With the British government abandoning all pretense of unity ahead of a crucial cabinet meeting in Prime Minister Theresa May’s country retreat at Chequers, Morgan said she “would like to see more progress”. Noting the lack of certainty surrounding the negotiations, she said “I think the next few weeks are absolutely critical.”
Calls for Clarity
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has repeated calls on the EU’s “British friends to make clear their position.” Leaders of big foreign employers, too, have joined the chorus of Cassandras warning that time is running out to strike an agreement – and threatening to take their manufacturing operations out of the country if there is no deal.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has asked the UK to clarify its position on key Brexit issues.
The warnings, like so many before them, appear to have divided rather than united the British cabinet. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is reported to have responded to the threat with the words “f*** business”, a quote he has not disputed and which Nicky Morgan described on Conflict Zone as “deeply disappointing.”
Although Johnson’s remark was considerably more inflammatory than a statement by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt that such warnings were “inappropriate,” the two do share a basic sentiment. Morgan condemned both comments as “inexcusable”, saying “I was extremely concerned to hear the reaction from two senior government ministers about the way in which they said that businesses should not be raising their concerns. We absolutely need to hear from business.”
Issues vs. Personalities
Pressed on whether she thought Johnson should be sacked, she said “the issue is not about personalities,” adding that “we shouldn’t be endlessly debating this minister said that or that minister said this. These negotiations are incredibly important both for the future of the United Kingdom but also I would argue for businesses and others within the EU. And we’ve got to get that right.”
As the conversation turned to Theresa May’s leadership, Morgan said “the prime minister is running the cabinet and she’s running the government.” When Tim Sebastian suggested that trying to placate both Brexiters and Bremainers was resulting in unworkable proposals, Morgan insisted that “all options have to be on the table.” At the same time, however, she acknowledged that the referendum result had been hugely divisive in the United Kingdom, saying that her party was “trying to bring people together, to explain that we would be leaving, but we would do it in a way that was not going to damage completely unnecessarily people’s own livelihoods and our economy. That’s what we’re sort of catching up to now. That’s what I expect to be debated, both in parliament and in cabinet in the next few weeks.”
Asked about opinion polls indicating that the majority of the British electorate sees May’s government as ineffective and that less than a third believe that May’s government always puts Britain first, Morgan responded that “Nobody is calling out there for a change of government or a change of leadership of the Conservative Party,” while acknowledging that “the cabinet obviously have to come up very quickly with an agreed position.”
Morgan denied Tim Sebastian’s allegation that thorny issues such as the border in Northern Ireland were not thought about beforehand, arguing that the problem, in part at least, was down to her and some of her party colleagues campaigning to remain: “it’s difficult if you’re campaigning for one thing, to gaze into the crystal ball and answer every question that’s going to come up.”
Reminded about David Cameron’s warning ahead of the referendum that a “no” vote would risk destroying Britain’s economy and asked why the cabinet, of which she was a member at the time, should gamble with the future and prosperity of tens of millions of people, Morgan declined to condemn the decision to hold the referendum but again regretted the outcome. She concluded by acknowledging that “we are in the middle of these complexities now and we’ve got to make sure that parliament steps up to the plate, scrutinizing the deal, hold the government to account and also get the best possible deal that built the best possible future relationship with the EU.”