British politics remained in upheaval Monday. The leading political parties are in a mess: Conservatives are rushing to replace their leader, Prime Minister David Cameron, and the opposition Labour Party is escalating pressure on its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to step down. All the while, the United Kingdom lumbers toward starting the divorce talks with the European Union.
Meanwhile, the pound is still down, markets are shaky and Standard and Poors lowered another credit rating.
What are politicians doing to calm the situation?
In an early morning reassurance, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the U.K.’s Treasury chief) said the British economy is in good shape for handling the coming challenges. He spoke before the S&P downgraded the U.K.’s last remaining AAA credit rating; the agency warned that more downgrades could be coming.
Nonetheless, a common refrain from politicians is that nothing is changing immediately — that the EU citizens working in the U.K. and the Britons living in Europe won’t see changes in their status until negotiations on the exit are finished. Those negotiations could take two years.
What are Cameron’s priorities?
The prime minister is heading to Brussels on Tuesday for a two-day meeting of the European Commission. He only is invited for the first day’s sessions; on Wednesday the other 27 members will discuss among themselves how to respond to the Brexit vote.
Cameron told Parliament he’ll stress to the commission that Britain isn’t abandoning Europe, and that nobody is going to rush the U.K. government into starting the exit negotiations process before it’s ready.
“This is our sovereign decision and it will be for Britain and Britain alone to take,” he said.
Cameron also pressed for Britain to continue to be outward-looking: “Britain is leaving the European Union, but we must not turn our back on Europe or the rest of the world,” he said.
In the wake of reports of racist incidents around the country since the vote, Cameron said such behavior must be stamped out. The incidents largely have targeted Poles and people of color, some of who were harassed and told to “go home” now that the Brexit vote has been won.
Where do things stand for Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn?
Corbyn was also in Parliament today, surrounded by his former leadership — many who have resigned from the so-called “shadow cabinet.” They want Corbyn out so that a new leader can steer the party through this crisis.
Corbyn condemned the plotting against him, and has vowed to stand for the top job again rather than step aside.
The Labour Party meltdown gave Prime Minister Cameron a chance to indulge his sense of humor. He took a moment to welcome a brand-new Labour MP from South London, the most junior member of the party — and warned her that, the way her party is going, she might be promoted sooner than she expects.
“I think I’d advise her to keep her mobile phone on, she might be in the shadow cabinet by the end of the day,” Cameron said to raucous laughter.
Confusion and anger among voters seems to be growing. How many Leave campaign promises have now been abandoned?
Many of the biggest, most powerful campaign promises or dire warnings are being pulled back. The Leave campaign’s pledge to spend 350 million pounds a week on the National Health Service? Not happening. Strict controls on the borders to greatly reduce EU immigration? Probably not, if Britain wants to keep access to the EU single market. And those ideal trade deals that were promised if the U.K. left the EU? Also being walked back.
On the Remain side, dramatic warnings of emergency budget cuts also have been forgotten.
Secretary of State John Kerry was in both Brussels and London today. Did he shed any new light on the American perspective?
He didn’t bring any new initiatives with him, but he did offer general reassurance of solidarity. He quoted Winston Churchill about facing challenges together, and he said Britain’s place in the world would not be diminished by leaving the EU — it would only be different.