Brexit Between Scylla and Charybdis

On July 7, 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the government decision to negotiate a “soft Brexit,” after which two ministers left the cabinet and the government was on the verge of collapse. Elena Ananyeva, Head of the Center for British Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke in an interview with about the current political crisis in the UK, scenarios for its development and prospects for the power struggle.

On July 7, after many hours of the cabinet session, British Prime Minister Teresa May announced the so-called “soft Brexit,” which presumes the creation of a free trade zone with the European Union and a joint customs zone. Such a compromise solution did not satisfy anyone – neither the supporters of Brexit nor its opponents. “On July 9, two leading ministers left the cabinet – Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson,” Elena Ananyeva said. “Both are ‘Brexiteers’ and they came out in protest against Theresa May’s plan of negotiations with the EU, believing, that, as Davis said, Britain is ‘giving too much away, too easily.’ Boris Johnson is concerned that this version of agreement with the EU – if the EU agrees with this option – will not allow Britain to conclude its own agreements, for example, a planned trade deal with the United States.”

“This is the reason for their exit from the government: they did not want to be responsible for her policy,” the expert went on to say. “Theresa May quickly replaced them with people who will apparently follow her course without objections. It is another matter that several options are possible in the parliament. Theresa May went there to meet with the conservative faction to prevent a no-confidence vote. The fact is that according to the party rules it is enough that 15% of her faction should sign a statement demanding no-confidence to the leader. This means 48 MPs. So far, this vote has not been announced – it means that 48 applications are not collected. This does not mean that they cannot appear later, but it makes no sense for the Tories to change the party leader, which can lead to new early elections.”

“In fact, Theresa May’s message to the Tory MPs was: either me, or Jeremy Corbyn,” Ananyeva said. “She has been reiterating this since last autumn. May thinks that such crises can lead to early elections. The ‘Brexiteers’ in the parliament have another option: they cannot declare a no-confidence vote, but vote against her bill. And not only the Tories, but also the Labour MPs can vote against it. On July 10, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party with 35 seats in the parliament also said that she was not happy with this plan, although, responding to the aspirations of the Scots, most of whom are for EU membership, from her point of view, this plan is not sufficiently soft. Actually, both opposing groups are dissatisfied: the opponents of Britain’s membership in the EU consider the plan too soft, and supporters of Britain’s membership in the EU do not consider it too soft and are wondering if the game is worth the candle. Therefore, Boris Johnson is right in some respect, saying that this plan will make Britain an EU colony: after all, it turns out that Britain will essentially have to accept virtually all the conditions of the EU without having the right to vote there.”

As for the probability of a no-confidence vote, the Valdai Club expert believes that counting on some concrete result would be wrong, but points to a general conflicting atmosphere in the Conservative Party and the possibility of a new power struggle: “These 48 votes may be collected, or may not – it is difficult to say now. Logically, the change of the Tory leader is not beneficial for the party. However, emotions are now off scale. There is a serious split in the Conservative Party, and it has many ambitious members. It is enough to mention Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who did not speak about Brexit, but expressed his desire to become the party leader.”

Some observers think that if Teresa May gets a no-confidence vote, the “disgraced” Boris Johnson would have a serious chance to claim for premiership. However, Elena Ananyeva is skeptical about this: “Boris Johnson is not a favorite in the Conservative Party for a long time and is losing to other personalities. However, one cannot say whether some of these individuals have firm support – especially when in such heated atmosphere everything can happen, so any forecasts will inevitably mean guessing on the coffee grounds.”

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.