Arch-brexiteer Dominic Raab offers little in the form of a replacement to heal the relationship between the government and its backbenches. Though, there were definitely other candidates that would damage the Prime Minister’s chances of survival.
A crucial characteristic of any successful Brexit Minister, or indeed any minister under the premiership of Theresa May in this political climate, is that they challenge and counterbalance May’s ‘remain’ sympathies. The Prime Minister’s seemingly failed collegial approach towards her cabinet has been gradually replaced by a one-man-army, quasi-Presidential attitude.
The issue is, however, that in this style of governing May has compromised the integrity of the office of Brexit in particular by ramming the doctrine of collective responsibility down the throat of her cabinet peers over Brexit. She has subsequently, and irreparably, lost the trust of her backbenchers and evidently those cabinet members that resigned.
Cabinet reshuffles are often a greater sign of weakness than strength, so said Jacob Rees-Mogg. Dominic Raab, no matter how suitable a candidate as he is for this office, I suspect will not be the miracle that May needs to grasp control over the party and the cabinet. Indeed, his credibility and his ethics have already been challenged by the Labour Party. Naturally, this reflects badly on the Prime Minister within Parliament and, even more crucially, beyond Parliament through the eyes of the British public and the EU.
Just back in January I considered this same question in a written article for this magazine: whether a cabinet reshuffle would make or break Theresa May’s premiership? I wrote about the fragility of Brexit and how it exacerbated the dangers of reshuffling and threatened to reinstate supposedly circumvented barriers in the Brexit process.
I believed that a reshuffle then would upset the cohesion of the cabinet (hence the bitter cabinet divide would reappear and any progress would be halted). Though, I am hesitant to reassert that this will interrupt the Brexit process this time round. Regardless of the composition of May’s cabinet, there will never be overwhelming backbench support for Brexit or any other issue.
The Prime Minister’s praisal of her two former colleagues, her decision to move Hunt out of the Health Department and into the Foreign Office as well as her insistence to be a strong and bold leader are fundamentally irreconcilable with her image as a weak and imprudent leader. Indeed, these would have been smart moves had they been enacted months ago.
The uncertainty of Brexit also works in May’s favour. A change in leadership, whether that is within her own party or even a change of the governing party altogether, could jeopardise the Brexit negotiations (at least the progress that has been made up to this point). Whether this is enough to persuade backbenchers in her own party to keep her in power until negotiations are over is absolutely unpredictable, for there is no historical precedent or even any political circumstance remotely similar. What is clear though is that May’s premiership will not last to the next election.
But this doesn’t leave an answer to the questions: When will Theresa May be consigned to the backbenches? Will a snap election follow her replacement? How will the current disharmony affect EU-Brexit negotiations? However, these questions will certainly be answered in due time.