Jo Johnson, Conservative MP for Orpington and former Transport and London minister, resigned from Government on Friday, citing everyone’s favourite reason for being pissed off in politics; Brexit. He sounded remarkably like his brother in his hatred of May’s Chequers plan, which Boris rants about in his Telegraph column every Monday. Jo’s use of patriotic language such as “a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis” in his resignation statement contrasts the average remainer who chooses to adorn themselves in EU flags and patronise voters by suggesting they voted to leave in ignorance.
Maybe this stance was made purely because suggesting that his brother lied to the entire nation would make for an awkward family Christmas, however it is telling that he uses the language of Brexiteers to highlight his concern that the Chequers deal leaves us still under EU regulation, yet without a say in the matter. James Forsyth of the Spectator, points out that this is a much more effective way for remainers to frame their argument, and the monumental nature of Jo’s resignation will be determined by whether other remainers follow suit.
In The Observer, a lot of weight was given to Jo’s resignation, signalling that this “may be the catalyst that reverses the catastrophe of 2016”. I beg to differ. Primarily, because following Jo’s resignation, there was no emeragency ‘Brexitcast’. This should be the measure of how impactful all Brexit-related announcements are (there was one when the impasse was reached, when the EU published a withdrawal agreement, and when Corbyn backed customs union membership).
But more to the point, a second referendum is so unlikely that this resignation is not going to suddenly tip the scales. Corbyn is constantly asked whether he backs a second referendum and even he refuses to back it, knowing that it is political suicide to back such an option (and he secretly hates the EU).
But both Johnson brothers are right; May should not leave us under regulatory control of the ECJ without a seat at the table. What differs from Johnson to Johnson is their proposed solution to the travesty of Chequers. Jo sees the remedy as a reversal of Brexit through a second referendum, and Boris sees the remedy to be complete Cabinet “mutiny” and a no deal scenario. Thursday morning fulfils Boris’s prophecy of Cabinet mutiny, however it is anyone’s guess as to whether all his predictions will be fulfilled. If our relationship with the EU did follow May’s plan, remainers would want us to send bureaucrats back to the EU and rejoin in order to have a seat at the table, and Brexiteers would pull further away from the EU, desperate for a better deal than Chequers. Thursday morning’s catalogue of resignations reinforces the likelihood of no deal and completely scuppers any chances of a second referendum as the balance is tipped towards Brexiteers.
With Gove lined up to be the next Brexit secretary, and Mogg submitting a letter of no confidence in the PM, the significance of Jo Johnson’s resignation fades in comparison. Whilst Jo’s resignation highlighted the difficulty of getting the Brexit deal through Parliament, it now appears that remaining as Prime Minister is the primary obstacle for May. A vote of no confidence is now increasingly likely, and although it would be surprising if she lost it, it would still illustrate how badly she needs Labour’s support to get her deal through Parliament.
The outspoken criticism of May’s deal from senior (former) Cabinet ministers once again shows that the mathematics of Parliament certainly will not carry the deal without support from the Labour Party. And Labour MPs are never going to be seen to rescue a Tory leader and save the party. However, the divisiveness of the deal means that there is no clear alternative for leader. There is no one person that all those wishing to vote against the deal would get behind.
Furthermore, time is of the essence and a two week leadership contest would be cutting it ridiculously fine. Despite this huge division, there is one thing that almost everyone can agree on, May is in an unenviable position and one cannot help but feel sorry for her.