The divisions at the heart of the British Government have been laid bare in a leaked letter passed to the Daily Mail. The U.K. is currently deep in negotiations with the European Union and working to pass crucial legislation through the House of Commons. Against this backdrop, prominent “leave” campaigners Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have tried to exert pressure to force Prime Minister Theresa May to follow their lead on Brexit.
Headed “EU Exit – Next Steps,” the letter is addressed to the Prime Minister and her chief of staff, Gavin Batwell.
“Your approach is governed by sensible pragmatism. That does not in any way dilute our ambition to be a fully independent self-governing country by the time of the next election.
If we are to counter those who wish to frustrate that end, there are ways of underlining your resolve.
We are profoundly worried that in some parts of Government the current preparations are not proceeding with anything like sufficient energy.
We have heard it argued by some that we cannot start preparations on the basis of ‘No Deal’ because that would undermine our obligation of ‘sincere co-operation’ with the EU. If taken seriously, that would leave us over a barrel in 2021.
We all want you to push your agenda forward with confidence and have your Government articulate the following…
Boris and Michael”
The Mail claims Government sources believe the letter was drawn up with the help of Parliament’s pro-Brexit European Reform Group and the Legatum Institute, an influential think-tank. It threatens that those who “wish to frustrate” Brexit must be over-ruled by May. Doubters should not even be allowed to express their concerns in private, “whatever their original positions during the referendum.” The missive carries an undeniably threatening tone, and is believed to have been hand-delivered by Johnson.
The letter has leaked at a crucial time for the British Government, which is currently trying to push the controversial EU (Withdrawal) Bill through the House of Commons. At the same time, negotiations with the EU appear to be nearing a crisis point. The U.K. is keen to move on to discussing the country’s future relationship with the EU post-Brexit, but has so far failed to resolve so-called “divorce” issues. Michael Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, recently warned that “real and sincere” progress must be made within the next two weeks. A failure to meet this deadline would risk delaying the crucial post-Brexit talks until March next year.
All this is set against a troubled domestic backdrop. The last two weeks have seen two members of Cabinet resign, one due to a sex scandal and the other due to foreign policy blunders. Meanwhile, the impact of seven years of austerity is becoming visible on public services, and the Chancellor is under increasing pressure to relent and increase spending. The Conservative Government’s failure to win an overwhelming majority in the recent General Election has left May extremely vulnerable, allowing Johnson and Gove to play on her weakness.
This leaves the Prime Minister in a vulnerable position. So-called “hard” Brexiters clearly expect her to push their agenda. At the same time, those who have concerns about the Government’s approach to Brexit now see her as little more than a hostage to the Brexiters. It’s remarkable that this letter has leaked in the first place, given it was addressed only to May and her chief of staff. It doesn’t appear to serve anybody’s cause, simply leaving both sides of the debate increasingly distrustful.
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