LONDON — They have been dubbed the Conservative rebels, a group of renegade lawmakers willing to risk their careers to defy their newly chosen leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and hobble his leadership over their clashing views on Brexit.
But behind all the talk of revolutionary ardor and mutinous tactics is an unlikely group of insurrectionists — a band of starchy grandees of Tory politics that includes Winston Churchill’s grandson and a 45-year party veteran and ex-chancellor so colorless that he earned the nickname “Spreadsheet Phil.” Running the government only weeks ago, they now flout it from the sidelines.
They believe that Mr. Johnson, in his zeal for pulling Britain out of the European Union without a deal, is risking severe damage to the British economy. But they also believe that he is tearing the Conservatives apart, setting fire to their vision of a big-tent party with priorities beyond Brexit.
In setting aside their usual caution and threatening to rip the heart out of Mr. Johnson’s Brexit plans on Tuesday night, they are offering perhaps the clearest indication yet that the party, squabbling for decades over Europe, is on the brink of a civil war.
Like America’s president, Brexiteers resent the very idea of governing as complex and based in facts.A common thread linking “hard” Brexiteers to nationalists across the globe is that they resent the very idea of governing as a complex, modern, fact-based set of activities that requires technical expertise and permanent officials.
Soon after entering the White House as President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon expressed hope that the newly appointed cabinet would achieve the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” In Europe, the European Commission — which has copious governmental capacity, but scant sovereignty — is an obvious target for nationalists such as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary.
The more extreme fringes of British conservatism have now reached the point that American conservatives first arrived at during the Clinton administration: They are seeking to undermine the very possibility of workable government. For hard-liners such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, it is an article of faith that Britain’s Treasury Department, the Bank of England and Downing Street itself are now conspiring to deny Britain its sovereignty.
It is thought that Mr. Davis’s real grudge was with the unelected official, Olly Robbins, who had usurped him in his influence over the Brexit process. The problem was that Mr. Robbins is willing and able to do the laborious and intellectually demanding policy work that Brexit will require, while Mr. Davis is famously not... But another byproduct of the anti-government attitude is a constant wave of exits. Britain leaves the European Union, Mr. Johnson resigns from the cabinet. The Trump White House has been defined by the constant churn of sackings and resignations. With astonishing hypocrisy, wealthy Brexiteers such as Mr. Rees-Mogg, John Redwood, Lord Lawson and Lord Ashcroft have all been discovered either preparing to move their own assets into European Union jurisdictions or advising clients on how to do so. No doubt when Britain does finally leave the European Union in March 2019, they will distance themselves from reality once more, allowing the sense of victimhood and the dream of “sovereignty” to live another day. Meanwhile, someone has to keep governing.