Shambolic reshuffle could help stop Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 09.01.2018

Theresa May has shown yet again that she lacks authority. That increases the chances of both a botched Brexit – and stopping the sorry business altogether.

After an appalling 2017, the prime minister wanted to show she had her mojo back by reshuffling her cabinet. But was unable to stamp her authority on the rabble that the Tory party is turning into. In particular, Jeremy Hunt refused to move from health to business secretary.

In the end, the most eye-catching change was the resignation of Justine Greening, the education secretary, after she refused to move to work and pensions. For a party that struggles to show it isn’t elitist and bigoted, this is unfortunate. Greening is a working-class lesbian from northern England who has championed social mobility.

The shambolic reshuffle – combined with today’s resignation of Toby Young from the Office of Students because of his offensive tweets and articles, only eight days after he’d been appointed – has underlined the impression that May is in office but not in power.

What this means for Brexit is that 2018 is likely to see the same drift that characterised the prime minister’s approach during 2017. She won’t want to spell out detailed policies because she will fear that doing so will split her party. Instead, she will keep mumbling vacuous slogans while trying to avoid hard choices.

The snag is that the clock is now ticking rapidly. We are nearly half way through the two-year negotiation process. Brexit was always going to be bad. But wasting yet more time will mean May ends up making the worst, not the best of a bad job.

There is, though, a silver lining. As the prime minister is buffeted by the winds, the public may realise just how much of a mess she is going to inflict on us all. Even Greening’s departure could be good news if the pro-European MP joins the ranks of Tory mutineers.

If May’s lack of leadership helps convince voters that they don’t want Brexit at all, it will be a blessing in disguise.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

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