13 June 2017
Thursday’s general election left Theresa May wounded, with many calling for the Prime Minister to resign. Instead, she has reshuffled the cabinet and the results aren’t pretty.
Despite the prime minister’s diminished position, Brexit remains the chief goal of the government for the next two years. With Article 50 already triggered, the countdown to exit has begun. The messy result of the general election provoked European Council President Donald Tusk to warn that “we don’t know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end. Do your best to avoid a ‘no deal’ as a result of ‘no negotiations”. Barring the unanimous assent of EU member states, Britain will leave the crumbling bloc by April 2019 whether a deal has been reached or not. Time is of the essence.
It’s bizarre, then, that Theresa May has cleaned house at the Brexit department mere days before talks are due to begin with Brussels. While David Davis clings on as Brexit Secretary – despite suggestions that Mrs May would use an enhanced majority to oust him – she has sacked trusted Brexiteer David Jones, replacing him as Minister of State for Brexit with known Remainer Baroness Anelay.
The decision comes as Stewart Jackson – the Peterborough MP who served as PPS to Davis – failed to reclaim his seat and Lord Bridges, who had come to be well regarded by Eurosceptics, stands down from his Brexit role in the Lords. Given that the public was forced to wait nearly a year for their expressed will in the referendum to be enacted, with politicians speaking endlessly about the amount of preparatory work to be done, it is unbelievable that May would sack a noted Eurosceptic like Jones who knew the brief.
But the Brexit department is just one area of concern for Leavers. The disastrous election result has been blamed on May’s close long-term advisors Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who were forced to resign in the days following the hung parliament. Timothy took the blame for the mad gamble on the social care policy that would come to be known as the “dementia tax”, but he was also a supporter of a Leave vote in June’s referendum and a trustworthy ally of Brexit. The pair have been replaced as Downing Street Chiefs of Staff by Gavin Barwell, the defeated former MP for Croydon Central who dubbed Nigel Farage “a bigot who despises modern Britain”. Of course, he backed a Remain vote in our historic referendum.
He’s joined by Damian Green, another Remainer who will now serve as First Secretary of State – a promotion to Deputy Prime Minister in all but name. Green spewed all of the big lies peddled by the Project Fear campaign, boasting that “plenty of experts agree that being outside the single market would be the main reason why leaving the EU would cause huge economic damage”. With the government now committed to a clean Brexit – including withdrawal from the European single market – how is Mr Green’s position tenable? He is joined by Remainers Mark Field and Alistair Burt, both are making returns to government.
There is small joy for Brexiteers with prominent Leave campaigner Michael Gove making a return to the cabinet too. He now heads DEFRA, taking over from fellow anti-EU activist and leadership contender Andrea Leadsom. Gove has a fraught personal history with Theresa May centring on a 2014 controversy that saw Fiona Hill – then Fiona Cunningham – forced to resign as advisor to Mrs May after warfare broke out in the cabinet over Islamic radicalism in Birmingham schools. Gove’s removal as Justice Secretary upon May’s entry into Downing Street last year was seen as a sign of the Prime Minister’s personal authority, and his return might just as easily be read as a sign of her weakness today. He impressed the nation with his fiery television performance with Faisal Islam, but left public view in disgrace after knifing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the back during the short leadership campaign that followed David Cameron’s resignation. Could he be staging a political comeback?
But it is one small piece of good news amid a sea of insults to the 17.4 million who voted for an exit from the dysfunctional European Union last June. We now have a less pro-Brexit Brexit department and an administration in Downing Street that is as Europhile as ever. June 23, 2016 was a huge victory for national independence, but the battle continues and Brexiteers must not allow Prime Minister May to walk over what millions of voters and activists fought so hard to achieve.