Professor Martin Smith, Professor of Politics at the University of York has spoken with Sputnik on the resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis amid disagreements with UK Prime Minister Theresa May's plan for exiting the European Union.
Sputnik: This is a serious blow for the PM; Davis was a close ally and powerful figure in the government as well as the Brexit negotiations despite doing very little in his tenure. How significant is his departure and what effect will it have negotiations going forward?
Martin Smith: The real significance of his [Davis’] resignation depends greatly on whether other ministers resign. I think if he resigns and everything settles down and people decide this isn’t the moment to push Theresa May, then actually I think he will just disappear under the water and it won’t have that much of an effect in the medium term. I think the danger still exists that other senior ministers could resign, and in that case everything could come undone very quickly.
Martin Smith: There are two separate issues; I think one issue is that the Conservative party is fundamentally divided [over Brexit], and actually I think the strength of Theresa May’s position is that the party is so divided that there is no one who can overcome the divide, and she’s as good as anybody holding it together. I think the problem for both sides is if they push Theresa May, the question is ‘who takes over?’ and ‘can anybody take over who can be seen to hold the party together?’, because actually if someone like Boris Johnson or Michael Gove is elected leader, will that result in a split in the party. I think actually, bizarrely, there’s a lot of pressure on May to stay in office.
The other thing I think is interesting is that Michael Gove came out strongly in favor of the agreement made in Chequers. Gove is, in a sense, trying to set himself up as a bit of pragmatic candidate. He stills see the opportunity for himself to come in and replace May, but again that still depends if anybody or enough MPs are prepared to push May out, and at the moment that doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
Sputnik: Today it’s been announced that the former housing minister and prominent leave campaigner Dominic Raab has been drafted into Davis' position. The minister is young-politically, only becoming an MP in 2010 before later joining the government in 2015. Essentially why has Theresa May picked such a junior minister and is he suitable to lead the Brexit procedure?
Martin Smith: Dominic Raab is clearly someone of great ability but I also think the thing that’s most important is his position politically. Whilst he supports Brexit, at the same time he’s pragmatic. I think what Theresa May has tried to do is maintain the existing balance in the cabinet, so when one Brexitier left she replaced him [David Davis] with another one, but she has replaced him a pragmatic Brexitiers and one who’s clearly prepared to work hard in that role. I think that probably suits Theresa May’s position to have his support and I think that’s what will keep her in power if she can keep on side enough of the Brexitiers and whilst she does that she’s in quite a strong position.
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