UK resignations and a crunch point for May's Brexit plans
After a tumultuous few days in UK politics, with the resignation of senior government ministers, the FT's Robert Shrimsley unpicks what this all means for the UK's Brexit negotiations and Theresa May's premiership.
Produced by Vanessa Kortekaas, Edited by Jamie Han, Additional footage:Reuters
It's been a lively couple of days in the UK'S parliament. I'm here with FT political columnist Robert Shrimsley to talk about what's happened. Robert? I've only been in this country for a couple of years, but it seems to me that government ministers come and go. Why does it matter that Theresa May seems to have misplaced two in a single week?
Yeah, they certainly do come and go. And actually, Theresa May has misplaced an awful lot in the last year. The answer with any minister resignation is it matters if it's a symptom of something more substantial. And what the two resignations we've had this week - losing the Brexit secretary and the Foreign secretary - tell us is that we are hitting crunch point in trying to decide what relationship Britain has with Europe after Brexit because the two people who have resigned are essentially saying that Theresa May is giving away too much, ceding too much control to the European Union.
Her plans for the, one might say, noble strategy of trying to save England from economic collapse, are giving away too much power to Brussels. And they're not prepared to weather it.
Do you think this materially changes the UK's negotiating position? In other words, is what Theresa May is going to bring to Brussels or what Brussels is going to say in return going to change because of these resignations?
In the short term, it won't. Theresa May has hammered out a policy cabinet. And she intends to take that to the European Union. And there's every indication she's going to stick with it. The problem, I think, for all sides in this is that everybody knows the European Union isn't going to say, yes, thanks, that's perfect. Problem solved.
The European Union is going to say, OK, that's quite interesting. But what we now need from you is this. And so the Brexit enthusiasts in the Conservative party and the ministers who have resigned, not only do they not like what she's proposing so far, they know it's going to get worse. So we know that this is not over by any stretch.
So is this a strategy by, as it were, the hard Brexiters to precipitate a change in leadership, a change in government? Is Theresa May's career as prime minister on the line here?
Well, one of the really interesting things about the Brexiters is they've never had a strategy. Their strategy is to say everything is going to be all right. Trust us. I've said at times, it's the equivalent of singing football's coming home and calling it a plan. They don't have a strategy. They don't have the numbers to defeat her in parliament.
They quite possibly don't have the numbers to bring her down as leader. So their strategy is to make as much noise as possible and make it as hard as possible for her to push through anything they don't like. And particularly, they're going to try and stop her making any further concessions and try and push back on the plan so far.
Is this, in a sense, not as big a moment as it appears for the very reasons you just pointed out? In other words, they don't have the political leverage to create a change in leadership. So it's a bit of theatre with some minor political implications. But we are basically where we were a week ago.
The really honest answer, Rob, is we don't know for sure. Things are so febrile, conventional wisdom's so out the window, and what looks sensible so often disregarded at the moment, that although one can take a step back and say today, look, you know what? There's been no more resignations. She seems to have things under control.
There isn't an appetite, even among most of her critics, to bring her down. It looks all right. The issue is the underlying fundamental. The underlying fundamental is there are people in her party who have laboured for 30 years to get Britain out of the European Union. The end is in sight. It's just months away. And they're not going to let her snatch the prize away from them without a fight.
So the fundamental question is not do they want to bring her down tomorrow or this week? The fundamental question is, can she bridge the chasm between what they want and what the economy is demanding, what she is listening to? That's the point of tension. It's not going away. And there is plenty of time for it to flare up.
Robert, thanks very much.