Top 3 developments
- Leadership contest intensifies following TV debate and ambassador row.
- Labour confirmed that they will support Remain in the event of a Second Referendum, after getting the green light from Unions.
- Irish no deal fears grow following Irish Government meeting.
Between Darroch and a Hard Place
The two leadership contenders were both entered the diplomatic spat between the UK and the US this week, following the leak of the UK Ambassador’s wounding assessment of the President and his administration. This proved to be a major test on how Johnson and Hunt could handle the pressure of the difficult decisions a Prime Minister is routinely forced to make.
This would prove to be a particularly delicate situation, as President Trump launched a bruising attack on Twitter at UK Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch and Theresa May. Both candidates would have to remain firm in their decisions while ensuring that they do not anger the UK’s most important ally and a President who clearly has taken Darroch’s assessment of him very personally. Additionally, as the two men are the former and current Foreign Secretary, this decision was especially relevant as they have both been Darroch’s boss.
In the leadership debate on Tuesday, their differences in position were starkly revealed. Hunt, seemingly channelling Hugh Grant in Love Actually, was firm in his position that Sir Kim Darroch should not resign because it is our choice, not the US’ in who we decide to be our ambassador. Johnson was noticeably a lot more ambiguous and failed to guarantee that Darroch’s position was secure. President Trump has previously spoken highly of Johnson, and he clearly had that in the back of his mind.
However, it was revealed that Sir Kim had resigned the morning after watching the debate, as he believed that his situation was untenable, and after seeing Boris’ position, realised that he would rather jump than be pushed out of his position. Boris faced some considerable criticism for this, most notably from former PM Sir John Major, who claimed Darroch had been ‘thrown to the wolves’ by Johnson. Theresa May is under pressure to not appoint Darroch’s successor and to allow the new PM to do so. This means that one of the first tests for the new Prime Minister is to appoint someone to the top post in the diplomatic service that can maintain the Special Relationship and appease President Trump.
Forty shades of Grey (Haired new Conservative MPs)
A new poll commissioned by ComRes forecast that if Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, he would deliver a 40-seat majority for the Conservatives in a General Election. By contrast, the same poll concluded that a Hunt Premiership would lead to Labour becoming the largest Party in the Commons, albeit still short of a majority. This poll provided further ammunition to those who believe that Johnson provides the Party with the only chance of heading off Farage and Corbyn in any future election.
It also gives even more justification for Johnson to hold a quick General Election soon after he takes office, both to cement his authority and to give him the mandate in Parliament to viably pursue a no-deal Brexit. However, Boris would be wise to be cautious, given that Theresa May had a 25-point lead when she called the General Election in 2017 and proceeded to squander her majority. Also, considering Boris has had his eyes on Number 10 for his entire life, would he really be willing to take such a big gamble so soon after he has attained his prize?
The poll also revealed some interesting and surprising findings. For example, when asked the question: ‘Who is more likely to deliver Brexit by 31st October?’ the majority was with Boris with 64% of the vote. However, when asked ‘Who would be the best Prime Minister?’ Hunt won 58% of the vote. A good insight into how the country views both candidates, but ultimately not as relevant as it should be for the leadership campaign as only Conservative members can vote for the next PM.
Love Debate Relationship
The two candidates spent much of this week going up and down the country, doing hustings and trying to convince the nation that they were the best man from the job. Jeremy Hunt’s tactic seemed to be to try and shake off his ‘Mr Nice Guy’ image, insisting that he could be tough and firm. He tried to show this by stating that veterans should not face prosecutions through historical actions during the Troubles, and that he wouldn’t appoint close ally Amber Rudd to the Cabinet unless she was willing to accept a no-deal Brexit. Hunt is desperately trying to avoid the ‘Theresa in Trousers’ moniker that he has been dubbed with by his opponents, and this is an attempt to appear more decisive and individualistic in his campaign.
The main event of this week’s campaign schedule was the one on one debate on Tuesday evening. There was no love lost between the two candidates, and the gloves were off as they both traded blows and launched attacks in a contest which quickly became vicious and personal. Boris bemoaned the ‘blue on blue’ attacks that the debate was reduced to, but for Hunt, going for the jugular is the only way in which he stands a chance.
Some of Hunt’s attacks included that Boris will not put his neck on the line by refusing to pledge to resign if he cannot deliver Brexit by the 31st October, that his tax plan was a ‘tax cut for the rich’ and that he did not answer questions directly. Equally, Boris said that Hunt was a ‘defeatist’ Remainer whose managerialist style had been tried and tested with May and did not work. Nothing much in terms of policy was learnt in this debate, and both candidates came away from the debate more vulnerable than when they started. But the polls still show that Boris is on track to win the contest by a landslide, and there doesn’t seem to be much that Hunt can do to stop it.
After being given the green light by its union backers, the Labour Party confirmed that it will campaign to remain in the European Union against any Brexit plans drawn up by the new Prime Minister. The unions, including Len McCluskey’s Unite, which have resisted Labour becoming a Remain party, agreed that Labour should demand a referendum on any deal negotiated by May’s successor or a no-deal Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn issued a letter to party members explaining Labour’s Brexit position, after months of party splits and uncertainty. The letter stated that Labour would demand the new Conservative Leader, and PM, to put their Brexit proposals to the country in a referendum, and that if they do, Labour will campaign to reverse the 2016 referendum result and stay in the EU.
Whilst the move provides greater clarity on Labour’s Brexit position and the party can be considered now to be a Remainone, these promises are hypothetical and rest on the actions of the new Prime Minister, whoever they may be. The whole premise rests on the new Prime Minister securing a new deal with Brussels in the limited time before October 31st and then agreeing to put the deal to the public for a second referendum on Brexit. Additionally, this is the second option for Labour as, under the plan, Labour could still support leaving the EU under a Brexit deal of its own instead of staying in the bloc.
As the leadership contest ramps up so too has the rhetoric surrounding a no deal Brexit, as Boris Johnson continues to claim that the UK will leave the EU on 31st October ‘do or die’. Leaked notes from a Cabinet meeting suggested that David Lidington, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, warned that the union could break up in the event of a no deal and a disorderly exit from the EU.
Lidington used the rise in support for Scottish Independence and Plaid Cymru as examples that the Government cannot be complacent about the future of the union and the opposition to no deal amongst some of the public as well as Parliament. Additionally, Lidington pointed out that a hard border and border controls could result in the island of Ireland reuniting, with moderates attracted by social liberalisation in the Republic. Many MPs are still highly concerned by the impact of a no deal Brexit, not only on the economy but also for the unity of the country. The rise of support for nationalist and populist parties such as SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Brexit Party demonstrate that the public is growing evermore frustrated with Westminster and how Government has conducted negotiations since the 2016 referendum.
Brexiteers Grieve Amendment
Dominic Grieve has continued to attempt to block a no-deal Brexit through numerous amendments to Parliamentary bills. As Boris Johnson continues to stay ahead of Jeremy Hunt in the polls, the fears of Parliament being prorogued to implement a no deal are increasing. Dominic Grieve has attempted to put many roadblocks in place to prevent the new Prime Minister from having the powers to go ahead with no deal against the wishes of Parliament.
This week, Grieve tabled an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill and it was passed by one vote, when a Government Whip forgot to cast her own vote. This amendment is designed to make it harder to prorogue parliament in the autumn by requiring ministers to give fortnightly statements on attempts to restart power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Whilst this does not bar the PM from proroguing parliament, supporters say it would make such a move more difficult as Parliament will be more involved and therefore difficult to bypass. Should the new Prime Minister, continue to attempt to push a no deal through, then there is a possibility that a vote of no confidence will be called, with many Conservative Ministers already stating that they would bring down the Government to prevent a no deal.
After numerous warnings from the EU to Ireland that they should prepare for a no deal, the country has finally accepted that a no deal would be a “significant risk”. The Irish Government met this week to review no deal preparations and the finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, stressed Ireland’s intention to maintain its commitment to the EU, while also seeking the bloc’s continued support.
Currently, there has been no clear solution to the Irish border issue, as the UK Government is heavily against the idea of a ‘backstop’ and the EU will not change negotiations until a clear alternative can be agreed upon. The new President of the European Commission Dr Von de Leyen has vowed to defend the “precious” Irish backstop and in effect ruled out reopening Theresa May’s Brexit agreement, spelling difficult times ahead for the new Prime Minister. Both candidates have stated that they would like to reopen the withdrawal agreement and remove the backstop. The stark differences of opinion between the UK and the EU suggest that a no deal is becoming increasingly likely, causing Dublin to increase their no deal preparations to reduce the impact on the country and the EU as a whole.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 23rd July: Leader of Conservative Party is elected.
- 30th September: Jeremy Hunt’s cut off date for a realistic deal.
- 17th October: EU October Summit
- 31st October: Current Brexit Deadline.
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