Editorial

Cabinet of chaos: the challenges facing Theresa May

 

Britain seems to have lost its way. As the contagion of chaos spreads across government and Brexit negotiations across the Channel, Prime Minister Theresa May’s hold on power may be weakening. Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported that 40 MPs, just eight short of the number required to force a vote on the Conservative party leadership, are ready to sign a letter of no confidence. Additionally, a letter from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove to Ms. May, attempting to dictate Brexit strategy to her, was leaked to the press. The demands in the letter and the language used have created a stir, summing up the leadership crisis in the cabinet. Last week, International Development Secretary Priti Patel resigned over unofficial meetings in Israel, and days earlier, Ms. May’s deputy, Damian Green, started facing an inquiry into allegations of inappropriate behaviour. On November 1, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigned over brewing sexual harassment accusations, and there have been calls for Mr. Johnson, enfant terrible of Ms. May’s Cabinet, to resign over comments that may have exposed a British charity worker currently in an Iranian prison. Ms. May’s defensiveness draws from her tenuous hold on her position — caused largely by her decision to call a snap election in June, and destroying her wafer-thin majority in Parliament. She lacks the authority to bring order to her Cabinet and focus on the mammoth task at hand: ensuring a minimally disruptive exit form the European Union.

 

Ms. May’s conciliatory speech in Florence in September failed to be the turning point in the Brexit negotiations that she hoped it would be. Even if the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, adopted a softer position, France and Germany have since made it clear that Britain will have to come up with more money and details prior to any discussion on transition arrangements and trade deals. The EU minus Britain will begin internal consultations on transition arrangements and trade, London’s priority subjects, only after “sufficient progress” is made in three other areas: citizen rights, the divorce bill and agreement on how to treat the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The European Council will meet mid-December to decide if sufficient progress has been made to start the next phase of talks. Last week, Mr. Barnier reiterated that Britain would need to up its financial offer by late November to stick to this timeline. This is a challenge given that the U.K.’s autumn budget will be presented on November 22. Consequently, trade and transition talks may get pushed into 2018, exacerbating an already precarious situation for businesses and banks. Mr. Barnier also revealed that the EU is drawing up plans for the eventuality of Britain crashing out of the EU. It is in London’s interest to keep negotiations on track to avoid this, but it will need the May government to be more cohesive than it is at present.

 


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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 2:49:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/cabinet-of-chaos/article20395900.ece

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