Theresa May’s woes deepened after she returned from giving a speech about Brexit in Italy last week. The Sunday Times claimed her “loyal” chancellor Philip Hammond had planned to give her the boot after the Tories’ disastrous general election performance.
The revelations are in a forthcoming book by the newspaper’s political editor, Tim Shipman.
On 9 June with news of Labour’s gains still coming in at 4am, Hammond messaged foreign secretary Boris Johnson saying he would back him for the leadership. The plot to oust May involved the most high-profile cabinet ministers—Hammond, Johnson, Brexit secretary David Davis and home secretary Amber Rudd.
A Hammond ally said, “Davis could run Brexit, Hammond could run the economy and Boris could run the shop”.
The plans quickly unravelled as Davis, with leadership aspirations of his own, couldn’t stomach standing aside for old rival Johnson. The threat to May subsided, but the infighting that scuppered it is causing problems for her.
Even if Johnson isn’t prime minister, his friends say he’s writing the prime minister’s speeches.
In Italy May said that the British government would ask the EU for a two-year “transition period” with full access to the single market. According to Johnson allies, he stopped May from going for a five-year transition and Norway-style arrangement afterwards.
Norway, which is not an EU member, has access to the single market—and has to accept its free market rules.
Davis and Hammond teamed up to deny Johnson had anything to do with May’s speech.
As “hard Brexiteers” Davis and Johnson should be allies against “soft Brexiteer” Hammond. But bitter rivalries have combined with deeper splits within the Tories, who are partly torn between the demands of bigotry and big business.
Their friends in the City of London and big business are in favour of remaining in the EU’s neoliberal single market. Its free market rules protect their profits against “interference” by left wing governments or trade unions.
As chancellor, Hammond is more sympathetic to capital’s concerns.
But the Tories are also desperately chasing right wing votes, and won the lion’s share of former Ukip supporters in the general election. Appealing to this group means promising to dump freedom of movement for EU migrants.
This split threatened to tear the Tories apart. So May came down firmly on the side of bigotry, promising to both leave the single market and ditch free movement. The party seemed united around a vision of a racist, nationalist Brexit.
Then May, egged on by Davis, called the snap election to strengthen the Tories’ hand in parliament and at the EU negotiating table. The opposite happened, and May is now harvesting the bitter fruits.
The result also emboldened the “soft Brexiteers” within the Tory party, who want to retain access to the single market. Pressure from this wing partly lies behind May promising a “transition period”.
After the initial flurry of plots the Tories united around the message of get Brexit done, then deal with May. But there’s one big problem—Brexit is proving more and more difficult. Davis began the fourth round of negotiations on Monday, negotiations that are unlikely to go anywhere.
This process is destroying hopes of unity in May’s cabinet.
It’s not just Johnson who sees an opportunity to launch a leadership bid. Other Tory MPs are furtively plotting.According to backbenchers more than 50 MPs now want May to resign, over the 48 needed to force a no confidence vote in her leadership.
The liberal Guardian newspaper has latched onto the Tories’ troubles with another nauseating column, arguing that May’s speech confirmed the need to ditch Brexit. This direction is a dead end for the left.
May might be looking to stay in the single market, but that’s alongside clamping down on migrants. The left needs to put forward a different agenda of dumping the single market and defending free movement.
May’s Brexit blues are our chance to defeat all of the Tories.