Thursday, 23rd June 2016 will go down in history as one of the greatest dates in our country’s history. For on that day, the Government finally allowed our people to have the Referendum for which the members of the UK Independence Party and all Brexiteers had fought so hard and so long to achieve: on whether the UK should Remain in the European Union or should Leave and once more become an independent country.
And we voted to Leave.
This came as a tremendous shock to the Conservative Government which had assumed that the British – especially those under the age of 60 who knew no other type of government – would vote to Remain within the European Union. Especially after their “Project Fear”.
During the six week campaign prior to the Referendum, our then Prime Minister, David Cameron, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, plus the Canadian Head of the Bank of England and many other ‘experts’ had bombarded us with predictions of loss of trade, unemployment, financial recession, genocide and even a third world war should we vote to Leave.
But we did vote to Leave the EU on that day and the following month has been equally momentous.
On Friday 24th June, as the final results of the Referendum came in and it was clear that the vote had been to Leave the EU, David Cameron did the honourable thing and resigned, saying he would leave in October. This meant that there would have to be a leadership contest for the new Party Leader and Prime Minister.
According to the rules, the Tories’ process for choosing a leader is twofold: Conservative MPs narrow the field to two choices before a postal ballot of the wider membership of the party is conducted. However, should just one candidate be put forward before the first round, then they would be immediately elected as Prime Minister. In this case, five candidates put their names forward.
On Sunday, 26th June, Stephen Crabb, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced that he would be a candidate in the contest. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced that she would be standing, as did Andrea Leadsom, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change and Liam Fox, MP.
On Wednesday, 29th June, Nicola Sturgeon the First Minister of Scotland, following the 62%Scottish vote to Remain during the Referendum, flew to Brussels for talks on how Scotland could stay part of the EU. But the response from Brussels revealed that a part of a member state could not remain if the whole state left; even if Scotland became an independent country, it would have to negotiate its own entry into the European Union.
OnThursday, 30th June, Boris Johnson, the leader of the Vote Leave Group, who was naturally expected to stand to become Prime Minister, was set to launch his campaign. However, this was not to be. Two hours beforehand, he was dealt a fatal blow by his former Vote Leave ally, Michael Gove, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice who said that he would be standing as he felt that after all, Boris would not be suitable as Prime Minister. Boris Johnson then announced that he would not be standing as a candidate but would support the next Conservative administration to make sure that the mandate of the people was fully carried out.
On Thursday, 5th July, the first ballot for the leadership took place and the list of candidates was:
Stephen Crabb, Theresa May, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove.
Some 330 MPs voted in a secret ballot from 11 a.m. and after this first round of voting was completed at 6 p.m., Theresa May led with 165 votes from the MPs followed by Andrea Leadsom with 66 and Michael Gove with 48 votes. Liam Fox was eliminated from the contest with just 16 votes and Stephen Crabb, with 34 votes, decided to withdraw rather than face the next round but said that he would throw his support behind Theresa May as ‘the only candidate likely to unify the Party and the country’. Later that evening, Michael Gove also dropped out of the race, leaving just Theresa May (a ‘reluctant Remainer’) and Andrea Leadsom (a strong Leave campaigner) who were expected to take their contest to the Party Members during the summer. A final decision on the Leadership of the Party was expected to be made by 9th September 2016 and the Party Conference.
On Friday, 9th July, however, Andrea Leadsom was interviewed by The Times newspaper and was said to have made an incautious comment that with children, she had more of a stake in the country than her rival, Theresa May, who was childless.
On Monday, 11thJuly, following a furious denial and a weekend of rows, Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the leadership race and as the remaining candidate, Theresa May was ‘crowned’ as Party Leader and expected to take over as Prime Minister.
On Wednesday, 13th July, after his last ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ in the House of Commons, David Cameron was driven to the Palace where he offered his resignation to the Queen; following this, Theresa May was offered the position of Prime Minister by the Queen, which she accepted. She then returned to Downing Street and gave her first speech as Prime Minister to the waiting media outside of No.10 Downing Street, calling her Party by its full name of ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’ to include the whole of the United Kingdom. Theresa May confirmed that although she had backed the ‘Remain’ campaign, she would now accept the democratic decision of the British people and that ‘Brexit meant Brexit’. But she added that Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which would start of official negotiations with the European Union, would not be triggered until informal talks were completed.
That evening, she began to assemble her Cabinet, the first member of which, to many people’s surprise, was Boris Johnson the former Mayor of London and Leader of the Out Campaign, as Foreign Secretary. She also created two new departments, bringing in two further ‘Brexiteers’. David Davis became Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (‘Brexit’) and in charge of negotiations to leave the EU, while Liam Fox became the Secretary of State for International Trade. It was later announced that the three Secretaries of State would be sharing the country residence of Chevening in Kent (usually reserved for the Foreign Secretary) since their workload will overlap.
Philip Hammond became Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), Amber Rudd took over from Theresa May as Home Secretary while Michael Fallon continued in his position as Secretary of State for Defence.
On Thursday, 14thJuly, the new Prime Minister completed her cabinet bringing in a number of women, including Liz Truss as Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. Her former rival, Andrea Leadsom was confirmed as Secretary of State for a department renamed Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which omitted the former title of ‘Climate Change’.
Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and Mr Gove now retired to the back benches.
On Friday, 15thJuly, Theresa May made her first official visit as Prime Minister to Nicola Sturgeon the First Minister of Scotland. saying that she wished to preserve ‘this special union that has endured for centuries’. Nevertheless, she said that there would be no second Referendum on the Independence of Scotland although she would not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until she had agreed a ‘UK approach’. Unfortunately, Nicola Sturgeon took this as meaning she had an effective veto over the Brexit timing but this was later denied by her office.
On Tuesday, 19th July, Prime Minister Theresa May held her first cabinet meeting and announced that she would chair three new cabinet committees as well as the National Security Committee (NSC): on social reform, economic and industrial strategy and on the UK’s departure from the EU
On Wednesday, 20th July, in an impressive appearance at her first Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May declared that the referendum sent a ‘very clear message’ and that the public want ‘control of free movement’ of the EU peoples although she refused to set a date for lower immigration.
After this session in the House of Commons, Theresa May flew to Berlin to discuss British withdrawal from the EU with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel who backed the Prime Minister’s caution by saying that Britain should carefully consider its position before invoking Article 50 to formally withdraw from the European Union.
This was in contrast to the approach of other European leaders, including Francois Hollande the French President who hosted her later that day in Paris, who want Britain to set the wheels in motion as soon as possible.
However, President Hollande did make two key concessions to Theresa May on continuing UK border controls in Calais and on the right of Britons living in France to remain there.
By Saturday, 23rd July, which is a calendar month since the Referendum on whether the UK should Remain in or Leave the European Union, the new Government and Prime Minister were well into the saddle.
Boris Johnson, the new Foreign Secretary, has already had to deal with possible UK results from Islamic tragedies in France, Germany and Afghanistan, and also from the failed coup in Turkey and the following dictatorial crackdown by its President. He has visited both Washington, where he received an enthusiastic welcome and Brussels, where he had to give an assurance that the UK’s exit from the EU would not be leaving Europe or ‘abandoning’ its friends.
David Davis, the new Brexit Secretary, has already said that ‘leaving the EU gives Britain back control of our trade policy and the opportunity to maximise returns from free trade.’ He has added that ‘within the EU, deals are obtained by finding a 28 nation compromise which is a clumsy way of doing things. That is why we currently only have trade deals with only two of our top ten non-EU trading partners, yet about 60% of our trade is with non-EU countries. In fact, we sell as much to non-EU countries with which we have no trade agreements as we do to the EU’
Liam Fox, who also backed the Leave campaign and is now the Secretary for International Trade and minister charged with securing new trade deals for Britain outside of the EU, says that he already has ten such deals already lined up for a after a given Brexit date which he hopes will be no later than 1st January, 2019.
Chris Grayling, the new Transport Secretary, has said that after years of delay, the need for a new runway is even more urgent following Brexit and the expectation of more trade and world contacts. He has confirmed that he expects a decision to be agreed within weeks.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has visited Beijing and Hong Kong to promote British business and then attended the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Chengdu. The Ministers and central bank governors have already said that the world’s largest economies ‘are well positioned to proactively address the possible consequences stemming from Brexit’.
And, indeed, in spite of the predictions of disaster which were bandied about before the Referendum a month ago, so far matters are going remarkably well for Britain. Yes, it is only a month since the shock happened and perhaps we shan’t know exactly how things will turn out for a year. Yes, there are still worries about the levels of migration which will be agreed upon and worries also that perhaps, somehow, our Prime Minister who voted to Remain, might renege on her promise that ‘Brexit mean Brexit’, hauling us back into the undemocratic European Union and ruining our hopes of returning to a full democracy.
But for the moment, there is a feeling of optimism in the air and long may it last!
Note: Meanwhile, of course, the Labour Party is in complete disarray and who knows what the end of this will be? But that is not for the present and when these problems are finally resolved, it will deserve an article of its own.