Brexit 5: All Change

Is she really going?!

Even Brexit can’t knock off the top story this week in our Brexit 5 series. Theresa May, who has fought tooth and nail to remain in Downing Street, against all the odds, and surviving multiple coups, has finally announced she will resign as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

The news now triggers a series of events that is sure to distract the public, politicians and businesses from Brexit. Most likely a welcome relief for some, but likely drawing gasps of amazement from the EU who have set an extension to the Brexit negotiation process for October after the UK’s inability to agree and pass a withdrawal agreement negotiated with the UK in November 2018 after years of discussion.

Whilst campaigning to replace Theresa May has unofficially already begun, when Theresa May resigned on the 7th of May a formal leadership election will be triggered. This requires MPs who want to stand for the top job to secure the support of just two of their colleagues in the parliamentary party. After this, there are a series of votes to whittle down the list, with many dropping out before the votes and pledging their support to others to secure a cabinet position when a leader finally emerges.

What’s interesting this time, is how many candidates are likely to stand – maybe they think this is their last chance to run for Prime Minister, with a high likelihood that the next general election will see a Labour government take the helm, either with a majority or in a coalition. In the cabinet, you could probably count the number of people who aren’t expected to stand on one hand.

The unstoppable BoJo

Meanwhile, a YouGov poll of the Conservative Party membership has demonstrated clearly that the front runner to succeed the Prime Minister is Boris Johnson, the ex-Mayor of London, former Foreign Secretary and Brexit Sweetheart. Whilst not necessarily popular in the parliamentary party, he has by far the strongest support amongst the grassroots. If he gets onto the final ballot of two candidates where it comes down to a vote of the party membership, it is unanimously expected he will win. This in itself might be enough to rally parliamentary supporters behind him, all with the hope of a cabinet position by pledging their support.

Interestingly, the poll looked at different run off scenarios in which various options for the next leader are put to the Conservative membership. Of the eight gamed scenarios Boris is put into, he wins them all. Just behind him is Dominic Raab, the former Brexit Secretary with seven out of eight, followed by Michael Gove with five.

You may be wondering why I am talking about this still in our weekly Brexit Five. I’m talking about it because whoever it is that wins the leadership, will ultimately set the course for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The favourites are all Brexiteers, and many who say they would vote for Boris, claim they would do so because he would take the UK out of the EU without a deal. Would he carry this through though? And what about his opponents who claim they’d do the same? Particularly when faced with a parliament that has voted, admittedly only by four votes, to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

End of the road for WAB

In a final act of weakness from the Prime Minister, she abandoned what would have been the fourth vote on her withdrawal agreement – now nicknamed the WAB – in a last ditch effort to get it over the line. News of the vote triggered a massive rebellion from her cabinet with the resignation of Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom, and long-time May loyalist, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, breaking cover to say he could not back the deal.

In an act of single-minded determination, May reportedly refused to meet with fellow cabinet members including the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary Sajid Javid to discuss the vote in a sign of her own self-isolation. After this, it is difficult to see who any of Theresa May’s allies in parliament are. Many praise the Prime Minister for her resolve and fortitude in face of impossible odds, but there doesn’t seem to have been anyone praising her strategy in the final hours.

I get to vote too

Many in Brussels might not have been paying that much attention to the goings on in Westminster. This week the EU Parliamentary Election has been taking place, with the final votes being cast at the time of writing.

So I cannot comment on the outcome, but I can recommend you have a look at the excellent report put together by my colleagues that looks at the different manifestos and what we might expect from the European Parliament between 2019-2024.

Meanwhile, back in the UK and trying to take part in a democratic process representing more than 512 million people, were EU nationals who were reportedly turned away from voting stations, being told they weren’t able to vote.

Taking to twitter with #DeniedMyVote, several disgruntled EU nationals voiced anger at being told they were able to vote in the UK, only to be turned away. Clarifying the rules in place the Electoral Commission put out a tweet saying “All eligible EU citizens have the right to vote in the EU election in their home Member State. If an EU citizen instead choses to vote in the UK, there is a process for them to complete to essentially transfer their right to vote”.

But, the commission admitted that “the very short notice from the Government of the UK’s participation in these elections impacted on the time available for awareness of this process amongst citizens, and for citizens to complete the process”. Many of those unable to vote claim to have been told they could vote by the local council or that the local council failed to send them the adequate forms in time.

Referendum plotting

On the opposition side of the house, which has largely been unnoticed this week, it has been reported that grassroot Labour activists have launched a fresh campaign to get a second Brexit referendum officially adopted as Labour Party policy at the Labour Party Conference this Autumn.

Given this takes place almost exactly a month before the UK’s extension to pass a deal ends, it could not come at a more poignant time if by then, weary from Conservative leadership elections and political squabbling, we are still nowhere close to passing a deal.

The campaign group called Love Socialism Hate Brexit will be lobbying at Labour Party Conference in Brighton this Autumn to “remain and reform” the EU. Lloyd Russel Moyle, the MP for Brighton Kemptown and member of the pressure group said “there is no left wing exit from the EU. The reality of Brexit is economic deregulation and scapegoating migrants. It will make us poorer and undermine our rights”.

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at