I borrowed the title for this editorial from the tweet (10 July 2018) of Carl Bildt, the well-known Swedish politician and enthusiastic supporter of the European Union. He thus refers to what is happening these days in London, having considerable impact on the future of that country and of the EU alike.
As a result of a marathon meeting of the Conservative leaders at the Chequers, the traditional weekend residence of the British Premier, on Friday, 6 July 2018, meeting convened by Theresa May, a roadmap was established for the finalisation of the Brexit negotiations that have already entered the final stage. Basically, the UK Premier has imposed her own political line, namely the consolidation of a “soft” Brexit, meaning maintaining important links with the EU, especially in what concerns economic ties, but also in the field of legislative accommodation. So, at the end of the meeting, the Government expressed its solidarity with this political line; over the weekend two of the most important members of the cabinet changed their mind and tendered their resignations. On Monday, London was gripped by political crisis, reaching new levels of gravity with the publishing of the two ministers’ letters of resignation, particularly that of ex-Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. His assessments came as a blow not only to the Prime Minister of the Government but also to the public opinion.
The blow was immediately felt, and the newspapers’ headlines were not late to note the effects on Tuesday. Let us quote the ‘Daily Mail,’ which notes from the very headline that “May will NOT face a vote of no confidence… for now: PM warns furious Tory Brexiteers at showdown meeting that sacking her would mean handing Corbyn the keys to No 10.” In other words, a vote of no-confidence in the Premier wold mean the Conservatives’ voluntary abandonment of power and the coming to power of a Labour led by Corbyn. One can understand the statement made by Boris Johnson, the impetuous Foreign Minister, known for his verbal extravagances, according to which, given the Government’s decision on Friday, “Brexit is dying” (it is true that he admits he realised this shocking fact for him after the adoption of the decision at the Chequers: “On Friday, I acknowledged that my side of the argument were too few to prevail and congratulated you on at least reaching a Cabinet decision on the way forward. As I said then, the government now has a song to sing. The trouble is that I have practised the words over the weekend and find that they stick in the throat.”)
But, even with things being so, it is difficult to understand the assessment of May’s ‘line’ in Boris Johnson’s resignation letter, namely that its implementation would mean the voluntary acceptance (a “white flag” already hoisted by the UK before the negotiations with the EU) of the UK’s status as a “colony” in relation with the European organisation. It is maybe the frustrating testimony of the perception of an unexpected defeat of a political project with which Johnson identified himself and that is now rejected through an argument that refers to United Kingdom’s international status. “Maybe” because an interpretation of the same Carl Bildt notes a fact which, no matter how unbelievable it might seem, designates the reality of a sizeable political crisis in the UK: “Tragic to see how the UK is lost in the post-referendum chaos. This used to be a nation providing leadership to the world. Now it can’t even provide leadership to itself.” More calm and balanced, avoiding the hyperbolae and the groundless labels of Boris Johnson, David Davis, the Brexit minister, the other outgoing minister, emphasised that the adoption of Friday’s decision, dubbed the political line of Premier May, “would leave the UK in a ‘weak and inescapable’ negotiating position with just eight months until Britain cuts ties with Brussels” as the press writes. From the standpoint of the reason for this political crisis, it must be noted that May’s political line was adopted at the pressure of British economic circles, because close relations with the EU are the basis of the British economy’s healthy evolution.
Obviously, what is happening today on the political scene of the United Kingdom surpasses by far the dossier of a simple domestic political crisis, albeit solved through the replacement of the Government (either with a Conservative or Labour one). We are talking about, not more and not less, than about the future of the UK connected through visible or invisible links with the destiny of the European Union and, from a systemic standpoint, with the international order, liberal or not, that is being established during this historical stage through the effort, sometimes not understood, at other times extremely harshly criticised, constantly applied by U.S. President D. Trump.
It is not at all an exercise of futile imagination to try to decipher the now ongoing crisis through the magnifying glass of President Trump’s presence in Europe, to take part in the NATO Summit, but whose European tour will also include two others stops in England and Scotland. Are the resigning ministers, Boris Johnson in particular, expecting support from the American partner, known as a partisan of Brexit, in order to resume, after the current crisis, the “hard Brexit” line? Or did Theresa May attempt – by adopting last Friday’s agreement – to keep the UK alongside the EU in the future so as to maintain for her country a seat in the management of the new international order in the ensemble of the European organisation, since acting alone or as part of an “Anglosphere” is now considered counterproductive or lacking realism in the face of the American President’s transformative impetus?
Julien Lindley-French, an exceptional British analyst of the United Kingdom’s recent evolution, explains strategically the answer to the questions above. As known, he voted “Remain,” even though he is not a fan of the European Union. But, in today’s world, he considers that today the United Kingdom has only one road, and here he gets close to the “May line,” even though he condemns the British elite for not being capable of more: “It was and is my firm belief that Britain should stay and fight for a Europe of Nations a la de Gaulle, that dangerous geopolitics demands Britain fully commit to the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe to confirm the freedoms they won so painfully during the Cold War, including freedom of movement. That Europe is simply too close and too important for Britain to lack either a voice or influence over it. Above all, at the time of the referendum, I wondered if the British elite was up to the task of Brexit. The answer is clearly not. Rather, the Brexit now on offer is a hokey-cokey Brexit leaving Britain neither in nor out of the EU – vassal plus, plus.”
P.S. The latest news reports show that Theresa May will survive this crisis and, with her, her own political line.