The Estimable, but Unexpected, Rise of the Brexit Boys
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because snatching defeat from the jaws of victory takes a lot of talent.
By Eugene S. Robinson
OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.
Hard to imagine back on June 23, 2016, that anyone thought it would be this hard. And yet, with a looming drop-dead date of March 29, 2019, the United Kingdom is closer to a very real Brexit, or British exit from the European Union, than when 51.9 percent of voters there expressed a desire to do exactly that.
Closer, though, should in no way be confused with nearer, and so less than a year away from a scission that will fundamentally change the way the U.K. has done business since 1973 when it became a member of the European Community, uncertainty remains. Big ol’ buckets of it. Around, specifically, which makes the most amount of sense for the continued health and welfare of the British Isles: a hard Brexit vs. a softer Brexit.
Evidenced most significantly by the shifting sets of allegiances and winds of political change that first saw a Prime Minister David Cameron give way to a Prime Minister Theresa May. And now? Within the space of 24 hours this weekend, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, both hard-line Brexit supporters, resigned and threw May’s political standing into peril. Their shock decisions made way for respective replacements: step forward, Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt.
Hunt, 51, is a father of three with a Chinese-born wife and a lifelong conservative who nonetheless favors fairly liberal economic and social policies. As both a member of Parliament and later secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, he has been reviled by some as one of the most hated politicians in the U.K. For? For attacking the National Health Service (NHS) by calling out medical staff inefficiencies and expecting them to make cuts to save money, apparently. “Anyone who says anything less than glowing about the NHS, the ultimate sacred cow, is instantly a monster,” says U.K. trade journalist James Parker. “He is really just a standard laissez-faire Tory.”
If [May is] lucky, she gets able stewards. If she’s unlucky, fall guys.
A Tory who, periodic controversies aside, has weathered the worst, and despite initially being anti-Brexit is enough of a Brexit convert to have convinced May, who promptly called on him to replace the exiting foreign secretary. In total, a series of acts of legerdemain that have convinced at least a few that Hunt’s got eyes on 10 Downing Street and the prime minister’s gig if May’s carefully constructed coalition fails to deliver a Brexit deal that seems like what the body politic voted for. Which, it should be noted, is entirely different from what the body politic can ultimately deal with.
Interestingly enough, Johnson, whose delivery of his resignation letter was pre-empted by May’s announcement that he was resigning, has also been accused of having prime ministerial ambitions. That’s not something even whispered about regarding the two-fisted, karate black belt Raab, whose replacement of the outgoing Brexit secretary is probably one of the most politically safe moves May might have made.
Raab, 44, a married father of two, despite/because of being branded by The Guardian as a “dangerous, antifeminist idealogue” and getting briefly sullied in an aide’s low-grade sex scandal, had been dismissed as an always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride backbencher. While the distaff backlash in response to a Raab rant declaring that “feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots” certainly is not the sole reason he is the new Brexit secretary, it can’t have hurt.
And the square-jawed and telegenic Raab’s support for Brexit has always tellingly been called “cerebral,” a code word signaling nothing if not the ability to bend where the departing Davis wouldn’t. All of which shows some savvy, face-saving politicking on the part of May, who needs to signal in the upcoming months, with reports indicating that the Brexit terms are about 80 percent complete, that “there’s a dance in the old dame yet” to quote humorist Don Marquis.
While smarts alone is no guarantee that May’s effort to peddle a softer Brexit than originally envisioned won’t give comfort to her competitors and anti-Brexiteers and will sail swimmingly along to completion and her continued employability, having Raab and Hunt in place is helpful. If she’s lucky, she gets able stewards. If she’s unlucky, fall guys.
Or as another PM named Winston Churchill once put it: “You never can tell whether bad luck may not turn out after all to be good luck.”