The Female Power Players Of A Post-Brexit UK
Update: Today Theresa May was announced the first female prime minister of the U.K. since Margaret Thatcher. After the other front-runner, Andrea Leadsom, quit the race to become the next Conservative Party leader early Monday, May was set to be the U.K.'s next Prime Minister. Leadsom said in a brief statement in Westminster, that May was "ideally placed" to implement Brexit.
Following the referendum asking British voters if they chose to Remain or Leave the European Union, the UK voted 52 percent in favour of leaving. Over 17 million people voted for this, yet the chaos since has seen a news turnover faster than this very globalised world spins; Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned, much of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet has resigned and many Leave campaigners have backed down on promises they made. When asked about the pledge to redirect £350m spent on the EU each week to the NHS, the Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith told the Sunday Politics: “We never made any commitments. We just made a series of promises that were possibilities”. Asked about stopping the free movement of people, Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP, told Newsnight: “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.” Nigel Farage, who headed up UKIP’s Leave campaign, told Good Morning Britain the decision to put the £350m NHS promise on the side of his campaign bus was “a mistake.”
The pound is at a 31 year low and both Barclays and RBS banks had to stop trading briefly after stocks plummeted on Monday morning.
News is unravelling very quickly, and there is much to remain updated on. Yet though the reported epicentre of the Brexit conflict is between David Cameron and Boris Johnson, several women played key roles in the both the Remain and Leave campaigns leading up to the vote that took place Thursday 24 June. Every UK citizen who turned out to vote – 72% of those adults eligible – has had a part to play in making such a huge decision.
With Britain's historic Brexit and Prime Minister David Cameron announcing his move to resign on Wednesday, some critics argue female leaders are left to clean up what could be a messy divorce from the European Union.
In charge of the most influential country of the EU (bar UK), German chancellor Angela Merkel is said to be restraining the other 25 EU member states from pushing to get the UK to invoke Article 50. Article 50 is what has to be deployed for a country to dissolve its membership of the EU. She said, according to the BBC: “It shouldn't take forever, that's right, but I would not fight for a short timeframe,” and called for civility during negotiations, which “must be conducted properly” in an “objective, good” climate.
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May became the first female chairman of the Tory party in Britain and is the longest serving British Home Secretary in more than a century. In the autumn of 2015, the Home Secretary gave a speech at the Conservative party conference that came down very hard on immigration. A few days later, her colleagues in the cabinet, David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne spoke admiringly of immigration. Ever since this contrariness, she has been waiting in the wings of most campaigning, so while she might have been a sworn Remain campaigner, it’s not in the public’s residual memory. Now she has replaced David Cameron as Prime Minister.
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Asked whether she would stand to replace David Cameron’s role, Nicky Morgan, who is Education Secretary and backed the Remain campaign, said: “I hope we have a woman in the final two – if that is me or someone else it is too early to tell. I would think about it but it is about what other colleagues are looking for in the next leader. It is a tough job. I will be very clear, it is what other colleagues in the party are looking for.”
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On the morning of the Brexit result, Jeremy Corbyn made no mention of standing down, despite being on the Remain campaign, which narrowly lost. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, said that the EU referendum was a “test of leadership” which Corbyn had “failed” in a letter she submitted to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, calling for a motion for a no confidence vote in the leader. She later told BBC London radio that Corbyn: “should do the dignified thing and resign”.
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Perhaps the most vocal pro-Remain cabinet member this weekend, Anna Soubry told the Sunday edition of Question Time: “I think this debate, this whole referendum has not been our finest hour…I have heard words used and language used. ‘Immigrants, get all these immigrants out’ I’ve not witnessed that since I was a student here in Birmingham back in the mid-'70s. And I am worried about the state of our nation … we need to all come back together, we need to rebuild communities and we need to move on and we have to put, if I may say, hope over hatred, and we have to stop preying on prejudice.”
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Following a surge of racism and xenophobia documented by the #PostRefRacism hashtag on social media, Jess Phillips, a pro-Remain Labour MP who on Monday resigned from the shadow cabinet, told her followers on Twitter: “I will be putting in a parliamentary question to find out all incidents of racial hatred in the UK this weekend compared with last week.” The idea is to explore how a spike in racism could potentially be linked to those who mistakenly thought a vote to leave the EU was a vote to deport migrants and black and minority ethnic people. Other MPs including Naz Shah have also called for people to report hate crime as and when they see it.
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Emily Sheffield, Samantha Cameron’s sister and a journalist for Vogue, has tweeted: “How quickly can I join the Labour Party? I want to have a say so the right wing Tories are held at bay. I only voted Tory for David”. Not only is she indicating the ease at which newcomers can join the Labour Party to then vote for a new leader, but perhaps represents those fearing a Conservative party swinging right after years of rule under her brother-in-law, a fiscally conservative, socially progressive leader.
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Boris’s sister, who was openly Remain during his Leave campaign (she even featured on the pro-Remain boat during the Brexit flotilla, standing next to Bob Geldof as he told Nigel Farage, via a loudspeaker, he was a “fraud”), tweeted, then swiftly deleted: “Everyone keeps saying ‘we are where we are’ but nobody seems to have the slightest clue where that is”. After the deletion, she explained: “Dear Twitter, my tweet was not ad hominem let alone ad fratrem. I've deleted it as it was interpreted as such. Over and out.” Though she's clear to point out no bad blood between her and her brother, it just goes to show how the referendum has the capacity to divide families across the UK.
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The MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington and Remain campaigner is one of the few shadow cabinet members to not resign this week. Promoted by Jeremy Corbyn to the role of Shadow Health Secretary, Diane Abbott requested on Question Time that more be done outside of Parliament following the Brexit vote: “Following on from this vote we should be talking about the people we should be going out to people, we should be reconstructing relationships with our base. We shouldn't be running around playing Westminster games.”
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Credited as perhaps the one leader with a plan following the EU referendum result, Nicola Sturgeon is seeking two things. Firstly, she wants another referendum – the UK’s third in recent history. In 2015, Scotland voted narrowly to remain part of the UK. However, Scots voted after being promised that the UK would remain part of the EU. And in this referendum, all of Scotland’s localities voted in favour of Remain, with an overall result of 62% for Remain. Sturgeon is seeking out the second Scottish independence referendum, or indyref2, on the basis that Scots now: “face the prospect of being taken out of the EU against their will”. Speaking outside her home in Holyrood on Friday, she said: “We are determined to act decisively but in a way that builds unity across Scotland about the way forward. As I said yesterday, a second independence referendum is clearly an option that requires to be on the table and is very much on the table.”
Secondly, she has not ruled out looking to veto the EU referendum. When asked on a bumper edition of Sunday Politics: “Would you consider asking the Scottish Parliament not to back such a motion of legislative process?” she replied: “Of course … if the Scottish Parliament was judging this on the basis of what’s right for Scotland then the option of saying that we’re not going to vote for something that’s against Scotland’s interests … of course that’s going to be on the table!”
And when asked if she’d even veto the legislation for English (and Welsh, and Northern Irish) people: “I didn’t create these situations, I’ve got to try to navigate the best way forwards through them. I’m not pretending any of them are easy or without complexity and I will try to do it to the best of my ability with the best interest of the people I am elected to serve uppermost in my mind.”
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Sophie Walker and Caroline Lucas
Should Article 50 be triggered and the UK be entered into a Brexit, the Women’s Equality Party, with Sophie Walker at its helm, have promised to push for women’s rights to be on the table during negotiations with Europe: “Urgent measures are now required to protect women's rights in the UK in a post-Brexit world”. Meanwhile, Caroline Lucas, the sole Green MP, and pro-Remain, said: “Instead of indulging in months of introspection and infighting, this is an opportunity to recognise that a more plural politics is in both the left’s electoral and political interests.”
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The shadow Business Secretary and Secretary of State is the most senior woman in the shadow cabinet and frequently stands in for Corbyn when he is absent from Parliament on official duty. However, when she resigned from the shadow cabinet – along with 19 other members, and a further 28 MPs who will no longer attend shadow minister or Parliamentary Private Secretary roles under Corbyn – she told the BBC: “I've concluded, especially after the EU referendum campaign and the way that went that it's just not working and I think I have a duty to the party to make that clear to Jeremy at this important time for our country and our party.”
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