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Westminster Sex Scandal Could Impact Brexit Talks, But Not Dethrone Theresa May

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Brexit - Sputnik International
British Prime Minister Theresa May is likely to cling on to her job despite growing calls for her resignation amid the deepening scandal surrounding sexual misconduct among Conservative MPs, a leading UK academic told Sputnik.

As the crisis over allegations of sexual misconduct among Tory MPs threatens to implode further, the position of UK PM Theresa May is likely to "strengthen" despite renewed demands for her to quit, according to Mark Garnett, professor of British politics at Lancaster University. 

In a strange twist of irony, Mrs. May would probably survive any attempts to oust her from No.10 because she is already in so much trouble, it would be hard for the Tory hierarchy to replace her, according to the academic. 

"The damage arising from the scandal will be another blow to Theresa May, but at the same time underlying all this is the real reason why Mrs. May is still prime minister," Professor Garnett told Sputnik.

Professor Garnett, who authored of the book From Anger to Apathy: The British Experience, firmly believes the Conservative Party chiefs have "no appetite" for a leadership election despite a reported 30-strong group of Tory MPs backing moves to have her sacked from the job — a figure expected to grow in the coming days.

Survived a Coup

The British PM survived a coup attempt being led by Grant Shapps, former Conservative Party chairman, who compiled a list of members seeking to overthrow her, earlier in October.

"Mrs. May is really in so much trouble that it is actually strengthening the likelihood of her staying on. If she was in a bit less trouble, she would be in a position to look around for another leader, but now they have got to cling on and hope the storms will disappear," Professor Garnett told Sputnik.

The political expert admitted it was strange that the goings on in Hollywood had impacted the UK, where really "lurid allegations" have led to resignations within the British government, namely the defense secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, who announced his departure over accusations of sexual harassment on Wednesday, November 1.

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Public Disillusioned

Professor Garnett also said the public has now become so disillusioned with politicians who have used an illusion of power to make themselves seem more attractive.

This psychological problem has affected many people in Britain's political classes and allowed politicians to genuinely behave in a way that would be hard to tolerate in any other walk of life, he continued.

The Sex Scandal and Brexit

The professor said the turmoil surrounding the sexual misconduct scandal could also impact on future Brexit negotiations between the British government and the European Union — talks that are already struggling to progress between the two sides.

"The signs of disorder in the Conservative party are making it less likely negotiations will run smoothly. If more Conservative MPs get embroiled in very serious scandals, then this might well see more resignations from parliament which would mean by-elections, louder and louder calls for a general election. All of this happening amidst all these negotiations over Brexit would be very destructive," Professor Garnett told Sputnik.

"This is just as bad news as you could have. I am sure Theresa May, when she looked at the immediate future could see lots of terrible things happening, but she would never have expected this," he explained.

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"It is potentially very-very difficult for the government in terms of presenting the EU with a coherent and plausible debating position on Brexit. It just adds another element to what is continuing instability and upheaval in Britain," Professor Garnett said.

Quit Threat and Potential Leadership Candidates

Professor Garnett said there had previously been stories suggesting the British prime minister wanted to step down immediately after the general election, but was eventually talked out of it. This has now left the Tory party with a major political headache.

"The Conservative party would not want to fight another general election with Mrs. May as leader and that puts a definite terminus on her time as leader, so between now and the next election it is just a case of finding the right moment," he said.

Obvious replacements, the professor suggested, could see the likes of new defense secretary Gavin Williamson as a potential leader.

Having been given the seal of approval by Mrs. May, who appointed him to replace Sir Michael Fallon, Mr. Williamson, according to Professor Garnett, is a relatively new figure and his image has not yet been particularly damaged in the public's eye.

It emerged on Sunday, November 5, however, that Mr. Williamson had displayed "disdain" for the armed forces after he consistently voted against strengthening the military covenant, which serves as a promise that service personnel and their families will be treated fairly by the nation.

According to the website TheyWorkForYou, the new defense secretary voted against this move in 2011 and 2012 — a move that has since attracted criticism from politicians who have questioned his suitability for the Ministry of Defense role.

Both the UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis would also figure prominently, although it is questionable whether their stance on leaving the EU would be a vote winner.

"The problem is that someone with such strong views on Brexit could be a more risky strategy for the Conservative party than the Theresa May strategy of keeping her on," Professor Garnett concluded.

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