After David Cameron retired from Number 10 and Theresa May was formally sworn into office, the general public waited to hear how she would respond to a vote for Brexit. Especially since the new Prime Minister had typically leant towards the ‘In’ campaign during the referendum despite being Eurosceptic in the past.
Many believed that May would stick to her support of the Remain campaign and opt instead for a soft Brexit while delaying the triggering of Article 50 for as long as possible. This would allow Britain to create a deal similar to Norway or Switzerland where there would be access to the single market and free trade.
Jessica Kavanagh, Associate Director at Murray McIntosh explained why a deal of this variety may not work in favour of the UK:
“While this type of deal would at first seem attractive, it’s easy to forget that Norway generally accept EU regulation and make substantial budget payments to access the single market. Both of these were at the forefront of the leave campaign. Alongside this it took Switzerland 9 years of negotiations to finalise their deal and almost a decade of heightened uncertainty and loss of investment, is only going to harm the UK.”
So, while our new Prime Minister has decided to abstain from invoking the article this year in order to allow time to develop a smooth exit from the European Union, she has remained firm that “Brexit means Brexit.”
When Theresa May organised her cabinet reshuffle we saw Boris Johnson (One of the leading forces of the Brexit campaign) given the responsibility of representing Britain on the global stage as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, it looked like he could potentially be once again one of the leading figures in Britain’s exit.
However, Theresa May also created a new department which would purely focus on Brexit and placed Eurosceptic Leave campaigner David Davis as the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
The newly formed department’s main responsibilities according to the government website include:
The preferred model for Davis’ new department would be something similar to Canada’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which was established in 2014 and allowed Canada free trade with the European Union. With this style of trade in mind, his immediate targets seem to be the US, China, and Canada.
The introduction of a dedicated Brexit department also means that Boris Johnson can focus on his newly acquired cabinet role which has so far included starting discussions to normalise Britain’s relationship with Russia.
However, Institute for Government said on the 11th July that a Ministry for Brexit “may not be the best option.” They claimed that this option comes with some serious operational drawbacks in regards to time, cost and distraction. They suggested that a staged approach may be necessary if David Davis’ team want to successfully implement the UK’s Brexit, proposing that the ministry started off in the Cabinet Office before becoming independent as article 50 is triggered.
While many expected Boris Jonson to be the one who would continue to champion Brexit through the negotiation and implementation stages, his appointment as Foreign Secretary ultimately meant he had too much of a portfolio to dedicate the time necessary to lead Britain to one of the biggest decisions the nation has made in recent history.
Recently during the new Cabinet’s away day at Chequers, Theresa May strengthened her position that Brexit meant Brexit and made her intentions clear that she intends to put an end to the feuding between Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson who have been dubbed ‘The Three Brexiteers’.
While it is comforting to know that such a big step into the unknown is being given the dedication and resources it deserves, the reported squabbles and infighting between Johnson, Fox and Davis over departmental staffing and areas of responsibility has not delivered the greatest confidence.
One of the bigger issues that has arisen between Liam Fox and Boris Johnson is in regards to foreign economics. Fox believes that economic policy should be removed from the Foreign Office and given to his Department for international Trade.
Lauren Alewood, Senior Consultant at Murray McIntosh commented on the appointment of the three new cabinet ministers:
“The Three Brexiteers as they have been called, have been controversial appointments, with some going as far as to say it has positioned Britain as an ‘international joke’, I think that clearing tensions, building neutral ground and presenting a united front will be a critical first step for them in order to instil confidence.”
With opinions currently conflicted over Britain’s position in the single market, it appears that there may need to be more leadership from David Davis to bring more clarity to the bigger Brexit issues.
May is reassuring leave voters that Brexit is coming, but it’s up to Davis to truly define it. Some ministers want to remain within the single market, however that would mean accepting free movement terms and paying towards the EU budget – both big factors in the decision to leave the EU.