Brexit revolt tests Theresa May’s authority
FT editor Lionel Barber and political columnist Janan Ganesh discuss the impact of rebellious Tories over Brexit on the authority of UK prime minister Theresa May.
Studio filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Produced by Josh de la Mare.
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It's been a big week for the Brexit negotiations in Britain government promises that it'll be all right on the night for the city of London when we leave in 2019 and accusations that Tory party members of parliament objecting to the provisions of a withdrawal bill are so-called mutineers and more threats to the authority of Theresa May. Here with me is Janan Ganesh, political commentator. Now, is this a serious revolt in the Tory party? And how much damage is being done to Mrs. May's authority?
It's not a fatal revolt. Even a lot of pro-leave conservative ministers are fairly relaxed about the criticism of this particular measure in the withdrawal bill from some of their backbench MPs. And the particular measure is the idea of encoding the date on which-- in fact, the time, as well as a date-- on which Britain will leave the European Union. So I think there'll be some kind of accommodation reached over this actually. But it does suggest that number 10 is sufficiently paranoid about this government falling at any moment at all.
And that's what, by the way, people in Brussels are saying. We can't deal with this British government, because we don't know how long it's going to last.
Yeah, they're worried about making concessions to a government, striking a deal with a government that then has to be revised under a new British administration the following day, conceivably. So it's a precarious situation, but I don't think the new sets of mutinies that were declared this week pose an absolute existential threat right now. I think that their grievance can be massaged away.
Interesting that on the front page of one national newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, these mutineers were identified almost like a identity parade, as if they're in a police station.
It was like a wild west saloon bar poster. And it did provoke, interestingly, quite a lot of criticism, that front page, even from pro-leave conservative MPs who don't want to go back to that quite unpleasant mood earlier this year when people were being called saboteurs by the press and by some of the more headstrong conservative MPs.
Because they are elected representatives of the people. And there was a referendum. It went one way, to leave, but now the MP's parliament, which is sovereign, wants to scrutinise the bill.
Completely. And very few of these MPs are saying, our job is to sabotage Brexit. In fact, very few of them even want a second referendum. It's more about little grievances about the technical process of how we leave and the specific idea of naming a time and hardwiring that into legislation in a way that seems a little bit odd.
And you wrote an interesting column again, this week, Janan, commenting on the quality of the Brexiteers, the intellectual quality.
Or even just the administrative quality and their ability to last in office without flaking away. It's been 18 months almost since the referendum. The referendum swept 52% of people who voted in a country of 65 million people. Many of those voters were intelligent, civic minded people. And yet the top tier of Brexit politicians, I think, have proven not to reflect the underlying quality or intelligence of the people who voted for the cause. And so you've got people like Priti Patel, who lost her job last week as international development secretary, Boris Johnson, who has been put in a heavily criticised performance as foreign secretary, leading the cause. And I think after 18 months, you would have expected that the leavers would be able to muster at least one or two politicians who you could imagine as a plausible prime minister right now.
So why hasn't Mrs. May reshuffled her cabinet?
Because she's so weak that I think the act of sacking someone, especially from a big job, like foreign secretary, which she would do in a reshuffle, is probably beyond her. It's not impossible that her position strengthens by the new year, that sufficient progress is declared in the talks in Brussels, and therefore she feels strong enough to do a ministerial reshuffle, but it's too provocative in the short term, I think.
Now, we're talking about job security. Your favourite football team has decided to stay with us in [INAUDIBLE] and has rather an important football match coming up this weekend against Tottenham Hotspur.
Yeah, in North London, a heavily European team will be taking on a strongly British team. And on this occasion, if on nothing else, I'm backing the Europeans.
Yeah, generally, I'm very pro-European, but on Saturday, I think I'm going to be a British national.
You are a nationalist on Saturday?
Yeah, I'm afraid so.
Thank you, Janan.