“Boris has wanted to be British prime minister since he was born in New York,” Raheem Kassam, former deputy to Nigel Farage and former editor of Breitbart London, told me Monday morning.
“I think [May’s] government falls,” Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, says.
Ahead of the already-fraught process of hosting President Donald Trump later this week, the government of Theresa May faces the most serious test of her premiership. David Davis, the Brexit secretary, resigned his post this past weekend.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, followed suit Monday.
At issue is the putative raison d'etre of May’s administration: British exit from the European Union.
In recent days, news reports of former Prime Minister David Cameron allegedly complaining that May’s plan for exit was the “worst of both worlds” have roiled Number 10 Downing Street.
May and her team denied the reports, but the moment of weakness has now been followed by the successive resignations of her Brexit and foreign secretaries.
May’s government could fall.
“Boris wouldn’t do this,” unless he’d already consolidated the support of Jacob Rees-Mogg , the popular British gadfly turned serious political contender, says Kassam. He’ll be making a go of it.
“Johnson salivates over Downing Street,” adds Tom Rogan, British-born commentary writer at Washington Examiner and host of The McLaughlin Group. “So you never know.”
After Davis left, it was “obvious Boris was going to quit I think,” a source privy to the machinations in Westminster told me Monday, who adds a coup attempt is likely in the works but that his is “not sure they can force one.”
Rogan agrees: “I think May survives because the party knows that it cannot let the DUP withdraw and see Jeremy Corbyn get an election win that leads to an even softer Brexit.”
Michael Gove, Johnson’s frenemy and a Rupert Murdoch favorite, is the kingmaker, says Rogan. May is likely to offer him Johnson’s post, replacing one staunch Brexitier with another. Gove is also the mentor of Sajid Javid, who is a far more establishment, but just as relentlessly ambitious rising star in May’s government, recently appointed as home secretary. In a chaotic scrum, Javid, Kassam says, is “my greatest fear,” a walking, talking embodiment of neoliberalism. “He’s our [Emmanuel] Macron.” Gove famously betrayed Johnson in 2016, costing him the premiership that year. That will again, ironically, work in Theresa May’s favor, argues Rogan. “Gove didn’t like being seen as a backstabber. . . . So it’s likely that he’ll give May his support.”
But for the British, this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Trump plans to fly to the United Kingdom for the first time as president—after much delay—following the announcement of his Supreme Court pick Monday night. The possibility that May might not even be prime minister when he lands is a major embarrassment.
Additionally, Trump, friendly with Farage and a detractor of the European Union (a senior diplomat recently told the National Interest Trump said he views the institution less favorably than China), will likely use the visit to stoke the flames of populist sentiment. As a candidate in June 2016, Trump cheered on Brexit.
He will likely do so again, according to a veteran conservative activist close to the White House. Expect lots of trash talk on the sidelines of Trump’s golf course in Scotland.
The NATO summit is also this week. For its part, the Trump administration, publically at least, did not seem as if it expected this environment; as late as last Friday it was partly focusing on the White House’s reinstallation of a bust of Winston Churchill.
“The President knows how important the special relationship is firsthand and that’s why the bust of Churchill is actually in the Oval Office as we speak. This is not an accident. He knows that he has an opportunity to make this special relationship even stronger,” U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson told reporters Friday, in prepared remarks.
But it’s unmistakable that the White House will seek to capitalize on the shakeup.
“The UK is very preoccupied right now with Brexit. . . . As Americans, we always look at where the opportunities are. Britain has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change direction,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, outside populist forces will also seek to profit.
My source close to Westminster says that if May survives, the United Kingdom Independence Party will regain much of its lost strength. Kassam, associated with UKIP, says it will “either way.” Brexits voters who supported May in 2017 now feel cheated by her very “soft Brexit” proposals.
And, meanwhile, Bannon will be making his third trip to Europe on the year, concurrent with Trump’s trip.
Kassam, who has been traveling with him, tells me: “Oh yeah, we’re leaving tonight, baby.”
Curt Mills is a foreign-affairs reporter at the National Interest . Follow him on Twitter: @CurtMills.