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Brexit’s Civil War

It’s been a head-spinning week for British politics, and it isn’t getting any better.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May, after two years of negotiations within her own cabinet, managed to make some headway on a Brexit plan to present to Brussels. After an all-day meeting at Chequers, her official country residence, a softer Brexit was decided.

Since the 2017 General Election, May has struggled with a constipated cabinet; perhaps complicating the estimable Peter Hitchens’s remark that “Brexit” connotes a lumpy laxative breakfast cereal.

The Tory “Brexiteers” want what they campaigned on — a hard Brexit and severed EU ties. But the “Remainers” continually drag their heels. Corbyn’s Labour Party is similarly divided. And as May is finding out at her own cost, it’s impossible to please everyone.

On Sunday, the Brexit secretary, David Davis, resigned from the cabinet, citing his fundamental rejection of the soft Brexit deal. On Monday, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who initially called the deal a “turd,” made a dramatic Boexit and penned some more sophisticated rhetoric.

Hiring a photographer to capture him in the act of signing his resignation letter, Johnson sought to create a media splash. (Mission accomplished.) The New York Times described the picture thus:

Boris Johnson stares into the distance, his brow furrowed, a lamp softly illuminating his features and a document in front of him. The image is pensive, deliberate and staged, and somewhat unusual as political portraits go. After all, most politicians don’t sit for resignation photos.

His letter was equally attention seeking — “the Brexit dream is dying” etc., — and made for many pithy headlines.

Then, having just filled these vacancies, May learned on Tuesday that Ben Bradley and Maria Caulfield, Conservative vice-chairs, and unlikely troublemakers, were also resigning.

If the British political scene looks like a circus — that’s because it is. And as the Tories fight among themselves, a vulture circles . . . opportunistically waiting . . .

Madeleine Kearns — Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and moonlights as a singer.

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