In the two years since a narrow majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union, the planning of the country’s actual departure has often looked like a disaster unfolding in slow motion. In the past few days, as an anonymous public servant, displaying the sangfroid for which British mandarins used to be famous, put it, “we have at least now reached the kinetic phase of the car crash.”
Prime Minister Theresa May—facing the thankless, and maybe impossible, task of fashioning a plan that would honor the result of the 2016 vote, unite her Conservative Party, garner acceptance from other European governments, and minimize the collateral damage to the British economy—has spent much of the past twenty-four months temporizing and fending off potential challenges to her leadership. On Friday, she finally acted, summoning her cabinet to her official country house, which is known as Chequers, and demanding support for what she presented as the best available negotiating plan.
For about forty-eight hours, it appeared that May had succeeded in gaining unanimous backing for her proposal—but that proved illusory. On Sunday night, David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, a specially created post, quit, saying that May was making too many concessions to the E.U. Hours later, two junior members of the government resigned, too. And then, on Monday afternoon, Boris Johnson, the old Etonian mop top who for the past two years has served as May’s far-from-entirely-loyal Foreign Secretary, joined the leaving party. In a public letter, he said that the Brexit “dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt,” and suggested that May’s strategy amounted to leading the U.K. into a “semi-Brexit” with the “status of a colony.” [Continue reading…]