UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson resigned earlier on Monday, less than a day after the departure of Brexit Minister David Davis. The latter’s resignation was caused by disagreements with UK Prime Minister Theresa May's plan for exiting the European Union.
"They [the UK government] have been going around in circles [during Brexit talks with the European Union], making proposal after proposal and the EU just keeps saying no. And I think her [May’s] Chequers statement [on Brexit strategy] last Friday would have gone exactly the same way, the EU would have said no. So in fact, this would have been a storm in a teacup until about 24 hours ago. Now it's becoming very serious and to be honest I think it could be for the good. It could be the catalyst that's needed to force a change of direction," Petley said.
Chance to Revise 'Futule' Brexit Strategies
According to Petley, the current crisis may serve as a fresh impetus for the government to soberly reconsider its "futile" Brexit strategies and shift its focus to models which have been previously overlooked or dismissed.
"The bigger the crisis gets the sooner we're going to see these futile Brexit plans replaced by something better. I think we’re approaching a situation where the only options are to simply crash out or to give EFTA [European Free Trade Association] a long look. Which of the two… or whether she's going to blindly press on with something that isn't going to work and then try something else that isn't going to work," he noted.
Leadership Challenge Likely
When asked about the possibility of a leadership challenge for May, Petley suggested that it would depend on how the prime minister would handle the situation over the next few days. He noted that it was also vital for her not to show weakness as it would cost her the support from Tory backbenchers and a lot of her grassroots. Otherwise, the situation may result in the Conservatives going out of office, he said.
"The thing with Mrs. May is that she's been a lifelong Tory and is very committed to the party. But really if she messes this up it's going to be the crisis for her party that will be compared to the crisis following the repeal of the Corn-laws [on tariffs on imported food and grain] in 1846, you know it put them out of office effectively for 28 years," he noted.
The campaigner stressed that it was exactly the resignation of Johnson which put May’s positions at greater risk, since he was the face of UK diplomacy and negotiating position in the eyes of EU partners.
"With Boris going as well the main interface between this country and the EU… basically is gone. I mean he was the foreign secretary, David Davis was basically the frontman… but no, I think with Boris going as well, that is going to pile the pressure on her and that's going to make a leadership challenge… more likely," Petley said.
No Candidates in Sight So Far
The campaigner, however, found it difficult to suggest who could replace May, questioning that Johnson was the right person to take the helm.
"But who would it be? I don't think Boris is necessarily the person who would be the obvious choice. I don't think he excelled as a foreign secretary and I think there are too many people who don't like him. I don't know the man … but he's not really the sort of person who has got what it takes, underneath, to lead the country," he pointed out.
The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a referendum in 2016, but the vote left the country divided almost equally into "Remainers" and "Brexiteers." The model for a future economic partnership and the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have proved to be the most contentious matters both in the talks with Brussels and the debates within the UK cabinet, which led to the high-profile resignations.
The views and opinions expressed by John Petley are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.