Following the emergence of a soft-Brexit Chequers deal earlier this week, May’s cabinet has taken several blows. Most notably, the Conservative administration has suffered at the hands of the resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (who was quick to follow the former’s lead). The latter has been a figure of controversy in both politics and his early career as a journalist for The Times and The Daily Telegraph. But what is it that made Johnson leave the Conservative cabinet this week? And more broadly, why is Theresa May’s leadership causing so much unrest amongst her party over the UK’s transition to a non-EU state?
Boris Johnson is a bit like marmite to use the most obvious analogy, some people love him – they think he is rather funny and entertaining as far as politicians go – others loathe him for his elitist tendencies and the cronyism that comes hand in hand with them. His resignation follows a two-pronged policy shift that has significantly changed the UK’s position on Brexit. The first element of this shift includes a proposal of a “free trade area for goods”. This would effectively maintain the EU’s control over trade customs and the regulation of products even after the UK leaves the organisation. To many this means that we will still be a rule-taker of the EU, and not an independent rule-maker.
The second shift involves EU law, and May’s most recent proposal suggests that UK courts would continue to take into account rulings made by the European Court of Justice – and therefore, would not be acting completely separately from the EU as some of those who voted to leave would hope.
It is easy to see why Johnson wouldn’t take to this softer Brexit stance as a man who could be recognised as the most obvious and legitimate leader of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign in 2016 bar Nigel Farage. In the letter that he submitted to May that he later posted on his verified twitter page, we see the MP of Uxbridge and South Ruislip refer to the UK’s declining condition as “headed for the status of a colony”. An ironic choice of words considering ‘Great’ Britain has invaded around 90% of the globe throughout its history. This cruel hint of colonial nostalgia attempts to draw a distinction between the power that Britain once had as the mother-country of an empire and the UK’s current weak position on the global stage. A position that is most definitely deteriorating and unsurprisingly so after its decision to opt out of one of the most powerful social and economic organisations in the world.
Boris Johnson’s resignation is telling of his vision for Brexit, one that is filled with glory and extended authority. The reality is that the UK is nothing more than a pawn in wider international politics, a lapdog for the US. Brexit does not mean more power, it means desolation. Theresa May’s decision to soften the Brexit-deal is necessary for the UK’s future because any hope of maintaining economic and legal connections with the EU is better than cutting ties completely. Undoing framework that has been in place since 1973 is not as easy as declaring ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and Whitehall is finally realising this.
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