The Brexit hard-liners take control of government

Alan Thornett analyses the composition of new government, in which Brexit hard-liners have gained key positions.


The Theresa May administration is a sharp shift towards the xenophobic right. May has as had a remarkable clearout of Cameron ministers in order to shape the government in her image: Osborne is gone (replaced by Phillip Hammond), Nikki Morgan gone (replaced by Justine Greening), Michael Gove gone (replaced by Liz Truss), Amber Rudd is home secretary, Jeremy Hunt remains at Health (for confronting the doctors no doubt) and possibly the most frightening, hard line Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom goes to the environment (DEFRA).

Most significantly, however, the key positions in terms of Brexit—the issue that will define the May administration—go to hard-line right-wing Brexiteers. David Davies comes in as minister for Brexit, Liam Fox is brought in in the newly created Minister of foreign trade and Boris Johnson comes in as Foreign Secretary. It means that these people have been handed the reins of power to reshape British politics and Britain place in the world for the next generation if they get their way.

The central objective of this Brexit dominated government is to cut immigration to the bone. Even set against a previous administration that was itself xenophobic it is an overall and very significant shift to the right.

Given those named, do not expect a change in economic policies; believers in neoliberalism have been strengthened, not weakened, in this new government. Phillip Hammond is more sympathetic to the needs of small and medium manufacturing businesses, which were far more sympathetic to leave on the basis of the elimination of rules protecting workers and working conditions.

There are big changes in the structure of government as well. Most significantly, the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been abolished as a separate department and merged with the Department of Industry — this is a potential disaster for the environment.

Socialist Resistance argued for remain on the basis that the referendum would be a carnival of reaction leading to a major shift to the right in British politics, and we have been right on both counts. Those on the left who voted for exit on the basis that it would create a better situation for the left will need to think again.

The wider aftermath of the referendum is also clear, if it was clear before the vote. That this referendum was not, at the end of the day, a referendum on the EU, despite the formal question on the ballot paper; it was a referendum on migration into this country: i.e. how many migrants do you want to come to come here In interview after interview in the streets, the overwhelming response to the question why are you voting Brexit was: too much immigration.

As a result racism has been strengthened, hate crimes against migrants have doubled, the political situation has moved to the right. The Tory Party has moved to the right, UKIP has been strengthened, a Labour pro-remain MP was gunned down during the campaign by a fascist shouting ‘put Britain first, and we are heading for an exit from the EU shaped by the xenophobic right in which ending free movement of people and cutting immigration to the bone will be the order of the day.

At the same time the future of EU citizens living in this country is set be used as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations with the EU—an issue that the Lexit campaign refused to take up, or regard as any kind of problem, during the campaign.

There was a backlash from the dispossessed, and the victims of austerity as may have argued. But it was vulnerable to the racist argument that migration was responsible and was not the overall driving force of the Brexit vote.

Whether there will be an early general election is now entirely in Theresa’s May’s hands, and she will only go for one if she is confident that she can mobilise the Brexit vote behind the Tories and win a big majority. Without that she will be quite happy to g on until 2020.

All this makes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader even more crucial. The only answer to the kind of government that May is constructing is the kind of radical anti-austerity and anti-racist alternative that Corbyn represents. It is only that which has a chance of cutting through the fog of the referendum and inspire mass support for an alternative.


  1. It seems unlikely that the May government will now go for an early general election. They seem to be settling in for the long term and wary of trying to get the necessary two thirds of MPs to vote for an early election. The Tories would prefer for the Boundary review to go ahead in 2018 and for the number of seats in Parliament to be reduced at the expense of the Labour Party and working class representation. The Tory crisis that was claimed by some would happen due to the split over Brexit has been averted by the wholesale adoption of the right wing Brexit agenda by the Tories based on the programme of UKIP. Those on the left who argued that a Brexit vote, by potentially creating a Tory crisis, was somehow progressive should hang their heads in shame. The terms of Brexit will mean a vicious attacks on migrants and an economic/welfare assault on the working class disguised by some reflationary measures and populist rhetoric.

    The crisis in the Labour Party needs to be resolved by a resounding victory for Corbyn and the development of a serious united popular labour and trade union movement challenge to the Tories on both the economic and the political front. That includes the defence of migrants and democratic rights for all, opposition to unionism including support for Scottish independence and Irish reunification, electoral reform (proportional representation for parliament and extension of the franchise to all those 16+ living in the state, including EU citizens) and a willingness to work with other forces such as greens and nationalists against all elements of the Tory agenda.

  2. We should also recognise that even if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadeship contest a coninued divided party or an outright split would obviously make it difficult to win any election against the tories. Calls for a general election now are just daft. Although the May government cements a shift to the right she is also wanting to present the government as a new type of toryism – less Eton and more grammar/state school and we should not underestimate the impact of this as well as all the outright demagogy on responding to he working class. Given confusion over blaming migrants for the crisis that exist in signficant layers of the working class this could add to the difficulties any labour party will have in winning them back.

  3. I’m not sure that anyone suggested the Tories would go into crisis just 3 weeks after the referendum!
    But the situation is far more unstable than this article implies.

    May’s appointment as PM was not what the Tory Leavers wanted, despite it being the wish of big business.
    Given the referendum result, May had to appease the Leavers, but they’re still outnumbered 2:1 in the Cabinet, which of course, operates on the principle of collective responsibility.
    There will be plenty of opportunities for divisions to occur between now and the New Year, when David Davis wants to trigger Article 50.

    With 479 ‘Remain’ MPs in Parliament, compared to 156 ‘Leavers’, there are also strong pressures for a new Centre coalition.
    In the event of a Corbyn victory in the Labour leaderhip contest, the majority of the PLP who are opposed to him may try to join up with anti-Brexit Tories and Lib-Dems.

    If they force through a no-confidence vote on May’s government and there’s a General election, this will pose a dilemma for the Corbyn-led wing of the Labour party. Will they support such a coalition, or fight to win every seat?

    If you believe that the EU is the fundamental question in politics, you’ll come up with the wrong answer.

  4. Interesting Alan, so have SR thrown their weight behind the LP and out of LU and are you all rejoining the Labour Party? This is where the socialists need to be these days. Not out of the party peeing in!

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