- David Davis is one of “a triangle of Brexit leaders”
- Women take home, education, and justice Cabinet posts
The country voted to leave the European Union, the Prime Minister resigned, another was appointed, and a gaffe-prone politician with a tendency to blurt out offensive remarks was named top diplomat. And now there’s a Brexit minister.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Theresa May is giving the Conservative Party Cabinet a brutal shakeup, creating an army of politicians to make sure Britain’s exit from the European Union happens, and with the best outcome possible for the United Kingdom.
She has deliberately picked three staunch Brexit campaigners to be the triangle at the helm of what could be a painstaking and long separation from the European Union, forcing them to take responsibility for the biggest political change in decades — a change that they helped bring on.
Here’s what you need to know:
Who is in the Brexit triangle?
Technically, the Brexit minister title is secretary of state for exiting the European Union, and the role goes to Conservative Party MP David Davis.
It is a job that no one seemed to want, but it has brought Davis out from the political doldrums — and he just may be the kind of politician who will enjoy the painstaking job.
He is a hardline Euroskeptic who is seen as such a tough negotiator that the French named him “Monsieur Non.”
Former London Mayor Boris Johnson became foreign secretary, a decision that was met with ridicule from many parts of the world. May’s former rival, Liam Fox, is now in the new role of international trade minister and will likely oversee tough trade negotiations with the EU.
“Theresa May is creating a triangle of Brexit leaders — you’ve got the Brexit minister David Davis, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox,” CNN political contributor Robin Oakley said.
“The idea is that May is putting three top Brexit campaigners in the Brexit jobs. She’s saying ‘You wanted this, you do the negotiations, you take responsibility for it, and demonstrate that it will produce the advantages you said it would.”
Davis wants to have his cake and eat it too. He says Britain should have access to the EU’s single trade market, but rejects the idea that Britain should allow EU immigrants freedom to work in Britain in return. He has vowed a “brisk but measured approach to Brexit.”
And it seems he means business. He has said that he want to trigger Article 50 — in other words, officially file for divorce from the European Union — by early next year.
It will be a demanding task. The union and Britain have already been at loggerheads over the deal, with Britain saying it wants to know what its future relationship with the union will look like after leaving, and with the union saying it will not even entertain talks until Britain triggers the article.
The negotiations will involve bringing a number of ministries together to work out first what exactly Britain wants. There are issues of trade, transportation and immigration.
What will the new Cabinet look like?
Theresa May has been active in bringing more women to higher ranks in the Conservative Party. But she has so far appointed men to the crucial positions of foreign secretary, Brexit minister and finance minister — which went to former foreign secretary Philip Hammond.
The exception is Amber Rudd, who will take May’s previous position of home secretary.
On Thursday, May also named Justine Greening as the education secretary and Liz Truss as justice secretary, taking over from Michael Gove, who has been sacked. Gove has been a proponent of Brexit and a former ally of former Prime Minister David Cameron.
May’s close friend Lady Catherine Meyer told CNN that May was someone who had always cared about the representation of women in politics.
“I’m sure she will be appointing more women to be close to her and to be members of the Cabinet,” she said.
“She’s not coming in with a group of people she has known since her childhood or with whom she went to school,” she said.
“She doesn’t need this entourage of friends constantly to feel secure.”
Cameron was widely criticized for manning his Cabinet posts with a number of friends from Eton, the elite boys’ school he attended.
What’s Boris Johnson’s role?
The details of who will do what are still being hammered out, but as newly appointed foreign secretary and a key Brexit campaigner, Boris Johnson will no doubt play a key role.
But his appointment as top diplomat has raised eyebrows from many corners of the world. It is Johnson’s flagrant lack of diplomacy that made him so popular in Britain, so he may struggle to rein it in when put to the test.
He has been forced to apologize several times for blurting out racist remarks.
Johnson once referred to black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles,” and he compared infighting in his Conservative Party to “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing,” offending the Pacific nation.
He made these comments last decade, but his more recent remarks that President Barack Obama’s opinion on Brexit was biased and bitter because of the leader’s Kenyan heritage didn’t do him any favors.
But he brushed off suggestions Thursday that his comments would affect his ability to act as foreign secretary, also dismissing remarks by the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that Johnson was a “liar” who had deceived the British people in his campaigning for Brexit.
He said that Ayrault had “sent me a charming letter just a couple of hours ago” saying that he looked forward to deepening anglo-French relations.
He said his goal now would be to reshape Britain’s image around the world and make the country “a great global player” again.
He also once likened Hillary Clinton to a “sadistic nurse in a mental hospital” and in May he won a £1,000 prize for a poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan having sex with a goat.
He may find Ankara to be hostile after the poem, even though Johnson touts his own Turkish ancestry; his great-grandfather was Turkish. But Johnson, a journalist and politician, has supported Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
The English comedian Ricky Gervais also poked fun at the appointment in a sarcastic tweet.
But not everyone is laughing at BoJo, as he is known in Britain. The Russians were happy to say good riddance to Hammond and are welcoming change.
“The book of Russian-British relations has been waiting for a long time for this page to be turned, it’s not a best page in history of bilateral cooperation — in fact it’s hard to call it cooperation. That’s why if the UK side will want to do that (turn the page) — we will support it. I can tell Mr. Hammond that we won’t miss him,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to Russian state news agency, Ria Novosti.
Where to begin?
A Brexit minister will need a ministry, and that ministry doesn’t even have a building yet. It will need to have a premises and staff to work out how to begin.
It’s a big job too that will involve many ministries and departments, not to mention the estimated 150 EU laws that will now have to be covered by new British laws.
“The government will have to get people in from existing departments, and leaders have said they want the cream of the civil service to do this job, so it’s going to involve a lot of moving people around,” Oakley said.
The key change will be international trade deals, not only a new one with the European Union, but possible free-trade deals with other countries.
“But we haven’t actually got a lot of trade negotiators here working for the government. That job has been outsourced to the EU for years, so there will have to be a recruitment process,” Oakley said.
What about Cameron?
In his final appearance in Parliament as Prime Minister on Wednesday, Cameron opened with the quip that “apart from one meeting in the afternoon with the Queen, my diary is remarkably light.”
He appeared relieved, almost happy, to be leaving his post, but said he would continue to serve as an MP and would even run again in the 2020 election.
Cameron, who is still serving an as MP, seems to still want the good life though. He reportedly kicked out four Welsh MPs to create a new office of his own, with a striking view.
And being PM would not stop him from working elsewhere. British media is reporting that Cameron has been schmoozing with prominent business figures in London.
Unionist MP Danny Kinahan joked in Cameron’s last parliamentary session that the job as England’s football team manager was available, as well as Top Gear presenter, or next occupant of the White House.
Former Prime Ministers have been offered seats in the House of Lords before.