Top 3 developments
- Final two leadership campaigns get underway
- Boris faces huge media scrutiny for argument with girlfriend
- Parliament lays out further attempts to frustrate Brexit
Who Wants to be a Cabinet Minister?
Amidst the drama of the leadership campaign this week, one of the most interesting stories was the analysis of who would serve in the eventual PM’s Government, as a number of senior Tories jostle for positions in high ranking Cabinet posts. For example, on one day there were reports that Rory Stewart was backing Hunt (and probably thinking that the potentially vacant Foreign Secretary position looked appealing…) and then that Matt Hancock was being touted (presumably by supporters of Matt Hancock and no one else) as a potential Chancellor in Boris’ Government, which explains why he decided to support Boris instead of Hunt – who is far more ideologically aligned to Hancock’s beliefs.
But the day after, Sajid Javid emerged as the favoured choice for Boris’ Chancellor. This is much more viable, as Javid wants to unleash a £100bn spending plan which allies with Johnson’s various spending pledges, and as Javid reached the final four in the leadership bid he is a safe bet to keep his position as Home Secretary at the very least. Boris Johnson also confirmed that he would only choose a Cabinet with those who were ‘reconciled’ with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. This spells bad news for Amber Rudd and David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary and Justice Secretary respectively, who have outlined their strong opposition to no-deal. A Johnson victory could mean a return to the backbenches for these MPs.
Jettisoning MPs who oppose no-deal will be a difficult decision for Boris to make should he win. On one hand, Johnson needs Cabinet unity, and this cannot be guaranteed if he has some MPs sworn to prevent no-deal at any cost. But on the other hand, he is losing talented members of his Government because they do not share his view of an ideologically pure Brexit, which means that there are not a diverse range of views at the highest echelons of Government and in a Party which claims to be a ‘broad church’. It will be interesting to see if any of these Cabinet members soften their position over the next few weeks, because doing so could be an indicator that they are not prepared to lose their job over it.
Mummy what’s a policy?
Policies. Remember those? Those are the things the leadership candidates speak about when they aren’t asked about historic drug use, arguments with their girlfriend, the naughtiest thing they have ever done or any other issue that isn’t focused on the immediate and long-term future of the country.
But the candidates do have policies. For example, Jeremy Hunt wants to abolish illiteracy, has promised an extra £15bn for defence and plans to turbocharge the economy by slashing corporation tax. Meanwhile, Boris wants to increase spending on education, introduce an Australian-style points system for immigration and to raise the higher tax threshold from £50,000 to £80,000. All are viable policies – provided there is enough money for all of these spending pledges – but as always, there is only one policy that really matters in this contest: Brexit.
Boris this week has maintained a strong position on Brexit, promising to come out on the 31st October ‘do or die’ – or ‘come what may’ a line he has cleverly stolen from Dominic Raab. However, Hunt has expressed willingness to extend Article 50 beyond 31st October if he believed a credible Brexit agreement could be reached, and has only admitted to pursue a no-deal Brexit if the alternative was no Brexit. Although a much more measured position, it is unlikely to particularly appeal to Conservative voters, a lot of whom see any sort of compromise on Brexit as a betrayal.
Perhaps the most concerning thing about this process however is the monumental lack of detail offered by both candidates. Hunt has not offered any indication about how he would remove the backstop from the current agreement, and Boris has not clarified how he would be able to pursue no-deal when the Parliamentary arithmetic means it is highly unlikely. These are the hard choices that will need to be made and which will define the next Prime Minister’s success on Brexit, yet they are still not being answered. With three weeks still left in the process, hopefully the candidates will offer some more detailed analysis about how they plan to achieve their end goal, rather than promising to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Clean campaigns are for cowards!
Remember just four weeks ago a few of the leadership candidates signed a clean campaign pledge to avoid ‘blue on blue’ attacks and to keep the contest civil? It’s safe to say that this pledge has been long forgotten… Hunt launched several personal attacks on Johnson’s character this week, trying to wound him when he was under fire for his ambiguous Brexit plan and the argument he had with his girlfriend. Firstly, Hunt accused him of cowardice for evading media scrutiny, which he saw as an attempt to sneak into Number 10 ‘through the back door’. Then, Hunt said that an untrustworthy leader could lead to no Brexit at all. Although he denied he was talking about Johnson, if you read between the lines here it is clear what he is doing. He is trying to label Johnson with untrustworthiness because there is a lingering perception amongst voters that you can never fully trust him.
This is a clever tactic by Hunt, as he will have to work extremely hard to undo the bond that Johnson has built between himself and the party faithful. People often vote on how a candidate makes them feel, not specifically about their policies. This means that personality and charm is a lot more appealing than competence and experience. Although you could argue that name calling is a bit childish for a leadership election, it can also be argued that it demonstrates passion, conviction and a knack for ‘saying it how it is’ – a touch of authenticity that strongly resonates with voters. Elections are decided in the marketplace of emotions, not of reason and logic.
Last weekend saw how intense the media scrutiny of a leadership campaign can get, and for even someone who craves the spotlight like Johnson, it seemed to surprise him. It has been said time and time again that the only thing that can beat Boris is Boris, so newspapers couldn’t believe their luck when it was reported that the police had been called to Boris’ girlfriend’s flat late on Friday after a very loud argument was heard by neighbours, apparently due to Johnson spilling wine on her sofa. Probably not the way Johnson imagined celebrating reaching the final two candidates to become the next Prime Minister…
Although Sofagate ended up being a bit of a non-story, even though it ferociously dominated headlines over the weekend, it actually ended up being very handy for his competitor Jeremy Hunt. Over the same period, a video emerged of Foreign Office Minister Mark Field MP grabbing a protestor very aggressively by the neck and escorting her out following an interruption to the Mansion House Dinner. It led to his immediate suspension from Number 10 and calls by some to be charged for assault. The problem here, is that as Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt is essentially his boss.
However, due to the media’s fixation on Sofagate, Hunt did not face much pressure as a result of Mark Field’s behaviour. An important lesson was learned by Boris this week, as he knows that he will have to be extremely careful not to slip on any banana skins in this race, because he won’t be given an inch by the media. For Hunt, he can breathe a sigh of relief that he would not have to answer some very difficult questions that could derail attention away from his campaign and his policies.
In Times of Grieve and Sorrow…
Following setbacks to his attempts to block a no deal Brexit, Conservative MP Dominic Grieve and Labour’s Dame Margaret Beckett have devised another method to attempt to frustrate efforts to leave the EU. They have put forward an amendment to ‘estimates’, which is a routine piece of finance legislation, on Tuesday 2nd July. This amendment would essentially deny vital funding to Whitehall Departments if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and without Parliament’s approval. This proposes a serious threat to Government as it means that Governmental departments would not receive their budget unless the House of Commons had either ratified a Brexit deal or has consented to leaving without one, which is unlikely considering that Parliament overwhelming rejected a no deal during the indicative votes earlier this year.
Despite the hesitation from MPs to block funds for overseas development, schools, pensions, benefits and housing in the event of a no deal, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have stated that they will support the amendment come Tuesday. However, it does remain unclear as to whether the amendment will pass through Parliament. There is a consensus in Westminster that the new Prime Minister must at least be given a chance to adopt a new Brexit strategy and not be blocked before he has entered office.
However, some Parliamentarians fear that if Boris Johnson were to become Prime Minister, he may attempt to bypass Parliament to initiate a no deal exit. The amendment, regardless of the result, will revive the debate about what is realistically within the powers of the Prime Minister with a Parliament against a no deal. It is also likely that the new Prime Minister would have their request for an emergency no deal budget denied, to make it more difficult to leave without a deal in place.
Lowering the Bar(clay)
Whilst Parliament is panicking about the likelihood of a no deal, Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, is complaining that no deal preparations are not where they should be, given that the current Brexit deadline is set for October 31st.
In an interview with the press this week, Barclay stated that Ministers are dragging their feet on no deal preparations and that businesses across the UK would “pay the price” of Government inertia unless preparations speed up. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Taro Kono, supported Barclay by stating that Japanese businesses were “very concerned”, and that car manufacturers in particular could find their operations disrupted if parts coming across Europe were subject to checks and delays.
Barclay’s comments have prompted some concern given the increased possibility of a no deal Brexit under the new Prime Minister. There has also been no mention of which departments are behind schedule, but it is likely that preparations will continue to ramp up as the Conservative leadership contest approaches its conclusion.
Dublin the Pressure
As the Conservative leadership contest, and battle to be Prime Minister, in the UK reaches its final stages, the threat of a no deal continues to increase. Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the final two candidates, have stated that they would pursue a no deal option should a Brexit deal become unachievable by October 31st. EU leaders are definitely feeling this threat of a no deal Brexit as 6 of the 27 leaders (France, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands) have begun to encourage Ireland to set out a detailed plan for their no deal measures.
Ireland’s Finance Minister, Paschal Donohoe, outlined this week that between 50,000 to 55,000 jobs could be lost within the two years of the UK leaving the EU on a no deal, with the potential for another 30,000 to be at risk in the medium term, making a total of 85,000 job losses. He continued to state that Ireland’s economy could face “flat to 1%” growth next year in a no-deal scenario. This demonstrates that Ireland is clearly the most at threat from a no deal Brexit, considering its proximity to the UK and the potential for a hard border.
However, these predictions seem to have had no effect on the Irish Government as they remain adamant that they will not do anything to dilute the backstop, with polls stating that 8/10 Irish voters support sticking to the backstop even if it heightens the likelihood a no deal. Additionally, the Government continues to believe that the UK will support Ireland with these no deal measures under the Good Friday Agreement, meaning that they do not have to prepare as much as other EU states. The EU leaders, on the other hand, particularly Berlin and Paris, are less convinced, arguing that Britain will abandon Ireland as soon as they have left the EU.
As a security measure, the European Commission has backed Dublin, promising in its recent no-deal planning notices that it will make UK cooperation on the Irish border a “precondition” for agreeing to any discussion on the future relationship in the event of a no deal. This is likely to help with negotiation but will not reduce the pressure for the Irish Government to be prepared for a no deal Brexit come October 31st.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 30th June: Brexit review if the UK is still a member of the EU.
- 6th July: Postal votes are sent out to Conservative Party Members.
- 9th July: Leadership debate
- 23rd July: Leader of Conservative Party is elected.
- 31st October: Current Brexit Deadline.
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