(AFP) – The appointment of leading Brexit campaigners to her new government emphasises Prime Minister Theresa May’s commitment to pulling Britain out of the EU, despite her own reservations, analysts said Thursday.
Taking office three weeks after the vote to leave the bloc, May, who campaigned to stay in the EU, installed “Leave” leader Boris Johnson as foreign minister, despite his history of diplomatic gaffes.
“His appointment is a gamble,” said Peter Snowdon, a long-time observer of the ruling Conservative party who co-authored a book on May’s predecessor, David Cameron.
“She sees him as the frontman of the ‘Leave’ campaign and also she sees his popularity –- even if he is a divisive figure,” he told AFP.
With EU leaders pressing for a clear timetable on exiting the bloc, May has created a new ministerial job dedicated to Brexit, which she handed to eurosceptic lawmaker David Davis.
Another hardline critic of the EU, Liam Fox, becomes minister for international trade, reflecting the need to forge new alliances if Britain leaves the EU single market.
The two men are “unlikely to tolerate any backsliding on the promise that ‘Brexit means Brexit’,” said Mark Wallace, executive editor of the Tory website Conservative Home.
“There will be Remainers at the top of government,” he wrote in a commentary, noting that May’s new finance minister Philip Hammond campaigned alongside her to stay in the EU.
“These appointments show that true ‘Leavers’ will be alongside them with specific power over the process of escaping the EU — good news for the 17.4 million voters” who chose Brexit and want to ensure it “really happens”.
Nigel Farage, the former leader of the anti-European UK Independence Party (UKIP), said the choice of Fox and Davis was “inspired”.
He had previously voiced fears that the government might try to renege on the popular vote but said: “I feel more optimistic now.”
By dividing up responsibility for Brexit, however, Snowdon said May had ensured she could keep overall control.
“I suspect May will take a firm grip of her ministers and will lead the strategy,” he said. “She will be delegating to such an extent that she will retain the overall direction.”
– Containing Boris –
The return of Johnson, a charismatic but divisive figure who had seemed finished after pulling out of the race to replace Cameron at the last minute, stunned onlookers.
But Simon Usherwood, senior politics lecturer at the University of Surrey, said it could be a canny move.
“May has taken the emblematic Brexiteer and stuck him in a position that plays to his strengths, while also limiting his capacity to cause trouble, either for the UK or for May,” he wrote in a blog posting.
In her speech on entering Downing Street, May promised to promote social justice, reflecting the fact that many voters who backed Brexit feel left behind in modern Britain.
The departure of George Osborne, Cameron’s finance minister for the past six years and an aggressive campaigner for the “Remain” camp, is another boost for the Brexit camp.
May now faces the tough job of extricating Britain from its 43-year membership of the EU.
She is under pressure from EU leaders to quickly begin the formal exit process, but she has yet to reveal her timetable. She had said it would not happen until next year.
May spoke to the German and French leaders on the phone late Wednesday, and will “probably have informal discussions with other heads of state”, Snowdon said.
“She doesn’t like to rush into decision, she listens to everybody, that was her style of leadership in the interior ministry — there is no reason to change,” he said.