What next for Brexit?
Keir Starmer, Malcolm Rif kind and more,
Malcolm Rifkind No Johnson, no Davis: now the cabinet will be stronger
I am, perhaps, more relaxed than I should be over
Boris Johnson’s and David Davis’s departures. The resignations of the foreign and Brexit secretaries are causing a short-term crisis, but a very large majority of Conservative MPs do not support them.
Davis’s resignation is more principled. He offered it at a time when his Brexit colleagues appeared to have reached a separate decision. As the person required to take forward the negotiation it is understandable that he decided to call it a day. Johnson’s behaviour has been disgraceful. Having insulted the prime minister at Chequers he then found, over dinner that evening, unconvincing reasons for continuing in her cabinet. Now he lamely follows in Davis’s wake.
On this occasion he might think that Michael Gove has again stabbed him in the back by supporting the prime minister and not his fellow Brexiteers after the Chequers summit. However, he should remember Churchill’s wise advice that politicians should not commit suicide because they might live to regret it.
In the longer term the most important development today is not Johnson’s or Davis’s departure, but Dominic Raab’s arrival. Raab was a powerful and convinced advocate of departing from the EU. But he has a passion for work, intelligence and an attention to detail. The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, will be dealing with a fellow professional rather than a relative lightweight.
But there is one further point. If Raab succeeds in his mission, we will have a highly credible new potential successor to the prime minister. John Major came from behind to claim the crown from Margaret Thatcher; this may be the day we see history repeating itself. Malcolm Rifkind, a former Conservative MP, was foreign secretary under John Major
Michael Fabricant I’m an ardent Brexiteer – this is a good compromise
So, have we Brexiteers got everything we wanted in the Chequers deal? In short, no. Not if Brexiteers expected the cleanest of breaks from Europe. But it probably was never going to be that way if we wanted to continue to trade seamlessly with the EU.
The departure of Boris Johnson from the cabinet is one I regret. He added life and colour. He prefers the broad picture, the principles, rather than the minutiae. The problem for him and others is that the deal being proposed is a necessarily complex one. For, like everything in life, nothing is black and white. And while it won’t satisfy the Trappist monk wing of Brexiteers who believe in the complete purity and absoluteness of Brexit, it will satisfy many who still want some sort of continuing relationship with the continent.
But the deal raises many questions that have yet to be answered.The “common rulebook” between Britain and the EU will ensure a commitment to the maintenance of high standards of consumer and employment rights, as well as protection of the environment. But will the rulebook stop us from making trade agreements with the US and elsewhere?
The EU is unlikely to reject May’s proposals out of hand. But what further compromises must be made for the EU to agree to these terms? At what point would we have to walk away? What are the red lines?
The biggest problem May now faces is selling this proposal to her MPs and the British public. Some will see it as a sell-out and a “grand betrayal”. As an ardent Brexiteer, I see the deal as a “grand compromise” – but one that restores the independence of the UK while boosting our domestic economy. Michael Fabricant is the Conservative MP for Lichfield
Keir Starmer This crisis is a direct result of a divided government
The resignation of David Davis was about the principle of the Chequers agreement. The resignation of Boris Johnson was about ambition. But both highlight the deep political fracture that lies at the heart of Theresa May’s broken government and constitute a clear vote of no confidence in the prime minister’s Brexit strategy. In truth such a moment has been inevitable.
After a divisive referendum, we needed a leader who would respect the result of the referendum but develop a future vision capable of uniting the country; where everyone could see their future, whichever way they voted. Instead, May presented her party and the country with an extreme interpretation of the referendum. Rash and reckless red lines were laid down that were never compatible with securing a good deal with the EU or speaking to a divided country.
The agreement struck at Chequers last Friday is flawed in many respects, but at least it appeared to be the first realisation that the approach May adopted two years ago was wrong. But even this modest shift has proved too much for some in the cabinet and the Conservative party.
The crisis unfolding now is a direct consequence of a divided government. It’s an impasse that cannot be resolved by further internal negotiation in the Tory party. May has kicked the can down the road on a number of occasions, but now she has run out of road.
It is now time for the majority in parliament to be heard: a majority that rejects the extreme approach to Brexit. May has shown she is incapable of negotiating a way forward. She should let parliament lead the way. Keir Starmer is the shadow Brexit secretary
Ian Birrell The foreign secretary again revealed his lack of principle
The resignation of Boris Johnson serves as a perfect metaphor for the tragedy and hypocrisy of Brexit. He once posed as a liberal, but now positions himself as populist leader of hard-right nationalists. He’s a former London mayor who said he was in favour of the single market but has quit over the prime minister’s attempt to find a way for British firms to trade with Europe while not breaking up the union.
But then Johnson only ever cares about one thing: himself. This self-serving charlatan has nothing but ambition coursing through his veins. He claims such passion for his nation that he quits as foreign secretary in the wake of a nerve agent attack which killed a British citizen and days before a Nato summit that could threaten the security of our continent. Johnson has been a disruptive force for months, sabotaging efforts to find a common path through the Brexit maze. Do not be fooled by his gags and classical quips, which only mask a calculating desperation for the top job. No wonder there is such corrosive distrust of Westminster.
Remember the bus, the claim of Brexit dividends, the talk of a Turkish migrant invasion. The reality is these people sold a pup, had no expectation of winning, and now their dreams are being dashed on the brutal rocks of reality. Instead of taking back control, Britain has been left poorer, weaker and will end up lacking sway over key rules impacting on our prosperity.
History will judge the Tories harshly over these events. The idea of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as party leader and prime minister is a bad joke. Yet again, he has exposed himself as a man lacking principles who will sacrifice anything from his party to his country on the altar of his ambition. Ian Birrell is a former speechwriter for David Cameron
Katy Balls The odds have shortened on a ‘no deal’ – and a ‘no Brexit’
For all the chaos David Davis’s resignation as Brexit secretary brought, it was unsurprising. The Conservative MP had threatened to quit many times. And ever since Theresa May brought him back to her frontbench, it’s been clear the pair were temperamentally ill-suited to working together. Where May obsesses over detail, Davis is a broad-brush politician and a gambler at heart.
As the Brexit negotiations progressed, it became clear that May came increasingly to rely upon civil servant Olly Robbins, whose name now amounts to an expletive in Brexiteer circles. Robbins spent more time in Brussels than Davis did. This tension has been exacerbated recently as Davis was left out of key Brexit decisions by No 10. Davis concluded he could no longer go out to bat on behalf of the government.
Davis’s decision petrified figures in No 10 – who must now quash a rebellion, with Boris Johnson following Davis’s lead and heading for the exit.
But the main reason Davis is currently walking around with no ministerial car is that he has failed to come up with any persuasive alternative to May’s plan in the past two years. Davis wanted a “Canada plus plus plus” deal, but at Chequers he failed to offer answers on how such an arrangement could be reconciled with no hard border in Ireland.
By choosing to walk out at such a pivotal point, he has thrown everything into chaos. He has encouraged others such as the foreign secretary to abandon ship – and more resignations can’t be ruled out. With the European Research Group of Brexiteer Tory MPs up in arms, there’s now the threat of a big Tory rebellion, but no clear alternative plan. Today, the chances of “no deal” and “no Brexit” have both gone up significantly. Katy Balls is the Spectator’s political correspondent
Theresa May with David Davis and Boris Johnson in 2016