Brexit brings change for Britain’s governing Conservative Party

Brexit brings change for Britain’s governing Conservative Party

The governing Conservative Party, rattled by Brexit, faces new leadership from October onwards, and a spectacular shuffle of power and positions within the Party.

The people of Britain have spoken and voted to leave the European Union with a margin of 52% for leave and 48% for stay. In the immediate aftermath of this decision, Prime Minister David Cameron, who first launched this referendum, resigned from his position, announcing that he will step down officially in October.

brexit 3

BBC showing the result of the referendum

Cameron resigns and Eurosceptic Tories stand stronger

There has been a long-running battle within the Conservative party, going back decades since the UK first entered the European Community in 1975, and even before that when the organisation was being first formed in the 1950s. Ever since, the Conservative party has been divided in a pro-European wing of the party first conceptualised by Winston Churchill in the wake of victory in World War II, and a Eurosceptic wing of the party, which has always been wary of the continent.

British PM David Cameron and President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker

British PM David Cameron and President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker

Cameron launched this referendum in an effort to silence the Eurosceptics once and for all, and to respond to the growing support for anti-European parties such as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). In effect, he gambled that people would vote to remain in Europe and that the Eurosceptics would admit defeat. He was in a strong position following the general election victory in May 2015 and looked likely to win the referendum. However, the gamble clearly did not pay off. Cameron threw everything he had at this campaign, and as a result he had put his leadership, his integrity and his reputation on the line. With a vote against him he lost all that and forfeited the support of his party. The Eurosceptic wing of the party has won and it is now a different, more right wing party for the foreseeable future.

Changing of the guard in the Conservative Party and thus Government

The Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party is likely to assume control of the party, and consequently the government as a whole. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, leading figures of the Conservative branch of the Leave campaign, are in prime positions to take over. Nigel Farage, although not a Conservative, is undoubtedly going to play a role now in a future government, whether officially or not. Liam Fox, Ian Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel and Theresa Villiers are likely to play a role in this new government as well. Meanwhile, Cameron’s allies, George Osbourne and Theresa May, are likely to be pushed aside, as are Sajid Javid, although the latter’s known Euroscepticism might appeal to the new government. Other more neutral figures in the party are likely to stay loyal and be rewarded, or leave the political stage altogether.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson’s anti-EU tactics position him for PM

Johnson’s strategy was cynical but masterful. He knew that to achieve his political ambitions of being prime minister he needed to differentiate himself from other leadership candidates, namely Osbourne and May. That meant going against the grain and his previous pro-European leanings. As much as Cameron’s gamble has failed, Johnson’s gamble has paid off. It remains to be seen when and how quickly these events occur.

Cameron’s resignation brings his premiership crashing down in spectacular fashion. His time as Prime Minister was limited to 2020 at the latest. Three times now, his position has been on the line; once in 2014 with the Scottish referendum, in 2015 with the general election and now in 2016 with the EU referendum. For Cameron it is third time unlucky in a dramatic fall from grace.

Categories: Europe

About Author

Rayhan Chouglay

Rayhan Chouglay is a GRI Analyst. He holds a BA in History from the London School of Economics with a particular focus on Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia. His main political risk interests concern relations between India and Pakistan.