Prime Minister-in-waiting Theresa May leaves after attending a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street on July 12 in London, England.

Prime Minister-in-waiting Theresa May leaves after attending a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street on July 12 in London, England.

Politics in Britain has had all the elements of a Shakespeare drama. Less than a month ago, the country voted to leave the European Union, sending domestic politics into a tailspin. The conservative Prime Minister David Cameron immediately announced he would step down, and the contest to replace him had candidates falling on their swords left and right. In the end, Theresa May, the UK’s Home Secretary, won the race. She officially assumes the role today. While may didn’t support Brexit she has said she will move forward with the plan. Diane and her guest discuss the new leader in Britain.


  • Frances Burwell Vice president, European Union and Special Initiatives, the Atlantic Council
  • Michelle Egan Professor, School of International Service at American University; fellow, Wilson Center
  • Jon Sopel North America editor, BBC.
  • Jeremy Cliffe Political editor and Bagehot columnist, The Economist


  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The UK has a new prime minister, conservative Theresa May. She comes to the position after the Brexit vote through the country's politics into turmoil. And she'll be responsible for ushering Britain through the withdrawal from the European Union. Here to discuss the new leader in Britain, Frances Burwell of The Atlantic Council, Michelle Egan of American University, Jon Sopel of the BBC.

  • 10:07:28

    MS. DIANE REHMAnd joining us from London, Jeremy Cliffe of The Economist. Throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Thank you all for joining us.

  • 10:07:52

    MR. JON SOPELThank you.

  • 10:07:52

    MS. MICHELLE EGANThank you.

  • 10:07:52

    MS. FRANCES BURWELLThank you, Diane.

  • 10:07:54

    MR. JEREMY CLIFFEThank you.

  • 10:07:54

    REHMAnd Jeremy Cliffe, I'll start with you. You are there in London. Theresa May's winning came about far more quickly than we anticipated. Tell us how that happened.

  • 10:08:10

    CLIFFEYes. The way to think about Theresa May now is, is the last woman standing. She went into this leadership race right after the Brexit referendum, right after David Cameron said he was going and did not look like the frontrunner. But gradually, her various rivals have fallen away. You know, they've stabbed each other or they've stabbed themselves and she now picks her way through the pool of blood to Number 10 Downing Street as the last one left.

  • 10:08:36

    REHMAnd what happens to David Cameron in the meantime?

  • 10:08:42

    CLIFFEWell, he's just had his last session of prime minister's questions. He's appeared before the House of Commons as prime minister for the last time. He's, I believe, imminently going to Buckingham Palace, if that hasn't already happened, to tender his resignation to the Queen and then he's off. It's a very brutal system, the British democratic system and, you know, the removal vans arrived yesterday. His family has moved out of Number 10 Downing Street and he's gone. That's it.

  • 10:09:09

    REHMNo longer even in Parliament, then.

  • 10:09:13

    CLIFFENo, no, he remains as a member of Parliament, although there is speculation as to whether he might stand down as an MP and go off and do something else. But that's up to him.

  • 10:09:20

    REHMInteresting. Jon Sopel, you cover British politics for a long time. How is the British public reacting to all of this?

  • 10:09:33

    SOPELBewildered. I think there have been the most extraordinary two, three weeks of British politics because no one expected the vote to leave the European Union, not even those who were campaigning for it. Then, no one expected David Cameron to walk into Downing Street on that particular morning and announce that he was leaving as prime minister. Just as a quick aside, I was traveling back from Newark in New Jersey to Glasgow to be with Donald Trump at a golf course in Turnberry on the Friday morning.

  • 10:10:06

    SOPELWe took off from Newark on Thursday evening and Britain was in the EU, David Cameron was the prime minister and the pound was staple. None of those things were true when I arrived in Glasgow six hours later. So it has been a period of phenomenal change and what you've seen is that within all -- the two main political parties, convulsions. Now, the difference is that the conservative party, broadly speaking, use switchblades and flick knives to deal with each other.

  • 10:10:34

    SOPELWhereas in the Labour Party, they hit each other over the head with clubs and watch each other die slowly. So you could admire the brutal efficiency of what's gone on in the conservative party while just kind of looking at what's happening in the Labour Party where there is a similar leadership battle going on, but it's going to play out over a much longer period and will be much bloodier.

  • 10:10:56

    REHMMichelle Egan, tell us a little bit about Theresa May. We, here in this country, had certainly not heard her name very much before she did what previously?

  • 10:11:12

    EGANYes. Theresa May has been a very strong supporter of David Cameron in his cabinet. She was home secretary, which meant she dealt with issue of immigration, police and she's the longest service home secretary in British politics. It's usually a graveyard post. And so she's had that. She's had experience also in the private sector. She's considered, as she says herself, not a showy politician, but she's a truly hard worker. She has a lot of dedicated staff around her who feel very much strongly supporting her in the home office.

  • 10:11:51

    EGANShe has a -- and she's very, very -- she's not charismatic in the way, perhaps, David Cameron was, but she is known for -- she has similar views on a lot of sort of social issues and she's very interested in individualism. She's very interested -- she supported a whole host of his initiatives. And most importantly, she stood by him as a remainer to stay in the EU.

  • 10:12:17

    REHMAnd tell us about how she's dealt with problems in her own jurisdiction previously. Is she thought of as tough? Is she thought of as effective? How well does she do?

  • 10:12:35

    EGANWell, she's been dealing with the issue of immigration and there has been some concerns about border issues in Britain. She also was very strong, as the others will tell you, in terms of dealing with the police issue in British politics and the Union issue. So she's considered, you know, a tough cookie. And Kenneth Clarke, who served under Margaret Thatcher, made a sort of comment offline to the news the other day and was quite flattering in a way that made out that she was another lady of steel.

  • 10:13:07

    EGANSo I think that we can expect that...

  • 10:13:09

    CLIFFEI thought you were going to use the words he used.

  • 10:13:11


  • 10:13:13

    SOPELI'll -- okay. I can be British and be a -- he said, on a hot mic that he thought wasn't being record, she's a bloody difficult woman. And I think that actually it was the most fantastic thing he could've said for her because it -- to the conservative party in the country, it made her look like she was tough, made of steel and she would do the business.

  • 10:13:33


  • 10:13:34


  • 10:13:36

    REHMSorry. Jeremy, I know you want to jump in.

  • 10:13:39

    CLIFFEThe reaction from Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, with whom Kenneth Clarke was speaking was brilliant. He said, oh, well, we were both ministers under Margaret Thatcher so we know how it's like with bloody difficult women.

  • 10:13:53


  • 10:13:54

    BURWELLWell, I just wanted to point out that she has extensive experience with the European Union, negotiating with the EU. So as justice minister, she's participated in the justice ministerials among all the 28, soon to be 27, and through a particularly difficult time for the UK because after the Lisbon Treaty came into effect, the UK exercised its right to opt out of a lot of judicial cooperation that is part of the European Union and she managed that, but also negotiated that they would opt back in to 35 measures.

  • 10:14:31

    BURWELLSo they opted out of 130 and back into 35, including the European arrest warrant, which was quite controversial in the UK and she managed that and came away with -- of course, she has enemies, you know, and political critics, but came away with, I think, a great deal of respect, both in the UK and within the Brussels arena. So I think in terms of someone to lead the effort to come out the EU, she is one of the best qualified, actually, within the UK.

  • 10:15:09

    REHMBut at the same time, as you've all said, she was with David Cameron to stay.

  • 10:15:18

    BURWELLBut she's always been rather kind of Euro-skeptic in her attitudes and actually, there was a lot of surprise that she'd opted to -- there was a lot of speculation of which way would she go. And when she finally went for remain, it was seen as a career calculation, perhaps, and that -- and she was not one of the people out on the hustings every day on the remain side.

  • 10:15:39


  • 10:15:40

    SOPELThe key point there is that she -- although she said I am part of the remain camp, she did next to nothing. She stayed -- her hands are clean. At the end of the process, she said, I know I supported remain. I was loyal to the prime minister. If she saw what was going to happen, she saw it brilliantly. I mean, she did not put a foot wrong. Everything that she has done you could've imagined there was almost a conspiracy in her mind of how she was going to become prime minister.

  • 10:16:09

    SOPELAnd she supported David Cameron so she was loyal to the leader, but she wasn't so loyal that she infuriated enemies. And then, when David Cameron fell, who was the person left standing to resume it?

  • 10:16:24

    REHMSo what does this mean, Jeremy, as to how she will lead the process to take Britain out of the EU?

  • 10:16:36

    CLIFFEWell, although she's a remainer, although she was technically with David Cameron on the anti-Brexit side of the debate, as Jon has just said, she was not very enthusiastic about it. And she's postured as something of a Euro-skeptic over the past years, which I think gives her a credibility in her party when she goes into these negotiations. Not to mention the fact that she is -- as home secretary, she has been very tough on immigration so I think she goes into this as something like a hardliner.

  • 10:17:02

    CLIFFEOn the other hand, she has a liberal streak. It's very hard to sort of pigeon hole her. As home secretary, it's true she was tough on immigration. At the start of her leadership campaign, she even said she thought that EU nationals currently living in Britain might possibly have to leave the country under some Brexit arrangement, which is very Draconian, as far as practically everyone, even in the conservative party, is concerned. On the other hand, she was also the home secretary who drove forward gay marriage legislation.

  • 10:17:30

    CLIFFEShe was also the home secretary that fought against LGBT discrimination in schools. She was the home secretary that has played a pretty important role in some of the prison reforms that are starting to take place in Britain. So it's very hard to actually categorize her as a hard-line liberal or a hard-line conservative on either side.

  • 10:17:48

    REHMJeremy Cliffe, he's political editor and columnist at The Economist. When we come back, we'll talk about timing and how all this may likely move forward. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the drama not here in the United States but in Britain and the rise to prominence of Theresa May, the brand new prime minister replacing David Cameron. Jon Sopel, tell us a little about Theresa May. Who is she? What is she like? You've spent lots of time with her.

  • 10:20:31

    SOPELWell, I've known her for probably about 20 years. I've been on flights with her, I've drunk whiskey with her at the British embassy here in Washington. I have interviewed her countless occasions. We've had lunch together. And I would say she is the most unknowable politician that I have met in my career. She's...

  • 10:20:50

    REHMHow do you mean that?

  • 10:20:51

    SOPELSo she -- she doesn't gossip. She will not -- she will make a virtue out of not getting involved in the tittle-tattle of the daily politics, which is your normal stock in trade. You meet someone for lunch, you say oh my goodness, what's going on at the foreign office, what's happening here, what's going -- who's up, who's down.

  • 10:21:07

    REHMWho's doing this and yeah, yeah.

  • 10:21:09

    SOPELShe won't indulge in any of that. She'll talk about her brief but with great discretion. And there -- and so you come away and think, well, that was very interesting, but I've learnt nothing about what makes her tick. She is a vicar's daughter who got involved in the Conservative Party when she was about 12 years old, 12, and her father, the vicar, said, well, you can't actively campaign where we live because I am the vicar for the whole community, not just part of the community. So she was very discrete about how she did it.

  • 10:21:39

    SOPELAnd I think that discretion, almost slightly austere outer appearance is what she is. But the people who work with her have loved working with her. They speak incredibly highly of her for her intellectual integrity and for her determination to get things done and her kind of I want to learn about this subject, she learns, she takes a decision, and she sticks to it. And that -- I think those are the hallmarks of an unflashy...

  • 10:22:09


  • 10:22:12

    SOPELUnflashy, that's the word I'd use.

  • 10:22:13

    REHMAnd there were comments about the fact that though she is married, she has no children, Michelle.

  • 10:22:22

    EGANYes, this came up because she was in a contest with another woman, Andrea Leadsom, and Andrea was interviewed by the media and made a comment, which was taken out of huge proportion, about she had children, whereas Theresa May did not, and that made certain qualifications for her, that she would look to the future because she had children. Well, there was such a big backlash against it, and I think it gave Andrea Leadsom of the sense of the scrutiny she would be under, and of course she withdrew from the race very shortly after, paving the way for Theresa May to actually not have a vote with her constituency.

  • 10:23:04

    REHMAnd Frances Burwell, there have been lots of comparisons made already as to what kind of a prime minister she will be, with whom she will be compared. Will it be Margaret Thatcher? Will it be Angela Merkel? Where do you see it?

  • 10:23:23

    BURWELLWell, I think the Thatcher comparison is relevant in terms of toughness, but she has a very different view of the country and of where the Conservative Party should go. Margaret Thatcher was essentially a rather divisive figure in British politics and certainly in the country. Theresa May came I think first to real public notice when she stood up while the Conservatives were in opposition at one of their party conferences and said, you know, we are known as the nasty party, and we shouldn't be.

  • 10:23:52

    BURWELLAnd this has led to leaders such as David Cameron and herself pushing forward nondiscriminatory legislation on LGBT issues and etcetera, things like that. And her -- certainly her first remarks now are about bringing the country together.

  • 10:24:10

    REHMIndeed, indeed.

  • 10:24:10

    BURWELLSo I think actually that a very interesting, I'm not totally convinced yet, comparison is actually with Angela Merkel, who is also rather uncharismatic, also the daughter of a -- in this case a Protestant minister and who is known for getting things done and focusing on that.

  • 10:24:29

    REHMAnd Jeremy, right after the Brexit vote, there was a lot of talk that lots of people did not understand exactly what they had voted for, that they might in fact redo the whole referendum. Theresa May has said there will be no second referendum. But what does that mean as to how quickly she's going to move forward to take action?

  • 10:25:03

    CLIFFEWell Theresa May, unlike some of her rivals at the Tory leadership, has always said that she wants to wait until at least next year to start the formal process of negotiating Britain's exit.

  • 10:25:12

    REHMBut the EU is pushing her to move more quickly.

  • 10:25:14

    CLIFFEI would treat that with a bit of skepticism. The EU always makes a fuss about this sort of thing. And the usual way things are done in the EU is that informal conversations line up the more formal negotiations. So I would expect her to be able to get away with it, and I think actually we could have to wait until late next for anything to really move on this because as soon as you get into next year, there's a French election campaign. The last thing the people in Brussels want is for the French campaign to turn into a sort of auction as to who can be toughest on Britain.

  • 10:25:42

    CLIFFEThen you have a Dutch election, in which the topic is going to be very live, and then a German election in September. So I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't really get going until autumn 2017.

  • 10:25:53

    REHMDo you agree, Jon?

  • 10:25:54

    SOPELYes, I do. And I think the other interesting thing that, you know, Jeremy was saying about there is that there's a parliamentary system that we've got in the UK. It's not a presidential system.

  • 10:26:05

    REHMAnd we don't understand it.

  • 10:26:08

    SOPELAnd so what is worth underlining is yes, she's talking about unifying the country, yes, she has -- you know, she's very tough, and she's determined, but all the problems that David Cameron was dealing with and the reason why he had to give the referendum, was because the members of parliament from his own party were pushing him in that direction. And for them it is almost a matter of religious conviction, their euro-skepticism. And they are going to be holding Theresa May's feet to the flames if they sense any backsliding on her part on the commitment for Britain to leave the European Union.

  • 10:26:43

    SOPELYou may have a different prime minister in Number 10 Downing Street as of today, but the issues that are still there facing them are the same, and Theresa May has got no easy answers to those questions from the kind of euro skeptics who want to see us out of the European Union as fast as possible.

  • 10:27:02


  • 10:27:03

    EGANThe other thing to realize is there's a lot of talk about the EU wants this to be immediate, but if you look at the Treaty of Lisbon, which allows for a withdrawal of a member state, the trigger has to come from the member state, which is Britain. So no amount of pushing from Brussels will actually trigger that process.

  • 10:27:22

    REHMWhy does Brussels want to move so quickly?

  • 10:27:27

    EGANProbably the issue of uncertainty and the concern it will have because obviously, as you know across Europe, there's a rise of euro-skepticism and populist sentiment. So there are multiple crises, as well, that they're dealing with, with the refugee crisis, with the aftereffects, sort of, of the economic Eurozone crisis. They have a lot on their plate, and this is just one more thing to think about and deal with.

  • 10:27:51


  • 10:27:51

    BURWELLSo I think one of the key moments is going to be the delivery of what I assume will be a report by a civil service group that has been set up by David Cameron and continue in Whitehall that is looking at the whole panoply of relationships with the EU and what has to be done in order to -- what areas need to be negotiated. And I expect that that will happen probably right after the summer break.

  • 10:28:17

    BURWELLAnd there is also, within the EU, a meeting at 27, i.e., without the UK, at the summit level, in Bratislava on September 16. And so that's going to be a moment when the other leaders decide how much they're going to push, what triggers might they be able to -- what leverage might they have to move this forward.

  • 10:28:42

    BURWELLI think there is an attitude in Europe that I would -- within the EU that I would say is really about lancing the boil. They've been very frustrated with the British over the last few years and the amount of time and attention this referendum has taken, the way British politics on this referendum have affected the EU, and now the British have made their decision, and it's time to get on with it. But they don't have an actual trigger, as Michelle said.

  • 10:29:07

    REHMHere's an email from George, who says why would Theresa May have to invoke Article 50 of the EU since the Brexit vote is not legally binding, Jeremy?

  • 10:29:26

    CLIFFEI think it would be very difficult for her to put this off forever, and I speak as someone who would very much like our Brexit vote to have gone differently and for the whole thing to go away. But I just don't think it's realistic. Jon mentioned Britain as a parliamentary political culture. There are many on her own benches, on the new prime minister's own benches, who are -- feel very, very strongly about this and in fact would like her to invoke Article 50 immediately, not even next year.

  • 10:29:50

    CLIFFESo I think the idea that she can just ignore it is for the birds.

  • 10:29:53

    REHMI guess the part that we here in this country have a hard time understanding is when David Cameron said I am stepping away because I can't carry this through, why wasn't there an election?

  • 10:30:10

    SOPELWell, there are many who think there should be. I mean, and it's interesting that when Theresa May gets back into Downing Street, unpacks her things, speaks with her closest advisors, I'm sure there is going to be someone who is going to say prime minister, can I just present you with this latest opinion poll, which shows the Conservative Party at 58 percent and the Labour Party at 22 percent or whatever it happens to be. Don't you think it would be quite a good idea to go to the country?

  • 10:30:36

    SOPELNow she has said she doesn't need to, and if I could just do the sort of tedious civics lecture on British parliamentary systems, we don't elect a prime minister at a general election. We elect members of parliament, and the party with the largest number and has a majority of the members of parliament chooses who the prime minister is.

  • 10:30:59

    REHMI see, I see.

  • 10:31:01

    SOPELSo the arithmetic in parliament hasn't changed. The Conservatives still have a majority. Therefore, there is no constitutional need to have a new prime minister. 1

  • 10:31:09

    REHMI see. Jeremy, do you want to add?

  • 10:31:12

    CLIFFEWell just very briefly, Jon has made my point for me, really, but I think there's a bit of a gulf in Britain between the way we perceive politics, which is we imagine we live in a presidential system, that's how election campaigns are fought. We have presidential-style TV debates. We elect -- we elect an individual and then complain when it turns out we live in a parliamentary system, where the mandate we've given has gone to our MPs and not the leader of their party.

  • 10:31:37

    REHMFrances Burwell, tell us what's happening with the Labour Party.

  • 10:31:41

    BURWELLOh well, the Labour Party has been in a total shambles, I would say a process of self-immolation really, since this whole vote. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was supposed to campaign for remain but did not do so enthusiastically. And then leaks came out indicating that he -- his -- people very close to him had actually tried to sabotage some of the remain campaign.

  • 10:32:12

    BURWELLAnd since then, he has had multiple people in the shadow cabinet, that is the rival, out-of-government cabinet, resign and -- from that as a -- as a remark on his leadership. And in fact the parliamentary Labour Party has had an overwhelming vote of no confidence in him. And it has just been discovered, he's now been challenged by the leadership, which has to go to the members of the party, so dues-paying members of the Labour Party, and this is -- it's just been agreed that he will automatically be put on that ballot. I think there are now two challengers, but there might be more since we got in the studio.

  • 10:32:54

    CLIFFEAs we stand, it's just two.

  • 10:32:56

    BURWELLAs we stand just two?

  • 10:32:56

    REHMJust two.

  • 10:32:57

    BURWELLIt should be remembered that not the parliamentary party but the actual party, the regular members, are very supportive of Jeremy Corbyn. So they're quite different from -- so he could still survive, but it's going to go on for several weeks, and it could be very tempting for the new prime minister to go to the country under those circumstances.

  • 10:33:24

    REHMFrances Burwell is vice president for the European Union and Special Initiatives at the Atlantic Council. And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And here's an email from Brandy. What will Theresa May do about keeping Northern Ireland and Scotland in? It will be interesting to see her work with Nicola Sturgeon. Jeremy?

  • 10:34:00

    CLIFFEWell, you have to separate out those two issues. Scotland and Northern Ireland are very different on this. The only thing really uniting them being that they both voted for Britain to stay in the European Union and didn't get what they want. I think with Scotland, it's more simple, although there are -- there's talk of a second independence referendum in Scotland. I would take that with a pinch of salt. I think that the Scottish public does not seem overwhelmingly persuaded of the case for that.

  • 10:34:22

    CLIFFEBear in mind that the Scots -- an independent Scotland's budget would balance at an oil price of well over $100 a barrel. And so there are still big questions about how viable an independent Scotland would be. Northern Ireland I'm more concerned about because the whole peace settlement there, negotiated with the help of a number of Americans, including Bill Clinton, was based on Northern Ireland and Ireland and the United Kingdom all being in the European Union. It was based on the idea that the border between Northern Ireland and the republic could become fairly irrelevant.

  • 10:34:52

    CLIFFEAnd the concern that a lot of people there have is that if Britain negotiates a pretty total departure from the European Union, because remember that Brexit can mean lots of different things, it can mean various degrees of alienation of Britain from the rest of the EU, if it negotiates quite a separate relationship from the rest of the European Union, that border is going to have to harden up. Ireland is in the European Union. It's in the Schengen zone, the free movement zone, and most of continental Europe.

  • 10:35:16

    CLIFFEAnd so it's not at all clear how that peace settlement can hold if Britain ends up with that sort of arrangement. So it's up to Theresa May to negotiate something in our view, at the Economist, that can keep that border relatively open, and that means a relatively sort of mild form of Brexit.

  • 10:35:34

    REHMAnd what about her relationship with Nicola Sturgeon?

  • 10:35:38

    EGANWell, what's interesting...

  • 10:35:42

    REHMAnd tell us first who Nicola Sturgeon is.

  • 10:35:43

    EGANNicola Sturgeon is the Scottish Nationalist Party, which at the last election in May 2015, did extraordinarily well in Scotland and is also first minister of Scotland. So you have her coming out, sort of indicating she would like a vote in the Scottish parliament for a second referendum, and so she's already been to Brussels. And although she had some traction in the European parliament and some sympathy, she's also going to have resistance for sort of circumventing London, trying to make the case for if Britain leaves, Scotland should be in.

  • 10:36:20

    EGANAnd the reason for that is that she will be opposed by Belgium and Spain, who are concerned about their own secessionist movements, the Catalans or the Flanders and other areas. So there is concern, you know, about what that breakup would do for other countries in Europe. So she has a strong position in Scotland right now, but the important thing to think about that -- this is also the year of the woman.

  • 10:36:45

    EGANThere are three women leaders in Scotland running the three political parties. Theresa May was against Andrea Leadsom, and the person who first challenged Jeremy Corbyn is from my constituency, Angela Eagle. So this is really women in power in Britain.

  • 10:37:04

    REHMAnd who knows what will happen here in the United States? All right, short break here, and when we come back, there are lots of calls, questions for all of you, Frances Burwell, Michelle Egan, Jon Sopel and Jeremy Cliffe. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:02

    REHMAnd it's time to open the phones as we talk about what's happening in England now that the Brexit vote is over, and David Cameron has resigned. There is a new prime minister, Theresa May. Let's go first to Justin in Madrid, Missouri. Good morning, you're on the air, go right ahead.

  • 10:40:29

    JUSTINGood morning, Diane, ladies and gentlemen. My question for you guys is because Britain was such an economic powerhouse in regards to the EU, how has that affected the economic stability of the European Union as a whole?

  • 10:40:45

    REHMWhat do you think, Jeremy?

  • 10:40:46

    CLIFFEI think it's definitely going to have a negative effect on the European Union, not just because of the size of the British economy as part of the European Union, that's of course very significant, Britain was the second-largest economy in the European Union behind Germany, just ahead of France. I think it's most significant in the balance, the shift in the balance in the institutions that it brings.

  • 10:41:05

    CLIFFEBritain was always a voice for more free trade, a more liberal European Union, a more economically dynamic European Union, and the fact that that voice is now gone really worries people, particularly in other what you might call economically liberal, economically pro-free-trade countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany. A lot of concern about that in Berlin.

  • 10:41:24

    CLIFFESo it matters in terms of just the weight of the economy but also in terms of the diplomatic weight that Britain brought to Europe.

  • 10:41:30


  • 10:41:31

    BURWELLI don't disagree with anything that Jeremy said, but I think also in the short term we have companies that are looking to make investment decisions, and I think some of them will now start to make the decision to go to the EU 27, the remaining EU, rather than the UK, which they had previously thought they would use as a platform with access to the EU. And they don't know whether that access will continue.

  • 10:41:51

    BURWELLI think also one of the biggest questions is whether once this is settled the city of London is allowed to remain a clearinghouse for the euro, and if it is not a place where you can clear euro transactions, then the city is going to suffer a lot, and that -- that function will undoubtedly move to another city within Europe. So what the impact of what will be, we have to see.

  • 10:42:18

    REHMAll right, to Rick in Fayetteville, North Carolina, you're on the air.

  • 10:42:22

    RICKYes, I remember back in the '90s, when Newt Gingrich was at the height of his power, he was talking about taking his conservative movement worldwide, and they were having these seminars in schools for people to learn how to speak certain words. And I know that the Republican strategists run -- campaign managers run campaigns all over the world. I was wondering how big a part they played in this Brexit vote in as much as a lot of the people in Britain seem to have been misled as to what the results would yield. Thank you.

  • 10:42:57

    REHMJon Sopel?

  • 10:42:57

    SOPELWell, I don't know whether the people were misled about what the results would yield. I think what happened was that people chose to close their ears and shut their eyes and said anyone who says that anything bad will come to the UK is just making it all up. And of course, you know, what we're seeing, companies are delaying decisions on investment in the UK now. And so I don't know whether it's part of a kind of bigger political movement that you're describing that Newt Gingrich was trying to establish. All I do know is that I was in Scotland with Donald Trump on the day after Brexit, and Donald Trump could not have looked more pleased with the world because the forces that had -- were propelling him in the United States of America, disaffected, blue-collar workers who feel that the political establishment had let them down, were precisely the people who had voted in Britain for Brexit and presumably he was hoping would be voting for him come November.

  • 10:43:54


  • 10:43:56

    CLIFFEYes, if you'll let me be a bit partisan here, I think there are real similarities between the Trump movement in the United States and the pro-Brexit campaign here in Britain. And I think the most important is both cases, they mark a shift from a sort of instrumental politics, where you campaign based on how many jobs you're going to create or the numbers in your manifesto to an expressive politics, where the way you vote expresses who you are, it's more cultural, it's to do with identity.

  • 10:44:23

    CLIFFEAnd I think that just as Donald Trump talks about getting our country back, reviving a sort of lost golden age of American history, we heard exactly the same thing from the Brexit campaign here. It was about -- you know, they didn't have answers to all the questions. Their numbers didn't add up, just as Donald Trump's numbers don't add up. But that didn't matter because they moved politics into this new sphere where you can kind of say what you want but -- and what matters is not whether it's right but how expressively and charismatically you say it. And that's dangerous territory, as far as I'm concerned.

  • 10:44:53

    SOPELExactly that. I think -- and I'm not going to be partisan because I'm part of the BBC, and we don't have a view. What I will say is that I have never known in an election where people have been prepared to embrace uncertainty, we don't know what it will mean, we don't know what Brexit will look like, with such alacrity. People were saying to them, you know, every leading economist around the world was saying it will be catastrophic. The governor of the Bank of England was saying this is a very dangerous thing to be doing. President Obama intervened and said this is going to be very bad geopolitically for the world.

  • 10:45:26

    SOPELAnd people in Britain said, you know what, I don't care, I'm willing to give it a go. And normally in elections we think I want to vote for is this going to make my family wealthier, am I going to feel better off, and none of that seemed to matter in this Brexit election, which of course begs the question will it matter come the presidential election in November.

  • 10:45:43

    REHMExactly. Michelle?

  • 10:45:44

    EGANWell, we also have to remember that this was a close vote, 17 versus 16 million. And perhaps when we think about this, as well, is we get the sense who voted for leave. And what we do know is -- I'm from Northern England, and there was really a sort of politics of grievance, and I think that's sort of reflecting sort of the Rust Belt view in the United States, we've been left behind. But there was also a lot of conservative support.

  • 10:46:08

    EGANSo this issue of Europe has also cut across the Labour and the Conservative Party for quite some time. It was identity politics. It was also generational politics. And it was also territorial politics. Northern England, Scotland, voted to remain -- Scotland voted to stay, Northern England voted to leave in large part. So there were real sort of cross-cutting trends here. So it's hard to pigeonhole why people voted.

  • 10:46:35


  • 10:46:36

    BURWELLSo just two things? The three areas of the UK that received the most regional support funds, subsidies locally for infrastructure development, et cetera, from the European Union all voted to leave. And the other thing is that, as Michelle said, there's a huge generational difference, with those under 35 voting overwhelmingly to stay, to remain, and those over voting overwhelmingly to leave. But the young people did not go out and vote.

  • 10:47:07


  • 10:47:07

    BURWELLSo there's a huge drop in turnout there.

  • 10:47:11

    REHMAll right, let's go to Falls Church, Virginia. Hi Victoria, you're on the air.

  • 10:47:16

    VICTORIAGood morning, Diane. Good morning, distinguished guests. Thank you so much for taking my call.

  • 10:47:21


  • 10:47:23

    VICTORIAThank you. I had a question. I had always been a fan of The Economist magazine, and a little over a year ago, they came out with an issue all about Putin and Russia and their influence all over the world. And one of their influences had to do with I believe it was a UKIP Party, and they have been pushing, I guess, you know behind the scenes for interference with the UK and their influence within the EU and also for, you know, a disruption of the EU.

  • 10:48:01

    VICTORIAAnd has anyone put any thought into what kind of influence they've been playing in this whole Brexit vote?

  • 10:48:08


  • 10:48:10

    CLIFFEWell I'm very pleased to hear, Victoria, you're a fan of The Economist, and I have to be careful here as to exactly what I say because Russia's exact involvement in the politics of Western Europe is very hard to precisely quantify. It's all in the shadows. But what is absolutely clear, and this is I think the point we were making in the issue that you're referring to, is that Russia has certainly taken an interest in some of the nationalist, populist movements taking hold in parts of Western Europe.

  • 10:48:34

    CLIFFENigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP Party, this famous pro-Brexit party in Britain, has expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin. Likewise there is -- I believe it's on the record that the French Front National, the right-wing populist party there, has received a large loan from Russian sources. There are also very close links between the Alternative for Germany, which is a very -- again equivalent party in Germany, which campaigns on a euro-skeptic, populist platform, they, too, have very close links with Russia.

  • 10:49:04

    CLIFFEAnd I think precisely what Russia's involvement is hard to say, but what's clear is that there is an obvious sympathy between Putin and his nationalist movement in Moscow and similar parties in Western Europe who are -- who like Putin are skeptical of the European Union, who see it as a sort of decadent institution that's too bound up with social liberalism and too willing to erase the borders between countries.

  • 10:49:25

    CLIFFEAnd I think that's a concern that, you know, you have this new alliance emerging in Europe between quite a sort of revanchist Russia on the one hand and these increasingly successful populist forces in the national capitals in Europe's West, as well.

  • 10:49:39


  • 10:49:39

    SOPELJust a five-second footnote to add to that. Nigel Farage, the leader of the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party, he's been invited to Cleveland next week. He's going to be at the Republican convention.

  • 10:49:50

    REHMInteresting. Here's what I'd like to understand. What are the issue that will be negotiated with the EU, and what do those -- how do those issues get handled in the meantime, before they finalize this negotiation, Frances?

  • 10:50:14

    BURWELLWell in the meantime, before there is a final agreement, Britain is a member of the EU and participates in all of the meetings, but you are seeing more and more informal meetings. There was on I think the 29th, right after the Brexit referendum. They had a two-day summit in the European Union. The first day David Cameron was there, and the second day was an informal meeting, and he was not invited.

  • 10:50:39

    BURWELLAnd the same thing with this September meeting in Bratislava. You will also find that the UK is increasingly less credible when it argues for its view on a particular regulation or a policy decision that the EU is making because the others will turn to them and say but you're not going to be there.

  • 10:51:03

    REHMBut what happens, for example, to immigration between now and then, Jeremy?

  • 10:51:07

    CLIFFEWell, the way to think about this is as a contest between Canada and Norway. These are the two models on which Britain's future relationship with the European Union will probably be based. And on the one hand you have the Norwegian model, which is where you're part of the European economic area, you have open borders to the rest of the European Union, so someone from Greece or France or Spain can travel and work and live freely in your country. But in return for that you get total access to the single market. In fact, you are part of the single market.

  • 10:51:34

    CLIFFEOn the other hand you have the Canadian model, where you have a free trade arrangement with the European Union, where you have control of your own borders, you can decide who you let in and who you don't, but when you trade with the EU, you have to -- you have tariffs, you have restrictions. It's a much -- it's a much less free trading relationship. And the choice Britain now faces is do you go more with something like Norway or something like Canada.

  • 10:51:56


  • 10:51:57

    EGANWell, the big thing that the British will want is access to the single market, and that access comes with free movement of labor, which is the most contested issue. Remember there are 2.5 million EU nationals in Britain, and they're concerned about their status after Brexit. You know, will they be allowed to stay? What will their legal position be? What will their work position be? So access to the single market is huge for Britain.

  • 10:52:24

    EGANSecondly, Britain has had the biggest issue on should we allow free movement of labor, and it's still a very contested issue. Theresa May has already raised this issue. The third issue, which I think, is the fact that Britain has a very unbalanced economy. Britain is a service economy. A lot of it is centered around the city of London. So what we get in terms of financial market access, as Fran pointed out earlier, financial rules, what role we'll play as the financial center in Europe, will be very, very significant in these Brexit discussions.

  • 10:52:56

    BURWELLI would just say that, you know, because Britain has been in the EU, life has gotten very complicated for people. The week after the referendum, I was driving around Northern England and listening on the car radio to a financial advice call-in show. And people were saying things like my spouse is French, should I get a French passport, should he get a British passport, what about our children.

  • 10:53:19

    REHMWhat confusion.

  • 10:53:21

    BURWELLWhat about my pension? I worked in France for eight years. Who pays my pension now? What happens?

  • 10:53:27

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And now a caller in Boston, Massachusetts. Adam, you're on the air.

  • 10:53:38

    ADAMYes, thank you for having me on. My question was related to the previous caller, who referenced that there's no binding (unintelligible) for the new prime minister to actually follow through, and I felt like there was an ammunition to being able to do that based on the fact that none of the promises that are going to come through that were promised to the public will actually happen, that there won't be the social security increase, there won't be really protections from the immigrants.

  • 10:54:13

    ADAMIt was such a tight vote, it doesn't seem like based on what's actually the fact that they were misled and that the promises won't come true that she would have an avenue to basically say we're not going to go there, as well as what was just mentioned, which is that if they're still going to go for the connection with the EU, there's no way they're not going to have to do with the cross -- you know, person transfer and even immigration. So she's going to have to deal with that anyway to keep them even partially in the EU.

  • 10:54:43


  • 10:54:44

    EGANYou're absolutely right. This is all open and up in the air. And there are some very, very difficult issues here because, you know, think about it this way. We've had 40-plus years of rules, laws, regulations, legal decisions that have bound us to a broader EU, and now we're looking at effectively not just a divorce settlement with Article 50 and what would be the status in terms of borders, tariffs, trade, but secondly a post-divorce settlement. What is the EU-UK trade relationship?

  • 10:55:16

    EGANSo we don't know until Theresa May puts in place her Cabinet and probably a Brexit minister what this is going to be in terms of negotiations.

  • 10:55:26

    REHMDo I understand correctly, Jon Sopel, that Theresa May is coming here to meet with President Obama?

  • 10:55:37

    SOPELOh, well that's a very good question. I didn't -- I haven't heard that.

  • 10:55:42

    REHMJeremy, have you heard that?

  • 10:55:43

    CLIFFEI can't say I've heard anything -- anything along those lines, though I'd be surprised if she didn't make a trip to Washington.

  • 10:55:49

    SOPELLook, if we've got -- if we've got -- I mean the one -- people have talked about there's going to be a steep rise in unemployment in the UK. The one area in the UK where there are plenty of job vacancies at the moment are trade negotiators. We don't have any. They're all in the European Union. If Britain is -- and this is quite a serious point. If Britain is about to have to renegotiate trade deals with the United States because it's no longer part of the EU, therefore there needs to be separate arrangement, or if it's going to have to renegotiate trade deals with the European Union because we don't remain part of the single market, then we have no trade negotiators left in our country because they all work for the European Union.

  • 10:56:26

    CLIFFEIf there's anyone listening with experience of trade negotiation...

  • 10:56:28

    SOPELPlease apply.

  • 10:56:28

    CLIFFEI would indeed urge them to contact Theresa May as soon as possible.

  • 10:56:32

    SOPELMy guess is that of course the special relationship is paramount. I'm sure Theresa May will want to come to the U.S. as soon as possible. However, her priority at the moment is to sort out what on Earth is going to happen within the European Union and kind of getting Angela Merkel on board I think is the top priority.

  • 10:56:49

    REHMAll right, and that's the last word, from Jon Sopel. He's North America editor for the BBC. Jeremy Cliffe is political editor and columnist at The Economist. Michelle Egan is a professor at the School of International Service at American University, and Frances Burwell is at the Atlantic Council. Great discussion. Thank you all so much.

  • 10:57:21

    SOPELThank you.

  • 10:57:22

    REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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