LONDON – Who’s in charge now in Britain?
It’s a fair question as the country tries to sort out its future following voters’ seismic decision to leave the European Union.
Britain’s Conservative prime minister has already announced his impending departure in the fall to allow a new leader to negotiate an exit from the EU, and the race to replace him is underway. The opposition Labour Party leader lost a no-confidence vote from his own party Tuesday but says he won’t resign. The new mayor of London thinks the capital — which wanted to remain in the EU — needs more autonomy. And even the country’s national soccer coach has resigned after an inglorious defeat by Iceland at the European Championship.
So little is work is being done on other state business that Britain’s Daily Mail has dubbed it the “zombie government.” Here’s a look at Britain’s political chaos.
THE RACE IS ON TO BE BRITAIN’S NEXT PRIME MINISTER
The Treasury chief is out, the Home Secretary is probably in — and so are a bunch of others.
The scramble is on in Britain’s Conservative Party to replace Prime Minister David Cameron, who has said he will resign after losing the referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. Home Secretary Theresa May and former London Mayor Boris Johnson are considered the front-runners, but the field is starting to take shape.
One of Cameron’s closest allies, Treasury chief George Osborne, told The Times that the EU referendum had left him a divisive figure and he was “not the person to provide the unity my party needs.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who’s “seriously considering” a bid for the Conservative leadership, says it’s time for a discussion on what kind “of country we want to be.” Hunt argues that Britain should try for a Norway-like arrangement that gives Britain access to the EU’s single market of 500 million without EU membership. But he says the EU’s free movement rules for labour must be restricted, due to British concerns about EU immigration.
OPPOSITION LABOUR PARTY MEMBERS PONDER COUP
Opposition Labour Party lawmakers conducted a secret ballot Tuesday on the future of their leader, Jeremy Corbyn — and he lost the no-confidence vote.
The vote came after some 40 members of Corbyn’s inner circle have resigned, accusing him of lacking the ability to lead the party. Many Labour lawmakers are deeply unhappy with Corbyn’s lack of enthusiasm in supporting the “remain” campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
Corbyn, however, says he won’t honour a “corridor coup.” And Corbyn’s supporters say he will stand again for the leadership and win again because of his strong standing with the party’s grassroots.
“The party members are going to look dimly at people who unleashed this kind of mayhem,” Labour member Diane Abbott told the BBC.
But Victoria Honeyman, lecturer in British politics at University of Leeds, said she can’t think of any Labour leader who has ignored the voices of his own members to the extent that Corbyn has.
“It appears that he is putting his own welfare ahead of the political party’s interests. It is fairly unusual for politicians to find themselves in this degree of trouble, and then not resign,” she says.
LONDON DEMANDS THAT ITS CONCERNS ARE HEARD
While London does not plan to leave the U.K. itself, its’ mayor is clamouring for more power.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, speaking to business leaders on Tuesday, says the capital needs more autonomy to deal with the reality of what a British exit from the EU will mean. While London has some independence from the central government, Khan is arguing it should have more.
He wants the devolution of fiscal responsibility, including tax-raising powers, as well as more control over business and skills, housing and planning, transport, health, policing and criminal justice. That would give London powers on par with other global cities such as New York.
“As much as I might like the idea of a London city state, I’m not seriously talking about independence today. I am not planning to install border points on the M25!” Khan said, referring to the beltway that rings the sprawling city.
“But on behalf of all Londoners, I am demanding more autonomy for the capital — right now. More autonomy in order to protect London’s economy from the uncertainty ahead, to protect the businesses from around the world who trade here and to protect our jobs, wealth and prosperity,” he said.
BACK AT THE “ZOMBIE GOVERNMENT”
The business of government is at a standstill in Britain while authorities digest the dramatic events of the past few days.
The government had a slate of challenges to tackle, such as whether or not to add a new runway to Heathrow Airport outside London. But now critics are wondering whether the government will be able to deliver on a promise to choose between Heathrow and Gatwick — a ferociously controversial question that has been debated for decades.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took aim Tuesday at the frozen state of affairs.
“These times call for principles, purpose and clarity — in short, for leadership,” she told lawmakers. “This is why the vacuum that has developed at Westminster is so unacceptable. Politicians who proposed this referendum — no matter how bruised they feel by the result — have a duty now to step up and deal with the consequences.”
She is heading to Brussels on Wednesday to try to protect Scottish interests in the Brexit debate, since Scotland wanted to stay in the bloc.
ANOTHER POWER VACUUM IN ENGLAND
For many in England, it’s not their zombie government but the zombie tactics of their national soccer team that are paining them the most.
England suffered a shocking defeat Monday night as the country was knocked out of the European Championship by Iceland. National coach Roy Hodgson had no choice but to immediately resign.
To put this in perspective: A nation of 53 million that hosts the world’s most famous soccer league was ousted by a handful of hardscrabble islanders in the North Atlantic who have a deep devotion to fish and sheep and whose coach is a dentist.
How’s that for a punch to the gut?
Leonora Beck in London contributed.