Brexit

Brexit – Overview of UK political landscape

On the 23 June this year, Britain voted to leave the European Union. The final result of the referendum was 52% to 48% in favour of Leave, with the outcome throwing up many uncertainties across the full spectrum of public life. In order to begin the formal process of withdrawing from the EU, the UK must first trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and there is currently much speculation as to when this will take place.

This summary will seek to outline the main issues surrounding the backdrop to the appointment of new Prime Minister Theresa May, and the likelihood of another General Election in the near future. It will also examine the key changes made to the Cabinet, as well as a brief description of the individuals who will head up the Brexit negotiating team.

So far

David Cameron resigned as the UK’s Prime Minister in the early hours of the Friday morning of the Brexit referendum result, sparking a leadership contest within the Conservative party. The candidates were Liam Fox, Stephen Crabb, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May. The shortlist was soon whittled down to a contest between May and Leadsom, which was then won by the former on 11 July when Leadsom withdrew from the race. Theresa May was then formally sworn in as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 13 July 2016.

Prior to assuming the role, May served as Home Secretary in the Cabinet for six years.  Despite campaigning for Britain to Remain in the European Union, May has vowed to uphold the wishes of the British people and to secure the best possible deal upon withdrawal. One of her first acts as Prime Minister was to visit Scotland, to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. As Scotland voted by a clear majority to remain within the EU, speculation is rife that this result may lead to a second referendum on Scottish independence in the near future.

With a parliamentary majority of only 12 MP’s, it will be tempting for Theresa May to call a snap General Election. Although there is no legal requirement to call another general election until 2020, it may be advantageous to do so much earlier. As her appointment was decided by Conservative members only, her opponents may challenge her mandate to govern.

This is an issue which plagued Gordon Brown’s premiership which arose in similar circumstances. There are also several key votes coming up in parliament over the next few months, and the new Prime Minister may view the current political climate as an opportunity to increase her majority. The Labour Party, the main opposition party to the Conservatives, are currently engaged in a leadership contest of their own, as the party MP’s seek to replace its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Despite all this, much of the political commentary at present suggests that there will be no General Election in the near future.

Expectations on Cabinet Reshuffle

  • Prime Minister May has announced who will fill some major positions within her cabinet, comprising a mix of both Pro-Brexit and Pro-EU campaigners.

Pro-Brexit:

  • Boris Johnson – Foreign Secretary;
  • David Davis – Secretary of State for Exiting the EU; and
  • Liam Fox – International Trade Secretary.

Pro-EU:

  • Philip Hammond – Chancellor of the Exchequer;
  • Amber Rudd – Home Secretary; and
  • Michael Fallon – Defence Secretary.

Mrs May also promoted a number of female Conservative MPs to her Cabinet, including her leadership rival Andrea Leadsom, to the position of Environment Secretary; one of her main political allies, Justine Greening to the position of Education and Equalities Secretary; and high profile Pro-Brexit campaigner Priti Patel to International Development Secretary.

Following the resignation of Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, Mrs May promoted James Brokenshire to the position, with his new responsibilities including how to get the best possible arrangement for Northern Ireland, where 56% of the population voted to Remain.

Brextraction Team

David Davis – Secretary of State for Exiting the EU

Penned an article where he outlined his desired economic strategy for Britain post-Brexit which is summarised below:

  • a need to shift the British economy towards a more export-led growth strategy based on higher productivity employment;
  • aims to achieve quick trade deals (within 2 years) with Britain’s top non-EU trading partners; Britain currently only has trade deals in place with two of their top 10 non-EU trading partners;
  • a focus on reducing taxes that have a deleterious or distortive effect on growth, including potentially lowering the corporation tax rate;
  • the ideal outcome would include continued tariff-free access to the EU Single Market;
  • believes a little time should be taken before triggering the 2 year Article 50 exit process in order to ensure the negotiating strategy has been properly designed – early 2017 has been mentioned as a possible date;
  • also believes the strategy of fiscal prudence in terms of spending should be continued; and
  • believes the biggest impact variable in the fiscal mix is tax buoyancy generated by high growth.

Liam Fox – Secretary of State for International Trade

Prominent Pro-Brexit campaigner who will be in charge of new trade deals under the remit of Secretary of State for International Trade. He has previously outlined his belief that the principle of free movement of people should not be on the table in negotiations about a trade deal with the EU. Also believes that Britain should begin the formal Article 50 withdrawal process by the end of the year (Reuters).

Boris Johnson – Foreign Minister

Has seen the portfolio of Foreign Minister diminished with the creation of the two new positions now held by Mr. Davis and Mr. Fox, but will still have a major role to play in Britain’s life outside the EU. He has referenced that the United States will be “in front of the queue” when it comes to negotiating life outside the single market.

Conclusion

Prime Minister May has certainly stamped her authority on her Cabinet immediately, and has received mostly positive reviews for her moves from all leading Conservative news outlets; and with the appointment of Pro- Brexit campaigners in key positions, she certainly seems to be living up to her leadership contest remark that “Brexit means Brexit”. She is known and respected by the other EU member states and her appointment is viewed as a positive development.