Rue Britannia: Post-Brexit UK remains rudderless

Rue Britannia: Post-Brexit UK remains rudderless

With Brexit, the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU has completely changed the country in every single way. Whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen. Both the Conservative the Labour parties are set to undergo new leadership contests, (with Nigel Farage throwing in the towel as well), effectively leaving the country rudderless. These two leaders, set to be the new prime minister and the leader of the opposition respectively, will have their hands full managing an extremely uncertain time for the UK..

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

The Conservative party were effectively launched into a leadership contest mere hours after the EU referendum result was announced, with Prime Minister David Cameron resigning in dramatic fashion live on TV. While Cameron announced he would step down in October, the meeting of the ruling 1922 committee of Tory, backbench, MPs declared that a new leader should be in place by September 2nd.

As a result, a leadership contest has already begun. The five candidates are Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom, Theresa May, and surprise entrant Michael Gove. The unexpected omission is Boris Johnson, who looked a sure favourite for the position following his strategic choice to campaign to leave the EU. Up until the nominations were officially announced, the bet was on Johnson running with Gove as his right hand man.

However, events behind the scenes led to Gove throwing his hat in the ring and attacking Johnson as incapable of being leader. It is unclear what exactly happened, but it is suspected that Gove and Johnson had a falling out over what to do following the Leave result. What is certain is that the chancellor, George Osbourne, has had his reputation shattered by the referendum.

Following the victory for Leave, the Eurosceptic wing of the party is in prime position to take over. Therefore, Gove, as a prominent leading Leave campaigner, is in the best position to take over. In recent days it has emerged how the ruling figures of the party were thoroughly against Johnson as they see him as an opportunist and are working to make Theresa May the new leader.

However, the introduction of Gove means that the faction represented by Johnson and Gove is still in contention and the war has not yet been won. The contest has been thrown wide open at the 11th hour.

Post-Brexit, Labour must avoid becoming irrelevant

The uncertainty the Conservatives face in the next few months pales in comparison to the absolute chaos of the Labour opposition. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has seen a majority of his shadow cabinet resign and a vote of no confidence against him, with 172 MPs opposed vs. 40 MPs in support. The Labour Party has never been supportive of Corbyn with leadership challenges being bandied about in the media ever since he was elected.

He now seems to face an imminent official leadership challenge, yet unlike with the Conservatives, there does not seem to be a feasible unifying challenger or number of challengers to replace him. That said recent reports indicate Angela Eagle and Owen Smith may be in the running. Recent reports that the leader’s office worked to sabotage Labour’s campaign to remain in the European Union do not help Corbyn’s case. In reality this leadership challenge was always due with the referendum merely accelerating it.

It now looks very likely that there will be a general election within the next year rather than 2020 as originally planned. The PLP never had confidence in Corbyn to lead them during a general election; however, were willing to give him time until 2020 to see how his leadership played out. With the general election now closer the party feels they need to take their chances now to avoid losing even more seats and risk being wiped out altogether. Whether they are successful in deposing Corbyn remains to be seen but he is defiant, citing the fact that 60% of the party voted for him in September 2015.

Yet his opponents can argue that the membership does not reflect the country as a whole while the referendum result does, particularly in the Labour heartlands of north England where Leave won emphatically.

Lack of leadership the latest of UK’s woes

Without any clear leadership and direction from either of the main parties, it is difficult for the government to effectively plan its response to the referendum and carry out negotiations with the EU. Consequently, the EU will face problems as one of its biggest and most powerful members extracts itself from the system. Moreover, the world in general waits to see how the world’s biggest trading bloc proceeds, and how Europe plans to continue. Economically we are in a period of huge uncertainty globally and it is up to all the main players to get their acts together and work together to respond to the economic, political and social problems that caused and have been caused the historic referendum result.

The fallout from Brexit continues to be felt and will be felt for at least the next two years. The uncertainty needs to be addressed and societal divisions healed. June 23rd was an extremely stormy and rainy Thursday within the United Kingdom and the fallacy that is Brexit should certainly not be taken lightly.

Categories: Insights

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.