The Slatest

This Week in Brexit: Who Wants to Be Prime Minister?

Candidates for Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove and Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid all photographed recently in Downing Street in London.
Animation by Slate. Photos by Tolga Akmen, Ben Stansall, Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images.

With the pace of Brexit news slowing a bit after last week’s extension, we’re rebranding Today in Brexit as This Week in Brexit. Previous posts are here and an explainer on how Britain got into this mess is here.

This week in leadership contests: After securing a six-month Brexit extension last week, and with Parliament in recess, Prime Minister Theresa May spent this week walking in Wales, which sounds lovely. Less lovely: Back in London, a whole lot of people are scheming to take her job.

May has previously suggested she would step down either after delivering Brexit or if she was unable to do so by this summer, which would require Britain to take part in EU elections. This is Brexit, so no promises are binding, and the Conservative Party can’t actually hold a vote to force her out until December, since it tried and failed to do that last December. Still, with cross-party Brexit talks between May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seemingly making little headway, pressure on her to resign is likely to grow in the coming months, especially if the Conservatives get shellacked in local elections next month. For Brexiteers, replacing May could be the last option for getting the “hard Brexit” scenario—a full separation from the EU, its customs union, and its regulations—that she now seems intent on preventing.

Officially, there’s no leadership contest going on right now, but a few people are already positioning themselves to take May’s job. Home Secretary Sajid Javid made what was billed as a major speech on knife crime this week. The speech connected a call for early intervention to prevent young people from falling into crime with details from Javid’s own working-class upbringing in an immigrant community. It was widely seen as a step toward a bid to succeed May. Javid was mildly pro-Remain ahead of the referendum but has since been more in the Brexiteer camp.

Former London Mayor and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who left May’s Cabinet over disagreements on Brexit policy, also laid down a marker this week with an op-ed (paywalled) in the Telegraph warning politicians that they would face the wrath of voters if they couldn’t deliver Brexit. “The only way to cure our Brexchosis is to do what we promised the people—to leave the EU, and do it properly,” he wrote. Johnson also got in a spat with Labour MP David Lammy, who likened him to Steve Bannon and Viktor Orban and equated his views to “far-right fascism.”

Other likely contenders for the job include former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

This week in no party like a Brexit Party: Arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage, former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, launched his new Brexit Party last Friday to contest the upcoming EU elections. (This is assuming that Britain actually takes part in the elections, in which residents of EU countries vote for their representatives to the European Parliament. May is still saying that she wants to get a Brexit deal completed before then, though that’s looking pretty unlikely now.) Remarkably, the brand-new party is leading in a recent poll, with 27 percent compared with 22 percent for Labour and 15 percent for the Conservatives. Voters tend to use European elections for protest votes so, ironically, they’ve helped raise the profile of fringe euroskeptic parties.

As the leader of UKIP, Farage played a key role in making Brexit happen, mainly by pressuring the Conservatives to adopt many of its positions, including holding the 2016 referendum in the first place. He quit UKIP last year, saying it had been taken over by the far right and had become obsessed with Islam.

The new Brexit Party’s candidates in the upcoming election including the gloriously named Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of the hard-line Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

This week in no deal: Sky News reported last week that following the extension,  the government’s contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit was now being wound down, citing a leaked email. As Sky reported, “the government has spent £2bn on Brexit preparations and redeployed thousands of civil servants away from their normal jobs to work in no-deal related work.” May responded to the report with an email to civil servants, obtained by the Guardian, saying that planning for leaving the EU without a deal should continue.

For political reasons, it makes sense that May doesn’t want to take the prospect of no-deal off the table entirely, but after last week it’s pretty clear that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to prevent it. If she’s no longer in power, obviously, it’s a different matter.

This week in Northern Ireland: Throughout the Brexit negotiations, one of the major dilemmas has been finding a way for the U.K. to leave the union without creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. After decades of sectarian violence, the region has enjoyed an uneasy period of peace since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. As journalist Katie DeRosa recently wrote in a dispatch for Slate, a hard Brexit “could throw a bomb into the Good Friday Agreement, fueling fears it could mobilize paramilitary groups such as the New IRA, which oppose any customs checks between the north and the south.”

In a tragic demonstration of what this kind of violence can look like, 29-year-old investigative journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead amid rioting in Derry, also known as Londonderry. The rioting was started after police raids meant to prevent attacks by nationalist militants to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising. Police are calling McKee’s killing a “terrorist incident” and say it was likely carried out by the New IRA. McKee was working on a book about the disappearance of young people during the long period of violence known as the Troubles.

As the politicians squabble in London, the incident is a reminder of the potential human stakes of the decisions being taken.

Days left until next deadline: 196