A week ago on Friday, June 24, Britain woke up to a Brexit result and Prime Minister David Cameron tendering his resignation.
Today, I am starting a new, intermittent series called Brexit Chronicles to chart the progress of the result of the EU Referendum. As with my Brexit series, all posts can be found on my Marxism / Communism page.
Since then, we saw an intransigent leader of the Labour Party hold on, despite a clearance of the shadow Cabinet, which he quickly replaced. However, some party MPs and members are still calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation for not having done enough to support the Remain campaign.
It seems to me Corbyn is a closet Leaver, but who knows?
Labour’s John McDonnell — shadow Chancellor — held a press conference today at which he said he expects a leadership challenge within the next few days.
The best scriptwriters in the world could not have devised a storyline as dramatic and unpredictable as the events of the past week.
I wrote on June 27 that Boris Johnson, the Leave campaign leader, spent the weekend planning his party leadership bid which, if successful, would have seen him accede to No. 10.
However, on June 30 — the deadline for Conservative Party leadership bids — the former two-term Mayor of London and serving MP announced he would not be running. Those attending his press conference were shocked. That includes his brother Jo, also an MP, who was planning on supporting his brother’s candidacy.
Dropping the bombshell to gasps of horror from some, he added: “Having consulted colleagues, and in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me”.
Boris’s father Stanley Johnson, a former MEP, placed the blame for his son’s decision on Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Justice. Gove was supposed to have supported Boris and was at his home on Sunday. Gove had said many times before he had no intention of running for party leader and, by extension in this situation, PM. Then his tune changed and he threw his hat into the leadership ring this week:
… Stanley Johnson likened Mr Gove to the Roman senators who murdered Julius Caesar.
Stanley said: “’E[t] tu Brute’ is my comment on that.
“I don’t think he is called Brutus, but you never know.”
Gove blamed Boris and said that tension over his leadership bid had been building over the past several days. Gove concluded:
“I came to the conclusion that ultimately Boris could not build that team, and could not provide that leadership and that unity.
“It had to fall to someone else.”
He added: “There were a number of people who said to me during the week, Michael[,] it should be you’.
“As someone who had argued consistently that we should leave the European Union, and as someone who’s experienced at the highest levels in the Cabinet, I felt it had to fall to me.”
Boris’s people saw it differently. One said:
There was always an odd smell about Gove’s involvement.
Something wasn’t right from the beginning.
Another MP, Jake Berry, tweeted:
There is a very deep pit reserved in Hell for such as he.
Whilst voters are naturally disappointed Boris will not be running, someone in the know told me last weekend that he wouldn’t. I was shocked. Yet, some people close to him said that his backing of Leave was an opportunity to enter No. 10, not a firm personal conviction:
… many believed his backing for Brexit was a calculation — just the latest opportunistic move to further his career at the expense of any of his own real (if somewhat hazy) instincts.
Some venture, after observing him changing his mind on subjects as diverse as the EU and climate change, that he does not really believe in anything at all. Apart from, possibly, himself.
To thicken the plot further, Michael Gove’s wife Sarah Vine is a columnist for the Daily Mail and has written articles this week supporting her husband and explaining his decision.
Samantha Cameron has not taken this lightly. In fact, she is furious, vowing not to speak to the Goves again, even though they were close friends over the past 15 years.
Gove first provoked her earlier this year when he came out in favour of Brexit. Now she has termed his leadership bid as:
The PM’s wife was also livid about a newspaper article that Ms Vine had written to explain Mr Gove’s tortured dilemma, in which she aired his private conversations with the Premier about it.
The pair ended up raising their voices and “effing and blinding”, sources said.
They haven’t seen each other since, but did exchange texts last week to mark Sam’s 45th birthday.
But now the rift appears to have become irreparable given Mr Gove’s manoeuvring for the leadership.
The Guardian had a round-up of today’s headlines:
Julius Caesar aside, three more of the bard’s dramas got mentions too. The Scottish play was widely cited by writers who cast Michael Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, as Lady Macbeth.
A Radio 4 reporter favoured the denoument of Hamlet, with bodies littering the stage, as the most appropriate description of the Conservative party carnage. And the Times thought Gove would now “have to find his inner Henry V.”
Along the way, there were also references to the House of Cards – Vine as Robin Wright’s ruthless Claire Underwood? – and to Game of Thrones (yet another example of Metro’s wonderfully apt front page headlines).
Most national newspaper editors chose straightforward descriptions in their headlines for what the Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff rightly called “the most vertiginous fall in modern political history”: “Tory day of treachery” (Daily Mail); “An act of midnight treachery” (Daily Telegraph); “Dramatic act of betrayal” (The Times) and “The betrayal” (The Guardian).
The Sun, which devoted 11 pages to the story of Johnson’s transformation from hero to zero, preferred a pun, “Brexecuted”, while the Daily Mirror revelled in the chance to stick its own knife into Johnson: “Justice!”
Intrigue aside, four other MPs are running for party leader: Home Secretary Theresa May, Leave campaigner Andrea Leadsom, Leave sympathiser Dr Liam Fox and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb.
Leadsom is the only one who hasn’t served in a Cabinet post. As capable as she is — and despite her brilliance and courtesy during the EU referendum debates — the lack of Cabinet experience might hold her back.
Unless … Michael Gove has blotted his copybook. He held a press conference today. Only five MPs were in attendance. That could be because many were attending Battle of the Somme commemorations. It was still bad timing.
As I write on Friday morning and afternoon, betting odds — before Gove’s press conference — showed May in front and Leadsom in second place:
The campaign was fought … and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum. … Brexit means Brexit.
And finally, on June 29, the Conservative Party held their summer party at the huge and exclusive Hurlingham Club, in London’s Fulham, along the Thames. (I’ve been there twice. It is unbelievable!)
The Sun reported that the mood was ‘very sombre’ and that the speeches were so supportive of David Cameron that, at one point, he was seen to be discreetly dabbing a tear from his eye.
My aforementioned insider acquaintance told me last weekend that few Conservative MPs have the stomach to exit from the European Union. Even those who do will try to find the best pro-EU compromise possible.
Leave voters are naturally frustrated by the delay, which, even with a new PM in place by the beginning of September, might not take place until the end of the year!
The sooner we start, the better off we will be. It seems we might be able to count on at least the shadow chancellor, Labour’s John McDonnell, who held a press conference today. The Guardian reported:
There is no appetite from McDonnell to contest the next election on a platform of staying in the EU, the shadow chancellor inferred in his speech today.
McDonnell says he wants to be absolutely clear on immigration. After the UK leaves the EU “free movement of labour and people will come to an end.”
Anti-immigration feeling stemmed from austerity and economic uncertainty, he says, which Labour also needs to confront.
Before the referendum vote, some in the Leave campaign implied that the UK would be able to hold informal negotiations before invoking Article 50. However, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström reiterated what other European leaders have said. We must trigger Article 50 before we can negotiate.
In the worst case scenario, it could take up to ten years to finalise negotiations.
However, Dr Liam Fox, one of the Conservatives running for party leadership, strongly criticised that notion:
He said it was ridiculous to think that French and German politicians would have to go into their national elections next year telling their electorates they do not know how much French wine or German cars they are going to be able to export. He said the commissioner’s stance was doubly bizarre since she had admitted her timetable and interpretation of the procedure would damage the economies of the EU.
Someone will have to hold the new PM’s feet to the fire on Article 50. There is no reason it could not be triggered as soon as s/he assumes office.
Andrea Leadsom is the only candidate who could be trusted to do it quickly. The others, even Theresa May, would no doubt obfuscate and find a variety of excuses to delay it.
Gove would not do it this year — nor does he expect anyone else to!
There is considerable undercurrent of tension right now. Government must end the uncertainty in September.