By Henry Bird
Part 1 of 2.
15th November 2018
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigns! And so the day begins, and it looks like it’s going to be a dramatic one. This is the first major Cabinet resignation over Brexit since its support for May’s Draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, although earlier today we had the resignation of Northern Ireland Minister Shailesh Vara who said ‘the people of the UK deserve better’. Much like David Davis before him, Raab cited his principles as his reason for the resignation, saying that ‘in good conscience’, he could not support the proposed withdrawal agreement. He concluded his letter by saying that his respect for the Prime Minister remained ‘undimmed’. However, there is already talk of letters of no confidence being handed in, a leadership coup and a second public vote. It will certainly not be an easy day for Theresa May.
First reactions coming into Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab’s shock resignation. Twitter looks to be the vehicle that breaks most of the news of today. Critical tweets from prominent pro-Remain MPs, notably Chuka Umana, Caroline Lucas, and Tom Brake, begin to roll in. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Today program in defense of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement, stressing that “you have got to look at the deal as a whole,” and that “compromise” will be an inevitable part of any agreement.
Meanwhile, prevalent pro-Leave MPs, among them Kate Hoey, Zac Goldsmith, and Andrea Jenkyns, have lent their support to Raab. More notable is the tweet from Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the DUP in Westminster, who has praised Dominic Raab for ‘standing up for the Union’. Given May relies on the votes of the DUP for a Commons majority, any loss of their support would be a major blow.
The Labour Party have said that the Prime Minister ‘has no authority left’ in a damning statement, noting that Dominic Raab is the 20th minister to resign from her government. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer added that Raab’s resignation ‘is a very serious development’.
Theresa May says that the British people “just want to get on with it.”
It is notable that most criticism is coming from the Conservative Party; the tweet from pro-Leave Conservative back-bencher Sheryll Murray that calls into questions May’s position will not be the last today. Former foreign and defence secretary Malcolm Rifkind has previously noted May’s extraordinary resilience and strength under pressure, and she has been praised for her ability to pick herself up after any knock-back and carry on – she has said that the British people “just want us to get on with it.”
Esther McVey, Work and Pensions Secretary, is the latest to resign. She had been a vocal critic of the withdrawal arrangement before the all-night cabinet discussion last night and was tipped as one of the most likely ministers to hand in their resignation.
The first reactions from the business world come in, with the pound down against both the dollar and the euro following the series of resignations.
In her 10:30 Parliamentary statement defending the government’s draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, May has now laid out the main points of the document; useful, considering the document is 585 pages long. Falling back on her previous rhetoric, she said that the deal “delivers the British people’s wish” and is in their “best interest.”
The deal largely calls for continuity in key areas such as immigration, trade and agriculture during a transition period, with future changes still up for negotiation. It expresses a willingness to work with EU rules and ensure that any new British ones are up to standard.
In response to the Prime Minister’s statement and calm and resolute performance, Jeremy Corbyn was blunt and decried the agreement as a “huge and damaging failure.” He described the deal as a “leap in the dark.” He heavily criticised the recently departed Dominic Raab for promising a “substantive document,” questioning the level of detail provided and decrying it as “far-fetched” and a “substantial dilution” on previous promises made, concluding by saying that “the government must withdraw this half-baked deal which does not have the backing of the cabinet, Parliament or the country as a whole.”
May replied saying that Labour would not deliver a credible plan for Brexit, while carefully mentioning that plans for a no-deal scenario were continuing and received a loud response when she very frankly noted that negotiating this Withdrawal Agreement has not been a “comfortable process.” She effectively issued an ultimatum to the Commons –“unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated’ or ‘risk no Brexit at all.”
What does resignation actually achieve? Should one keep one’s principles in tact or try and solve and negoiate a solution?
Questions were opened to the Commons and May received heavy criticism from all sides of the Commons, with a diverse range from Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry (pro-EU) to Kate Hoey and John Redwood (pro-Brexit) lining up to level criticism against the proposed agreement.
In the meantime, the swathe of resignations continues, with Brexit Minister Suella Braverman and Private Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan citing the Withdrawal Agreement as their reasons. This is prompting debate from broadsheets and Twitter as to what resignation actually achieves besides keeping one’s principles safe – should one publicly criticise but continue to solve and negotiate, or resign on principle and risk the fallout?
While all this has been going on in the Commons, in a press conference at the EU parliament with Michel Barnier (the chief EU negotiator) present, the European Parliament President has publicly said that the Draft Withdrawal Agreement is a decisive step towards concluding the Brexit talks. Reporting from the BBC’s Brussels correspondent, however, says that the Draft Withdrawal Agreement is agreed at a negotiator level only, and response from EU member states is as yet uncertain – these are the states that will have to vote on the final deal, once the UK officially put one forward.
Commentary on the second half of the day can be found here
Theresa May Image: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency via Flickr
Dominic Raab Image: Policy Exchange via Flickr
Esther McVey Image: Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia Commons