Alice explains some of the causes and consequences of Brexit Secretary David Davis’ resignation.
Another One Bites the Dust: What David Davis’ Resignation Means for Theresa May
On Sunday night, David Davis threw a proverbial grenade into the Conservative party with the announcement of his resignation, and not even 24 hours later, Boris Johnson followed suit. The mass exodus of minister resignations comes as a response to the Brexit plan agreed at Chequers on Friday, which Boris Johnson tactfully stated that trying to defend would be like ‘polishing a turd’. So how could the plan possibly have elicited such a momentous reaction? Put short, the consensus among many Brexiteer Tory MPs is that the plan presented a Brexit that was unacceptably ‘soft’. Their primary objection was the proposal to ‘maintain a common rulebook’ governing goods in the UK and EU, with David Davis telling LBC that he could not be, ‘the champion of a policy (he) didn’t believe in’. The agreement at Chequers was the closest the Conservative party have come to delivering a clear, united proposal for leaving the EU, but in light of recent events, not only does this progress hang in the balance, but so does the fate of Prime Minister May.
The recent resignations have sparked rampant speculation over the possibility of a vote of no confidence against Theresa May – but how likely is this? While some Eurosceptic MPs have allegedly already begun submitting letters of no confidence to Graham Brady, it will take 48 Tory MPs submitting letters to trigger a leadership contest. The resignation of two leading Brexiteers could draw the support of Eurosceptic Tory MPs further away from May, and Davis’ resignation in particular is likely to inspire fear that the clean break they trusted him to deliver will be replaced by a softer Brexit. This could trigger more Eurosceptics within the party to vote no confidence, in an attempt to redirect the course of our divorce deal with a more pro-Brexit Prime Minister.
However, it would be unwise to begin digging May’s grave just yet. The most obvious obstacle to a vote of no confidence is the fact that there is no clear successor to May, as the divisions within the party mean that it is more difficult to determine a candidate with majority support. Not only that, but the split also makes the job of Prime Minister wholly undesirable; no matter what stance on Brexit one chooses to pursue, one is always going to have a large part of their own party working against them. Thus, Brexiteer MPs are probably aware that even if a leadership contest were triggered, it is likely May would win, as there would probably not be enough support behind one alternative candidate to oust her, and she still has considerable support within the party.
Considering this, at the moment it would be more in the interest of the Eurosceptic faction of the party to hold off on writing their letters of no confidence, and instead turn their attention to Davis’ replacement Dominic Raab, ensuring he sticks to carrying out the ‘full fat Brexit’ he told one interviewer he was in favour of. As long as there is the hope that Raab may do what Davis could not, and there remains no strong alternative candidate for a leadership contest, we can perhaps tentatively conclude that the Prime Minister may be spared from a vote of no confidence – for now.
By Alice Kenny