a play for his own political future in order to lead the hardline Brexit argument, much as he did in the original referendum.
He has always been an uneasy fit in the government, with many incredulous when he was given the post of Foreign Secretary following his previous history of insulting gaffes towards other nations and cultures. Of course, with Theresa May an historic Remainer, and Johnson having been very briefly in the running for Prime Minister - before he was stabbed in the back by Michael Gove running instead - it was merely a marriage of convenience, with May aiming to keep her enemies close, and to placate Brexiters by giving one of their most prominent politicians a big job.
Where does this leave Brexit?
Undoubtedly, in even more of a mess than a few short hours ago when Davis resigned.
Make no mistake, this a stark situation. Johnson and Davis are effectively saying that any compromise which leaves the UK in the EU’s orbit is unacceptable - no matter what the undoubted cost, and likely disaster of a ‘no deal’ scenario would be in March 2019.
Theresa May’s solution was arguably as best a compromise as she could work within her own party to enable the UK to reach any sort of trade deal with the EU and solve the Irish border issue - and that has not been deemed enough by Johnson and Davis.
What happens next?
Speculation is perhaps unwise in such chaotic political times, but it now seems inconceivable that there won’t be a vote of no confidence in Theresa May. This was her desperate last attempt to find a unified negotiating position and it has failed.
Assuming that enough Tory MPs will follow Johnson and Davis - and that’s a fairly safe assumption to make - the vote will pass and there will be another leadership election for the Conservatives. May will likely stand, with other contenders likely to be Johnson and ultra hardliner Jacob Rees-Mogg. It is unlikely that Michael Gove will stab Boris twice (but one can never rule it out), so expect Gove to support a Johnson bid.
After that? May could win, and would then be reemboldened to continue along the ‘facilitated customs arrangement’ path with opponents finally silenced. Or Johnson could win, and a ‘no deal’ Brexit would suddenly become highly probable.
Should anyone other than May win, a general election would be highly likely. Since a ‘no deal’ scenario would lead to a hard border in Ireland when the UK leaves the bloc in March it’s likely that the DUP would withdraw their support, which would leave the Tory government without a majority. In addition, there could be no way that a leader unelected by the wider public would have the credibility to decide the UK’s future relationship with the EU - for a start it would make a mockery of the talks of ‘respecting democracy’ that go hand-in-hand with any Brexit discussion.
Depending on Jeremy Corbyn’s position - so far he has wisely decided against putting his chips on any position, instead waiting for the Tories to implode, which is exactly what has happened - it could turn the general election into an unofficial second referendum: back Johnson’s Conservatives and you’re essentially voting for a hard Brexit, or vote for Corbyn’s Labour and you’re effectively voting for some sort of soft version of Brexit (if his position remains the same as it is currently).
And if Corbyn were to win (and this is still quite a bit ’if’ at this point), having promised Parliament a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final deal, there’s every chance it could extend to an actual second referendum for the public to ratify the final deal - or to call the whole thing off and stay in the EU.
Of course, Corbyn, personally, holds anti-EU views, so he may be reluctant to back anything that could lead to the Brexit vote being reversed - not to mention the fact that Labour has MPs in many areas that voted Leave. So, should Labour win power, it could face exactly the same issues as are currently blighting the Tories.
Oh, and we have eight months to sort this all out. Good luck everyone.