As could be said for any given month in recent times, Brexit dominated UK politics in June. With the EU Withdrawal Bill in its final stages in the Commons, May and her Government found themselves in the uncomfortable – but increasingly familiar – position of facing potential rebellions, resignations and government defeats in Parliament.
With two full days of debate in Parliament, and the PM in the extremely difficult position of having to appease both Remainers and Leavers (including within Cabinet), there was a sense that the vote would become a critical moment for May and her tenure in Number 10.
In the end, the Government managed to muddle through with concessions that kept all sides on board in a fragile balance. Thus the Bill passed and received Royal Assent – leading some excitable Brexiteers to (jokingly?) claim that the Queen now backs Brexit.
That it passed at all, amidst the rumours of mutiny, should be considered a victory for Number 10. Arguably however, Tory Remainers’ bark turned out to be worse than their bite. Coupled with a Labour opposition that has struggled to exert substantial pressure over the Bill, May and David Davis have managed to get it over the line — just.
You wouldn’t blame the Government for subsequently taking a bit of time to catch its breath. Of course, this is without consideration of our Foreign Secretary managing to drag his party into a war of words with industry. Boris was reputedly caught saying ‘f*** business’ in response to concerns raised by Airbus and others regarding the UK’s post-Brexit future. Apparently the words were meant to be directed at lobbyists – or those that ‘profess to speak up for business’ (how rude). Boris’s blunder creates serious issues for the Conservatives – a party that has always been thought of as on the side of business. The last thing the Government needs as it heads into further negotiations is the perception that it has lost the backing and trust of business. Expect overtures to various UK sectors and companies to be forthcoming in the next few weeks and months.
Beyond Brexit, the policy agenda is still slimmed-down, but this month saw big infrastructure decisions made on Heathrow expansion and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. Following years of debate, dissent and procrastination, MPs overwhelmingly backed plans to build a third runway at Heathrow by a majority of 296. Further hurdles and judicial action await – but this is a big moment for airport capacity expansion in the South East. By contrast, also following an extended period of procrastination and consultation, the Government has decided not to press ahead with a planned tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay, on the grounds of cost, much the annoyance of the Welsh Government and many Welsh MPs.
To add to the PM’s concerns, her Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been going on manoeuvres aggressively and publicly making the case for more money being pumped into the military. Williamson – either a staunch defender of our armed forces or a nakedly ambitious politician, depending on your viewpoint – has begun causing unrest within Government over his demands for more cash. The first skirmishes between rival ministers have broken out, with Liz Truss – Chief Secretary to the Treasury and leading figure on the modernising wing of the party – criticising ministers who are pushing for bigger budgets. As senior ministers and other leading Conservatives begin to consider a post-Brexit environment and their own leadership potential within that, we can expect to see more spats of this nature.