Brexit: What The Devil Is Going On?
The resignations and the rage. How the greatest shambles in European Union history unfolded.
It's been everything but business as usual for the British government of late.
Last week Theresa May lost not one, but two key members of cabinet in Brexit strategy disputes. Brexit secretary David Davies resigned from his role on Sunday and was promptly followed by foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
Both Davies and Johnson are vocal Brexit supporters, however, they don't support Theresa May's 'soft Brexit' strategy which could see the UK remain in trade agreements with the European Union.
The recent resignations have reignited speculation that May's days in office could be numbered and chief among her challengers is none other than Boris Johnson.
He's pretty popular among the Tories and is a pioneer for a 'hard Brexit' and while it appears his resignation was made without a short term plan many other Brexit supporters have been encouraged by his move. Johnson could be a serious threat to Theresa May, as his resignation undermines her Brexit plans just months before negotiations are set to warp up with Brussels in October.
In his resignation letter, Johnson said that the dream of Brexit is "dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt". He also said that with May's current Brexit plan, the UK was "headed for the status of a colony".
It's been a dramatic few days influenced buy the controversy of the last two years so you'll be forgiven for asking, how did the UK get here?
What the devil is going on?
Why Did The UK Want To Leave The European Union In The First Place?
Economics. Immigration. Identity.
These were three major issues that drove citizens of the UK to vote to leave the European Union.
Economics -- This issue surrounded the amount of money the UK was sending to the EU as part of their membership. The Leave campaign argued that money paid to the EU could be better used domestically. The Remain campaign argued that leaving the European common market could damage the British economy as they could be subject to higher trade fees among other things.
Immigration -- This was one of the most important topics for voters as European laws allow citizens to live and work in any other European country. The Leave campaign said the EU immigration policy was out of control, which is driven by German Chancellor Angela Merkel , the pioneer of the open door policy. The Remain campaign emphasised the benefits of having migrants working in the UK and also the opportunities UK citizens gain from having workers rights in 27 other nations.
Identity -- The identity question asked people of the UK what kind of people did they want to be? Independent? Worldly? European? The Leavers said that separating from the EU would allow the UK to take control of their sovereignty and their own destiny. The Remain camp were more community minded, and wanted the UK defined broadly as Europe and advocated for countries who are geographically close to work together.
what Happened When They Voted?
The Leave vote won plus Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, which is how May secured the top job.
But, it was pretty close.
The vote was scheduled for June 23, 2016 and leave won marginally with 51.9 percent of the vote. 48.1 percent of voters said they wanted to remain. The turn out for the referendum was 30 million people.
The UK official departure from the European Union is scheduled for Friday 29 March, 2019.
Since the vote the EU and the UK have decided on three 'divorce' issues which include, what will happen at the North/South Ireland border, how much money the UK owes the EU and what happens to all the UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK.
Once these have been resolved the 'transition' period will come into place which functions as a time for businesses and people to prepare themselves for a time when the new post-Brexit laws between the EU and the UK come into play. This date is set for December 31, 2020.
What's A 'Hard Brexit' And What's A 'Soft Brexit'?
There were plenty of things -- and apparently there still are -- for the British government to decide upon and discuss with the European Union about how exactly they plan to sever ties with group of nations. These options became grouped into what is known as 'hard Brexit' and 'soft Brexit' and they generally relate to the how close the relationship between the EU and the UK will be post-Brexit.
British PM Theresa May has opted for more of a 'soft Brexit' approach, which prompted Boris Johnson and David Davies to resign. Speaking in UK parliament on July 2, May outlined her plan for Brexit.
"There has been much jocularity about the term 'Brexit means Brexit' but it does mean Brexit," May told parliament.
"People want to ensure that we take control of our borders, our laws and that we no longer continue to send vast sums of money to the European Union each year. We will be coming out of the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy but we will be ensuring that we are able to trade with the European Union and set and independent trade policy which enable us to negotiate good trade deals around the rest of the world."
This is more in-line with 'soft' approach that would see the UK keep close ties with the EU mainly through some kind of trade agreement.
The 'hard' approach would include no compromise on issues like a single EU trade market and the free movement of people. This would mean that a trade deal would have been negotiated post-Brexit and would see tariffs between the EU and the UK be put in place.
Is Theresa May's Leadership In Danger?
It's important to note that Theresa May voted to remain during the referendum, but says she is now in favour of Brexit because it is what the people desire. May took over from David Cameron, who resigned as Prime Minister when the Leave campaign won.
In 2017, May called a snap election even though it wasn't due until 2020. She wanted to strengthen her party's position on Brexit, but ended up losing seats instead. She then joined with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists Party to form government.
Now that Johnson and Davies, two of Brexit's biggest supporters have resigned, May is left with the ever-growing task of getting government to unite over a Brexit strategy. There's also been speculation about how this most recent bout of resignations affects May's leadership stability and authority. There have been no formal leadership challenges at this stage, but May's spokesperson said she would fight any attempts to oust her.
What Does The European Union Think About All This?
Essentially, Brussels is less than impressed.
European Council president Donald Tusk expressed his frustration following the resignation of Boris Johnson and David Davies saying it's a shame the “idea of Brexit has not left together with David Davis”.
“The mess caused by Brexit is the biggest problem in the history of EU-UK relations and it is still very far from being resolved, with or without Mr Davis” Tusk said.
EU Commission's chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said that Johnson's or Davies' resignation isn't a problem from the EU perspective and he reiterated that officials in Brussels are always available for continue negotiations.
“We are here to work,” Schinas told reporters on Monday.
“I think it matters a lot for the UK side because this is the person that would be the counterpart to our chief negotiator, and I think it matters a lot."
So it really is a bit of a shambles. In the hours following Johnson's resignation, May appointed Jeremy Hunt as the new foreign secretary as she attempts to get the government crisis under control.
Both the government and the opposition say that Brexit is definitely still happening and the focus between elected politicians is what the relationship between the UK and the EU will look like in the future.
With a weakened government, speculation about her leadership and the EU not impressed there is only one thing Theresa May can do.
Keep calm and carry on.