Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce
This Week in Brexit: Politics 22nd July
It’s been almost a month since the Referendum vote and it is clear that we are living in interesting times. A new Prime Minister has taken the reins and has steered her new-look government through its first full week of political business whilst an inward-looking Labour party tries to confront its ideological daemons.
If Theresa May had been hoping to be able to ease into her new role then a vote on the thorny issue of the Trident nuclear weapons system would probably not have been high on her list of ideal starting points given the polarising nature of the debate around it.
The vote itself was straightforward with the £31bn renewal backed by 472 votes. The 117 against votes were largely made up of the SNP, Lib Dems, and a cohort of Labour MPs.
More notably, when asked by George Kerevan, SNP, whether she was personally prepared to authorise a strike using the weapons system that would cause the deaths of 100,000 innocent men, women, and children, May replied “Yes.” without any hesitation. She added that the whole point of a deterrent is that the UK’s enemies need to know that we would use it.
Prime Ministers Questions
This week also saw Theresa May face the first PMQs of her tenure and her performance well demonstrated her confidence and political experience.
Corbyn questioned her on issues such as housing ownership rates, austerity, the Orgreave inquiry, and the record of her new foreign secretary but the Prime Minister was polished in her responses. She also managed to deliver a number of withering put downs; the most cutting of which solidified the comparisons that people have made with Margaret Thatcher.
“It’s called diplomacy, Boris.”
Boris Johnson’s first outing in his new role as Foreign Secretary saw him host a visit from John Kerry, The American Secretary of State. The seasoned veteran, Kerry, was very complimentary of his UK counterpart during the Press Conference however the world’s media was less receptive to Johnson and many took the opportunity at the Press Conference to bring up comments he had made throughout his political and journalistic career as well as his performance during the Leave campaign.
Johnson responded that many things that he had said had over the years had been taken out of context and asserted that serious issues in Syria, Yemen, and Egypt were more important than his past.
Merkel and Hollande
Theresa May has also been diplomatically engaged this week as she flew to the continent to meet with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French President, Francois Hollande, for talks which largely centred around the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Despite amicable introductions between the two stateswomen, Merkel made her position on Brexit crystal clear by saying that Article 50 would have to be triggered before any meaningful Brexit talks could begin.
May received slightly mixed messages when she flew to Paris, however, as Hollande took the position that the process of preparing for negotiations should begin as soon as possible even though he agreed that there could be no real negotiation before the activation of Article 50. Hollande also reaffirmed that accessing the single market would mean accepting freedom of movement.
Tuesday’s announcement from Angela Eagle that she was pulling out of the Labour leadership campaign leaves Jeremy Corbyn and ex-shadow work and pensions secretary, Owen Smith, to battle it out over the next two months. Eagle also announced that she would be strongly backing Smith’s campaign.
The official launch of Smith’s leadership challenge saw him reach out to all members of the PLP and say that he was just as radical as Jeremy Corbyn in opposing austerity but that there also needed to be a concrete plan for prosperity. Smith also highlighted that he planned to restore wage councils, implement a £200bn investment plan, hold a referendum on the Brexit deal, use an ethical foreign policy, and push for a new war powers act to help parliament scrutinise future conflicts. This week also saw Smith offer Corbyn the role of party president, if he wins; an offer which Corbyn has rejected.
Corbyn urged Labour MPs to get behind the party at the launch of his re-election campaign and promised to tackle the ‘five ills of the 21st Century’: inequality, neglect, prejudice, insecurity, and discrimination. Corbyn also used the launch as an opportunity to welcome the 183,000 people who had signed up over the previous two days and to allay fears amongst Labour MPs that the Government’s planned boundary review could be used to deselect MPs who don’t support him.