Being both the incumbent government and the party most responsible for Brexit, it is surprising the Conservatives are in such profound disarray. Their problems are two-fold; Firstly, a woeful election has obliterated any authority or control Theresa May had over her cabinet. Effectively a ‘lame duck’, she has been largely relegated to the sidelines with little influence over her party’s strategy for Brexit. This lack of control has left the most senior members of her cabinet in a battle to establish control over the direction and course of Brexit. This has manifested itself mostclearly in the public battles between the Chancellor and ‘arch-remainer’ Philip Hammond and the Secretary for International Trade Liam Fox, a hard line Brexiteer, over the need for a transitional exit deal. With Boris Johnson and David Davis also seeking to exert their influence, albeit in more subtle ways, it is conceivable that as negotiations become more fraught, a civil war could break out within the cabinet.
Secondly, the Conservative party is headed towards a wider and more serious crisis with regards to the schism, which will open up between pro-business and populist wings of the party. Until now, the party centrists, largely comprised of big business, remain voters and one-nation conservatives, have been keeping a low profile, hoping that the self-evident potential for catastrophic economic damage will deter even the most confident Brexiteers from a hard Brexit. However, as negotiations reach critical stages, expect to see greater involvement from remainers and big business who are eager to secure single market access and transition deals.
This inevitable push from remain-backers will line up directly against the wishes of the populist faction of largely backbench MPs representing the party’s Leave voters, many of which are pushing for a hard Brexit. Recent issues give a glimpse of the confrontations likely to occur over nearly every point of the negotiations, possibly for years to come; the latest drastic fall in immigration for instance, which was bemoaned by big business due to the loss of badly needed skills in contrast to the right-wing tabloids who celebrated the desired drop which they have long campaigned for,
In the short term, the two problems are most likely to become intertwined in a leadership contest to replace May. In a damaging struggle for power, prospective candidates will harness the power of party factions to outmanoeuvre each other and tighten the grip on the exit strategy. As time for the UK to negotiate a favourable Brexit outcome is slipping away, the possibility of the above scenario should concern both Remainers and Brexiteers alike as further instability within the Conservative party will badly affect the outcome for the UK from our EU exit.