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Sunday, July 17, 2016

“I couldn’t be clearer. Brexit means Brexit. And we’re going to make a success of it. There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and as Prime Minister I will make sure that we leave the European Union.”

With those words, Theresa May launched her campaign last Monday in Birmingham to become the new leader of the Conservative Party. She had barely uttered the words when her challenger, Andrea Leadsom, made a speech back in London declaring that she was withdrawing from the race on the ground that she felt that even if she won the popular vote among Conservative party members, she might have difficulty uniting the MPs behind her. This was a sobering reality of the challenges to be faced by political parties that have one person-one vote internal elections for leadership positions that may put the eventual office holders at odds with the elected MPs.

Apart from the fact that her realisation of the power of the MPs over the will of the party electorate was real, she completely changed the face of British politics with the twinkling of an eye. Theresa May would become leader of the Conservative party unchallenged by the following day and by virtue of the Conservatives holding an outright majority in the House of Commons, she would become the next Prime Minister the day after that.

On Wednesday David Cameron was taking his final Prime Minister’s Question time in the House of Commons and then it was off to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to Her Majesty. As he went out one entrance to the Palace, in drove Theresa May through another, and in a matter of moments she was invited by the Queen to form a new government.

It was perhaps the best example of what the English constitutional philosopher Walter Bagehot in his 1867 work titled The English Constitution described as the dignified and the efficient uses of power.

The dignified was captured in that photograph seen around world with Theresa May curtseying before the Queen in accepting the invitation to form a government and within an hour of that, George Osborne was sacked as Chancellor of the Exchequer and replaced by Phil Hammond, the former foreign secretary. Then enter Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, from the backbenches to become Foreign Secretary. Amber Rudd, the former energy secretary replaced Theresa May as Home Secretary, while Liam Fox and David Davis were taken from the backbenches and made International Trade and EU Exit Secretaries respectively.

That was enough of the efficient use of power for one evening with three Remain campaigners (May, Rudd and Hammond) in senior positions being joined by three Brexit campaigners (Johnson, Fox and Davis) alongside them.

This telegraphed Theresa May’s commitment to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union alongside uniting the Conservative Party and the country. By the next morning, the reshaping of the Government was ruthless and decisive with more sackings being undertaken. In all there was a total of nine sackings/resignations in an almost complete overhaul of the government.

For the first time in its almost 1,000-year history, a woman was appointed to the position of Lord Chancellor who is also Secretary of State for Justice in the person of Elizabeth Truss replacing Michael Gove who was sacked. Truss like Gove is also not a lawyer.

Many people have speculated that there could be a fresh general election, but that is more difficult to accomplish now than before ever since the enactment of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

An early general election in the UK is now only possible based on the provisions of section two of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 which provides for two exceptions to the fixed date for a general election that is now established in British law. Either a formal motion can be passed by a two-thirds majority of the total membership of the House of Commons seeking an early general election or a successful motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government passed by the House of Commons by simple majority vote that fails to attract a majority vote of confidence within 14 days of its passage can lead to an early general election. 

If the UK gets to have an early general election, either the Remain or the Leave camps could end up claiming that the election is based on seeking a fresh mandate on the issue. Theresa May is certainly not sending any signals that she is thinking about an early general election based on her “Brexit means Brexit” statement. She has converted that to be her mandate and will govern on that basis.

One of the realities of having fixed election dates is that you have a full five-year term of office and while there may be changes in the Office of Prime Minister, there are no changes to the life of Parliament. Theresa May fully expects to serve out the rest of this parliamentary term.


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