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The real winners of this abortive ’emergency government’ could be the SNP

At the time of writing, it looks as if efforts to put together a ‘letter-writing government’ – formed with the sole intention of extending Article 50 and then calling an election – are hitting the buffers.

For all the controversy around the handful of Conservative and ex-Conservative MPs who appear willing to discuss putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street for that purpose, there aren’t nearly enough of them to offset the ten ex-Labour MPs who won’t countenance installing their former leader.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Stephen Bush estimates that a Corbyn-led ’emergency government’ (the phrasing varies from advocate to advocate) would require 14 Tory rebels just to offset those hold-outs. He then reveals that they can’t even get Dominic Grieve.

As the Labour leadership are extremely unlikely to stand aside to allow a less divisive figure to do the job, the plan looks as if it might be dead in the water. Oddly, the biggest winners of this abortive effort might be the SNP.

Whilst they may no longer hold nearly every seat in Scotland, the parliamentary arithmetic is such that Nicola Sturgeon’s phalanx of Nationalist MPs would be absolutely crucial to any administration capable of outvoting the Conservative/Democratic Unionist alliance in the Commons. Unlike the hole she has dug for herself over independence, the First Minister seems to have used this leverage fairly well.

Unlike the other potential members of the rainbow coalition, the SNP have not ruled out making Jeremy Corbyn the next Prime Minister if that’s what it takes to halt Article 50. This has had several benefits.

First, they have been able to tempt both John McDonnell and, today, Jeremy Corbyn into undermining Labour’s agreed position on the Union and talking up the prospect of a second independence referendum. This has plunged an already-weakened Scottish Labour into civil war, and will likely see its vote squeezed even further as the SNP corral pro-independence voters and unionists consolidate behind Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives.

Second, this stance has allowed Sturgeon to put pressure on Jo Swinson. As the Scottish leader of a left-liberal, pro-EU party, SNP strategists might have worried that a Liberal Democrat revival might further chip away at their post-2014 coalition.

But Swinson’s room for manoeuvre is hindered by the fact that her Party’s main targets are mostly Tory-Lib Dem marginals where Corbyn is toxic. Putting a spotlight on Swinson’s swithering allows Sturgeon to paint the SNP as the best advocates for Scottish Europhiles, at very little cost to herself.

And of course, actually installing Corbyn in Number Ten would allow the Tories to re-run their successful campaign against the spectre of a ‘Lab-Nat Pact’ at the next election, not unhelpful if you think that a government led by Boris Johnson is a booster for independence.

The only possible danger seems to lie in the plan somehow working, and Corbyn entering the election legitimised as Prime Minister and as the hero who thwarted Johnson and his dastardly no-deal plans. But that prospect is probably not keeping the First Minister up at night.

It has now been two years since we first highlighted how the machinations of parliamentary remainers were bolstering those who want to break up the Union. It’s time this truth sank in.

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Henry Hill: Tories hope that ‘Boris bounce’ will save them in Brecon and Radnorshire

Welsh voters go to the polls in Brecon and Radnorshire by-election

Boris Johnson faces his first electoral test as Prime Minister today as Welsh voters head to the polls in a by-election which could cut his razor-thin Commons majority even further.

Despite speculation that he might avoid visiting Brecon and Radnorshire, where the incumbent Chris Davies is expected to lose after being successfully recalled over his expenses, the Daily Telegraph reveals that the Prime Minister committed to campaigning there within minutes of winning the Tory leadership.

Moreover, despite the candidate himself being accused of ducking hustings, word on the ground is that the Conservatives might have done better than expected.

Liberal Democrats are reportedly concerned that the sheer size of the rural seat has prevented them applying their usual ‘pavement-pounding’ tactics to full effect, and the party’s failure to manage expectations has elevated the contest to ‘must-win’ territory. Tories have also been given hope by the ‘Boris bounce’, a polling boost which has put them ahead of Labour in Wales’ Westminster voting intention as the Opposition record their lowest-ever result.

In fact, Labour appear to be being squeezed from both directions, losing poll position to the Conservatives at Westminster and to Plaid Cymru, the nationalists, at the Assembly. Mark Drakeford, Labour’s small-n nationalist First Minister, has responded to the latter by desperately trying to drum up the threat of independence.

Apart from illustrating once again the absurdity of claiming that devolution has weakened the separatists and strengthened the UK, the sharp divergence between these two Welsh polls also highlights a point I previously raised in my analysis of the Welsh Tories’ struggles at the Assembly: lots of pro-UK, pro-Tory voters don’t turn out for devolved elections. Leaning into this devocrats’ playground, which is the inclination of the current Assembly leadership, risks leaving space for a more committedly unionist party to start eating their vote.

But as we know, devocrat narratives exist independently of evidence or experience. Thus, two years after I asked whether Remainers would ever admit that Brexit was clearly proving much better for the Union than they had allowed, we have the Guardian’s Martin Kettle asking if Johnson might not end up being the handmaid of, of all things, Welsh independence. Spoiler: no.

Johnson vows not to be neutral on the Union as he woos the DUP

Wales wasn’t the only part of the UK to feature in the Prime Minister’s whistle-stop tour this week. He also visited Scotland (of which more below) and Northern Ireland.

His efforts in Ulster appear to break down into a few broad categories. First, the inevitable exercise in trying to get Stormont back on its feet. Second, providing another opportunity to square off against Leo Varadkar over the question of the backstop. Third, nurturing his relationship with the Government’s Democratic Unionist allies.

Devolution isn’t coming back anytime soon, and nobody seems to have squandered many column inches suggesting otherwise. At the very least, Sinn Fein have no reason to re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly until Westminster has imposed liberalising moves on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Johnson’s tough line with Dublin hasn’t changed – and Owen Polley has mounted a strong case for it on CapX this week – but it has led to a fresh confrontation with Sinn Fein after the republicans demanded a referendum on Northern Ireland’s accession to the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They also warned the Prime Minister not to be the DUP’s ‘gofer’, picking up earlier criticisms about the close working relationship between the two parties.

In response, the Prime Minister hit back by insisting that he would never be neutral on the Union – echoing David Cameron’s language on the subject – and he denied being complacent about the peace process.

He also held a private meeting with senior DUP figures, including Arlene Foster, their leader, Nigel Dodds, who heads up their Westminster group, and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, their Commons chief whip. The former First Minister insisted that the terms of the two parties’ cooperation were not discussed, although as I wrote yesterday they will surely be renegotiated sooner rather than later.

If so, the DUP should press the Prime Minister on his commitment to protect ex-servicemen who served in Northern Ireland. This week Julian Smith, Johnson’s uninspiring choice of Northern Irish Secretary, refused to endorse his leader’s promises on the question. Has he gone native already, at a Government ministry already accused of ‘pandering to republicans’?

Johnson and Davidson call a truce in the face of separatists within and without

Not to be left out, Scotland also witnessed its first visit of Johnson’s premiership. Here his mission was not only to face down Nicola Sturgeon but also to try and mend relations with Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Tories, who are reportedly furious after his decision to dismiss David Mundell from the Cabinet.

He hit a bad note on both fronts by ignoring his Scottish leader’s warning not to attend on the First Minister at her official residence, Bute House. This gave nationalist activists the opportunity to stage a protest and boo Johnson for the cameras, an act immediately (and inevitably) interpreted by pro-Remain commentators as a spontaneous and organic event.

Nonetheless, media reports suggest that the two Tories have managed to put together a “fragile truce”. Davidson is striking a tough line against a no-deal Brexit but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, as she isn’t in Cabinet she isn’t required to support it. Furthermore Adam Tomkins, an MSP and close ally of Davidson, has taken to Twitter to set out that the Scottish Conservatives nonetheless agree that we must leave the EU in October. ‘Pursuing’ a no-deal exit is not the same as ‘preparing’ for one.

Meanwhile, Murdo Fraser and Andy Maciver have got their 2011 band back together and once again started pushing to split the Scottish Conservatives away from the UK party. This comes off the back of several articles by Stephen Daisley in which Tory sources – almost certainly MSPs – suggest that the Holyrood (and presumably local government) divisions of the Party could split off. Coincidentally, that is also Fraser and Maciver’s new proposal.

This has the air of a solution in search of a problem – it was supposed to be the only path to a centre-right revival in Scotland until Ruth Davidson delivered one by doing precisely the opposite -but the new plan is at least less damaging to the Union than the 2011 proposal, which involved taking the MPs with it and which I made the case against on CapX this week. However, the idea that ‘federalism’ will save the UK getting another airing this week – in the Daily Telegraph, of all places.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Aine Lagan: Our next leader must have a plan For Northern Ireland

Aine Lagan is a Conservative activist, and is Head of Communications for Conservative Young Women.

Northern Ireland has been without its Assembly and Executive for over two and a half years. The talks conducted by James Brokenshire and his successor, Karen Bradley, have failed to bear any fruit.

While the backstop dominates the political agenda, Westminster remains precariously quiet on the next stage for Stormont and the region in general.

Our next Prime Minister must deliver a fresh plan and a new team to solve the political stalemate. They have to remember that they will the Prime Minister for the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.

The stalemate that has been in place since Martin McGuinness’ resignation in January 2017 was a long time coming. The Stormont House Agreement was a weak plaster on an existential crisis in the institution, a temporary solution to a much deeper problem. The tensions appears to have only gotten worse. The differences that were set aside by the “Chuckle Brothers”, McGuiness and Ian Paisley Sr, have come back to the forefront under the dogmatic leadership of Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill. Equality issues have drawn yet another line in the sand in the Stormont debate.

Next week, legislation will pass through the Commons to delay another Assembly election until, if need be, January 2020. Another election is not a simple answer – in fact, it could create more problems than solutions. The 2017 election, which was held in an attempt to break the stalemate, saw a ten per cent increase in turnout, with Sinn Fein only one seat behind the DUP.

Another election cannot be held without some form of political agreement being signed by the major parties, with fundamental reforms at its heart. Otherwise, we will end up exactly where we are now.

This same piece of legislation presents another problem for the next Prime Minister. As typical with Northern Ireland legislation, an equal marriage amendment has been tabled which, if passed, would require the Government to introduce same-sex marriage legislation within three months if powersharing is not restored.

Our next Prime Minister has to take a firm position on equality issues in Northern Ireland. Both abortion and gay marriage could be settled with a referendum, taking the decision out of the hands of political parties. Our party should be aware of the fact that equality issues could become a central argument in a border poll, where progressives can look over the border at a fundamentally more liberal society. Bringing the choice directly to the people would remove the ‘devolution’ barrier that prevents Westminster from intervening.

If the stalemate carries on for another year, then the Government must have a plan to take action to bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. For now, Northern Ireland is twenty years behind the rest of the UK, and needs to be dragged into the 21st Century. The party that legalised equal marriage should be advocating for the same to happen in Northern Ireland, and they should be advocating for women in Northern Ireland to be afforded the same liberty of choice over their own body that is afforded to women everywhere else in the UK.

There’s a clear need for reform at Stormont, with the petition of concern mechanism topping the list. The DUP remain the only party largely in favour of the mechanism, which prevents the passing of legislation with the signatures of 30 MLAs, particularly because it is their principal means of preventing equal marriage and abortion legislation passing through the Assembly.

Direct rule has hardly featured in the debates around Stormont’s future. The next Prime Minister must decide if they would rather have Northern Ireland governed by civil servants, whose hands are tied, or by Westminster who can pass the legislation we need to operate day-to-day as well as implement a strategy for the future. It wouldn’t be a clear-cut decision, as direct rule would only add fuel to the fire of a border poll.

Is the presence of the SNP at Westminster, and their daily demands for ‘IndyRef2’, leading politicians to turn a blind eye to a much greater risk to the Union? Theresa May has repeatedly raised her concerns about a no-deal Brexit resulting in a border poll, and it’s a warning her successor should keep firmly in mind. How would the Government deal with Northern Ireland in the case of a no-deal Brexit if this political stalemate continues?

Above all, the next Prime Minister has to show a genuine interest in Northern Ireland. The lack of knowledge around Northern Ireland, both in the grassroots and in the parliamentary party, is concerning. It seems to only come up in conversation with regards to veterans rights and the two ‘B’ words – Brexit and the backstop. The party too often forgets that it is the Conservative and Unionist Party. The fact that our politics is sectarian is basic knowledge that can be found in a school textbook. It should be assumed knowledge for a Northern Ireland Secretary.

My country has its own unique challenges, far beyond Brexit and the border. Our employment level is four per cent below the UK average, with a high risk of automation in the decades to come. Our political debates almost always revolve around flags, parades and the past.

It won’t be an easy task, but our next Prime Minister has an opportunity to get involved in the future of Northern Ireland. I belong to the generation that Lyra McKee called the “ceasefire babies”. We’re more liberal than our parents, more metropolitan than our predecessors. We grew up in relative peace, but are frustrated by our idle politicians. My generation should be afforded the same freedom and opportunities as our peers elsewhere in the UK.

The next Prime Minister will have an opportunity to do that, and they must grasp it with both hands.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Hunt and Johnson declare Backstop ‘dead’ and promise to protect Ulster veterans

Hunt and Johnson declare backstop ‘dead’

Both candidates for the leadership have confirmed that they will not sign up to the Northern Irish backstop, the Guardian reports.

In a quite striking hardening of position, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt insisted that the mechanism could play no part in any deal between the UK and the EU – even if it were amended to include a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism, which Eurosceptics had previously indicated they might accept. Johnson went so far as to say that the backstop had been “devised by this country as an instrument of our own incarceration in the single market and customs union”.

Hunt, on the other hand, appeared to tee himself up for failure by saying: “If we are going to get a deal we must have an absolute cast-iron commitment to the Republic of Ireland that we will not have border infrastructure.” The decision to rule out any infrastructure whatsoever – to maintain a so-called ‘invisible border’ – is the root problem with the backstop. If an alternative mechanism for doing so (in a manner compatible with British territorial integrity) existed, the backstop would be a non-issue.

Since the EU has repeatedly ruled out re-opening the deal, blanket refusal on the backstop would put both candidates on track for a no-deal departure. Whilst this might not be the preferred option for Hunt, a strong line on Northern Ireland is undoubtedly necessary if either candidate wishes to maintain the Party’s working relationship with the DUP and the Government’s wafer-thin Commons majority.

In other news, both Johnson and Hunt have expressed support for measures aimed at protecting ex-servicemen who served in Northern Ireland from prosecution and historical tribunals. They have both signed a ‘Veterans’ Pledge’ organised by the Sun, which this week criticised Theresa May for her continued refusal to protect those who fought the IRA.

Meanwhile an SNP MSP has claimed that Ruth Davidson’s authority inside the Scottish Conservatives has been “shredded” after a growing number of her colleagues endorsed Johnson’s leadership bid. The contest has previously put a spotlight on the limits of her influence after the Scottish Tory leader endorsed Sajid Javid, only for none of the party’s 13 Scottish MPs to follow her lead.

Bebb to stand down over Brexit

Whilst the grassroots may not yet have managed to deselect a sitting Conservative MP over their stance on Europe, this week saw the latest indication of how Brexit might be redrawing the frontiers of the Tory ‘big tent’.

Guto Bebb, the arch-Europhile who represents the Welsh constituency of Aberconwy since 2010, has announced that he will not seek re-selection for the seat at the next election. This means another Tory-held Welsh seat (after Montgomeryshire) will be selecting a new candidate.

Bebb, who prior to joining the Conservatives was a member of the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru, accused the Party of tacking towards the “type of nationalism” – which he claimed was ‘English nationalism’ behind the rise of UKIP and the Brexit Party. He has ruled out rejoining Plaid.

This departure puts a spotlight on an awkward question facing both leadership candidates (Bebb could not bring himself to vote for either one). Whilst CCHQ has thus far taken a strong line against deselecting Tory MPs, it is an unavoidable fact that the Party can’t fight a general election intended to break the deadlock on Brexit with candidates who are opposed to the Government’s policy on the same. If Johnson were to seek a mandate for no deal, what does he do about the likes of Dominic Grieve, Philip Hammond, and David Gauke?

Bradley criticised over rushing Northern Irish legislation

Last week, I wrote about now Westminster’s decision to legislate on abortion and same-sex marriage had set a useful precedent for the DUP in their ongoing push to introduce full direct rule to the Province.

This week Sam McBride has written in the News Letter about how the episode highlights the ongoing flaws in Karen Bradley’s approach to governing Ulster (to the minimum possible extent she can get away with). The Secretary of State continues to use Commons procedures intended for unexpected events or emergencies to fast-track Northern Irish legislation through the Commons with minimal scrutiny, even when circumstances do not require it.

He explains how sloppy drafting by Stella Creasy, the Labour MP behind the abortion amendment, has left the Government with what might be an impossible task: introducing new regulations by an October deadline it cannot meet.

It has been a hallmark of Bradley’s ill-starred tenure at the Northern Irish Office that she has poured her efforts into hiding both from Parliamentary scrutiny and from the difficult decisions the ongoing failure of devolution poses for Westminster. Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that he would keep her in post was by far the most bizarre of his leadership campaign, and one must hope Johnson pays sufficient interest to the NIO to give it a much-needed shake-up.

News in Brief:

  • Ireland’s ma in Brussels says border checks can be avoided in no-deal exit – Belfast Telegraph
  • Assembly Members have paid their families huge sums – Wales Online
  • Lord Trimble’s daughter in same-sex marriage – News Letter
  • ‘Neverendum’ killing investment in Scotland – The Times
  • The Welsh Government’s legislative agenda – Wales Online
  • Unionists fear land grabs if Northern Ireland joins Republic – The Guardian

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Johnson and Hunt woo DUP as leadership roadshow hits Belfast

Leadership contenders woo DUP…

It is difficult to to think of the last time Northern Ireland – and more specifically, Northern Irish politicians – have been so central to the internal dynamics of the Conservative Party. Perhaps not since Bonar Law.

Although they didn’t get to vote in the early rounds of the contest, the ten Democratic Unionist MPs nonetheless have clout when it comes to the Tory leadership race. Whoever wins will need to be able to maintain, and ideally strengthen, the Government’s working relationship with its Ulster allies in order to maintain any sort of majority in the House of Commons.

So this week both candidates hit the stump in Northern Ireland, with pitches both to the Province’s small but loyal band of Tory members and the DUP.

At a gathering of 240 local activists, Johnson publicly disavowed suggestions that he had ‘toyed’ with the idea of resolving the backstop by reverting to the EU’s original plan and hiving off Northern Ireland’s economic arrangements from the rest of the UK, according to the FT.

It adds that both candidates met with representatives of the DUP: Johnson with Arlene Foster, the leader, on Tuesday and Hunt with Nigel Dodds, their Westminster leader, on Monday night.

The Daily Mail also reported Johnson’s enthusiasm for the construction of a road and rail bridge connecting Ulster with the mainland. Questioned on the subject by members, he highlighted plans by Alan Dunlop, a professor of architecture. He also wrote in the paper about his plans for the Union. The Daily Express writes, meanwhile, about his ruling out any reform to the Barnett Formula.

In other news, Ruth Davidson has rebuked Johnson over his priorities, telling him the Union must be his “do-or-die” issue, amidst fresh reports of Scottish Conservative unease about his premiership. Katy Balls suggests that these could keep the Tories out of power, whilst Jacob Rees-Mogg argues that Johnson will stop the EU ‘corroding’ the Union.

Party faces clashes with allies on same-sex marriage and abortion

In light of the above, both Hunt and Johnson will need to think carefully about how they handle two issues which, after months of can-kicking by Karen Bradley, threaten to come to ahead as the stalemate over restoring devolution drags on.

The first is same-sex marriage. Patrick Maguire sets out in the New Statesman how a cross-party group of MPs are almost certain to legislate for Westminster to extend it to the Province in the event that Stormont is not imminently restored (chances of that: slim to none). He writes that this could push the Government into a row with the DUP – not over the decision, to which even socially conservative Unionists appear resigned at this point, but because of its implications for Ulster’s governance.

For over a year, Bradley has resisted the DUP’s calls to introduce ‘full-fat’ direct rule. Legislating on marriage from Westminster would be an act of direct rule, and shred what remains of the Government’s case for not going further.

The other possible flashpoint is abortion, with Penny Mordaunt having made the papers yesterday with a call for reform to the Province’s “appalling” laws on the issue. Abortion is completely banned in Northern Ireland. Both Hunt and Johnson have ruled out change, but the same Commons coalition pushing same-sex marriage could do the same for abortion – especially once the precedent for such acts for direct rule has been set.

May calls for review of devolution as part of legacy pitch

The Prime Minister has charged Lord Dunlop, a former Scottish Office minister, with conducting a review into devolution, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Apparently the object of this would be to assess the extent to which the current constitutional order bolsters or damages the UK, and come up with proposals for how to strengthen the role of Westminster and other British institutions in the political lives of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Current ideas include the creation of a Government-controlled ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ to replace EU grants post-Brexit, and replicating Brussels’ policy of heavily branding projects to make sure the public is aware of who paid for them.

Whether or not this review actually does the UK any good will depend in large part on the terms, which are apparently under dispute inside the Government as some push for a broad remit and others try to box Dunlop in. There is also a risk that it will end up hijacked by the devocracy and more-powers lobby and turned into just another set of demands – Nick Timothy, formerly one of May’s key advisers, was peddling this exhausted orthodoxy in today’s Telegraph.

Britain can’t afford a repeat of May’s fumbling u-turn on the devolution of repatriated EU powers. Unless Dunlop has the freedom, imagination, and courage to take the knife to devolution’s sacred cows, his review won’t help his country.

News in Brief:

  • Morgan and Hands’ panel delivers interim report on backstop – News Letter
  • Scottish Tories urge boycott of SNP’s ‘citizens’ assembly’ – The Scotsman
  • Hunt and Johnson support moves to protect Ulster veterans – The Times
  • Dugdale says Corbyn could offer Sturgeon referendum to win Commons support – The Scotsman
  • SNP beat retreat on ‘vote-killer’ gender laws – The Times
  • Scottish Government tells medical schools to admit fewer English pupils – The Scotsman

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Mark Harper: We need a date for Britain to leave the EU. But here’s why it can’t be October 31st – much as I’d like it to be.

Mark Harper is a former Chief Whip, and MP for the Forest of Dean.

We now have two candidates left in the Conservative Party leadership contest, and I am sorry to disappoint – but I will not be disclosing which I am going to back, although whoever wins will have my full support to make their leadership of the Party I love as successful as it can be. I think the next Prime Minister, whoever it is, needs a realistic plan to keep our promises and deliver Brexit.

Like most Conservatives, I’d love to leave the EU as soon as possible, and I voted to leave on the March 29th and April 12th. The current extension to Article 50 runs to October 31st – which is the EU’s date, not ours. As a former Chief Whip, it’s my judgement that it isn’t credible to say either that the present deal can be negotiated, or that a new can, and be got through both Houses of Parliament by the end of October.

But I don’t think we should carry on kicking the can down the road, either. After our disastrous showing in both the local and European Parliament elections, I want to make sure that Britain has left the European Union before we have any more elections. We must leave between October 31 this year and March next year. We can’t go into the 2020 elections for important Mayoral positions and Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales without having delivered our promise to leave the European Union.

If the Government is faced with the choice of leaving without a deal or never leaving at all, I believe we should leave without a deal. My view is that the Commons will allow this to happen if Conservative colleagues are persuaded that the Government has done everything it can to secure a deal, but it simply isn’t possible to do so. I don’t believe that colleagues will be persuaded of that by October 31st, so leaving without a deal on that date isn’t credible.

From the moment the new Prime Minister assumes office, he should take every step required to ensure that we are in a position to leave without a deal if that proves necessary.

So how are we going to get a new deal? The key is to build strong relationships, both across the Conservative Parliamentary Party, with our DUP allies, and with our European partners.

First, the new Prime Minister needs to properly engage and listen to the views of our Conservative MPs. The Conservative Parliamentary Party, having been heard and properly consulted, can then unite around the new strategy.

We can only get Brexit delivered, as I argued last October on this site, with the votes of Conservatives, our DUP allies and a handful of backbench Labour MPs. We cannot trust the Labour front bench: its job is to oppose us, and Jeremy Corbyn wants to destroy us.

We must also face up to the reality that the current unamended ‘deal’ is dead. The only thing for which Parliament has signalled approval is the present ‘deal’ without the backstop.

So must go back to Brussels and open real and transparent discussions to change the backstop. After the Brady amendment’s approval in January and credible work on alternatives, I haven’t seen any evidence that the Prime Minister or Cabinet seriously pursued this course of action when it had the chance to earlier this year.

The second element of a credible Brexit plan must involve setting the right relationship with our EU partners – both the Commission and the heads of government of the member states.

The new Prime Minister and Cabinet must use their diplomatic and communication skills – both bilaterally and collectively – to get the tone of these relationships right. We need to show the EU what a positive post-Brexit relationship could look like – covering trade and the economy, security and defence – and clearly articulate how it’s best for both sides to get this right.

Then we can put forward a proper plan to change the backstop and protect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

The third part of this Brexit plan should involve building strong relationships both with the Republic of Ireland, and with both communities and all Parties in Northern Ireland.

This final element of the plan is crucial. The EU will only move on the backstop with reassurance about both the integrity of the Belfast Agreement and the Single Market. We need a serious and credible figure to lead the Northern Ireland Office and tackle these issues head on.

It is vital to rebuild a proper relationship with the Republic of Ireland. We work very closely with Irish officials on everything from the operation of the Common Travel Area, to our efforts to crack down on smuggling at the present currency, VAT and excise border and regularly share intelligence and security resources to ensure both countries are kept safe. This was something I saw first-hand when serving as Immigration Minister under David Cameron.

Our relationship with the Republic of Ireland should not only be with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, but also with the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil. As a general election in Ireland becomes a less distant prospect, we need to avoid the backstop becoming a partisan electoral issue in that contest.

In Northern Ireland, we need to make swift progress in re-establishing the Executive at Stormont, driven by a renewed effort from the new Prime Minister and Secretary of State. As the Conservative and Unionist Party, we owe it to everyone in Northern Ireland to restore a functioning devolved government.

This task will be difficult, but the role of Northern Ireland in achieving a successful exit from the European Union for the whole United Kingdom together will be critical.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Hunt pulls Foreign Office support to Sturgeon’s separatist excursions

Hunt pulls Foreign Office support for Sturgeon to ‘protect the Union’…

The Foreign Secretary took an opportunity to burnish his unionist credentials this week when he withdrew Foreign Office support from Nicola Sturgeon’s diplomatic excursions to Brussels, the Scotsman reports.

In what the paper describes as “a major change of protocol”, Jeremy Hunt has restricted the First Minister and other devolved ministers’ ability to avail themselves of Britain’s diplomatic network and assets to set up meetings with foreign leaders.

This “will now be restricted to trips touching on “areas for which [Scottish ministers] have a devolved responsibility” and where they “avoid supporting activities intended to campaign for policies contrary to [the UK] Government’s position””, according to the paper.

Hunt has been strongly criticised for this by some politicians and commentators in both Scotland and Wales (he recently denied an official car to Mark Drakeford for similar reasons), and been accused of showing ‘disrespect for devolution’. Some have taken up the usual refrain that denying devocrats anything they want is a sure-fire way to break up Britain.

But Hunt is right to take a stand. It is absurd that the British State should actively support devolved politicians trespassing on its reserved prerogatives, especially when they’re doing so to pursue a diplomatic policy which conflicts with its own or are outright trying to win support for seceding altogether.

In fact, he might consider going further. Stephen Daisley has written scathingly about the SNP’s penchant for overseas junkets, and offered the following suggestion which might be right up the Foreign Secretary’s street:

“First, they could amend the Scotland Act to require the Scottish Government to submit for approval to the secretary of state for Scotland any proposed spending which could reasonably be construed to involve reserved matters or be otherwise ambiguous. Next, they could require that all ministerial visits outside of Scotland are signed off by the secretary of state as falling within the remit of Scottish ministers.”

Something to mull over as he hits the campaign trail in Scotland.

…as MPs criticise him for his stance on Ulster veterans

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Hunt has come under fire from a number of Tory MPs for saying that members of the security forces who served during the Troubles should be treated “the same way” as the republican terrorists they were fighting.

He argued that the peace process secured by the Belfast Agreement required the equivalent treatment of both sides, no matter how ‘difficult’ that may be.

Such a stance will do little to deflect the charge that he is continuity Theresa May. Both the Prime Minister and Karen Bradley, her hapless Northern Irish Secretary, have been strongly criticised for failing to protect ex-servicemen and Royal Ulster Constabulary officers from historical investigations and legal action.

This topic has been increasingly heated on the Conservative side since the revelation that Tony Blair’s administration had offered a de facto amnesty to hundreds of IRA ‘on-the-runs’ by issuing so-called ‘comfort letters’, one of which collapsed the trial of the Hyde Park bomber.

Northern Irish cabinet post ‘hotly contested’

Conor Burns could become the first-ever Ulster-born person to be appointed Northern Irish Secretary, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

He is also a Brexiteer, a staunch unionist, and a practising Roman Catholic, which would make for a fascinating combination if he were given the opportunity to take on the role.

According to the Sun, there is fierce competition for the post, which is reportedly coveted by Gavin Williamson – the man responsible for negotiating the Government’s confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionists.

Either candidate could give the department a much-needed shake-up. There is deep resentment in Ulster’s unionist circles at the Northern Irish Office’s high-handed and studiously neutral stance, which they feel does not adequately counterbalance the de facto support nationalists receive from Dublin.

Elsewhere Alun Cairns, the Welsh Secretary, has called for whoever wins the leadership race to establish a dedicated Downing Street team aimed at protecting the Union.

Johnson appoints Thomson as his campaign manager in Scotland

Following the collapse of ‘Operation Arse’ – the Scottish Tories’ abortive campaign to block his path to Downing Street – Boris Johnson has finally started to build up some support amongst their parliamentary group.

Andrew Bowie, the Prime Minister’s PPS and one of the fastest-rising stars of the 2017 Scottish intake, has now endorsed him. So too has Douglas Ross, another tipped for high office, and Colin Clark, the ‘Salmond-slayer’, who has rowed in behind the front-runner after initially backing James Cleverly.

But the first to come out for him was Ross Thomson, the arch-Brexiteer MP for Aberdeen South, and he has now been appointed Johnson’s campaign manager north of the border.

He certainly has a mountain to climb. The Scottish Tories’ reservations about his candidate are apparently rooted in some private polling showing that a Johnson premiership would have a horrible impact on the party’s performance. Whilst Davidson appears to have reconciled herself to the need to make it work – which was always the logic of staying in the UK-wide party, the basis of her leadership – Johnson himself will have to work very hard to improve his standing in Scotland.

Clark, Thomson, and Ross have written in the Daily Telegraph that their man will ‘swat’ the Nationalists. That remains to be seen.

Hands and Morgan say Ulster border is soluble problem

In other news an Alternative Arrangements Commission, run by Tory MPs Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan, has concluded that a ‘hard’ border between Northern Ireland and the Republic can be avoided using existing technology. In a report set to be published on Monday they claim that “futuristic high-tech solutions are not needed”.

This comes amidst reports that Ireland is coming under pressure from Brussels to set out its plans to maintain the border in the event of a no-deal exit. Suffice to say, the fact that Dublin is reportedly prepared to erect a border rather than compromise its position on the EU puts paid to any suggestion that London is obliged by the Belfast Agreement to do otherwise itself.

If Hands’ and Morgan’s findings are accurate they will be a fillip to Johnson, who is in the Ulster press this week saying that there are “abundant technical fixes” to the border question.

News in Brief:

  • Scottish Tories urge boycott of SNP’s ‘Citizens Assembly’ – The Herald
  • Davies selected to re-fight Brecon & Radnorshire in recall by-election – The Times
  • Foster warns both candidates that UK must leave on October 31 – Daily Express
  • Sturgeon wants no minimum vote threshold for an independence referendum – The Herald
  • Devolved ministers ‘don’t know what they’re doing’ on the economy – Wales Online

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Hunt interview: “I’m clearly second-placed now to Boris, and ready to argue that we have better choices as a country than he is offering.”

Jeremy Hunt lives in the wonderful house in Carlton Gardens where Boris Johnson used to live.

He sets out in this interview, carried out beneath portraits of Castlereagh and other great predecessors which adorn the Foreign Secretary’s official residence, why his approach to Brexit is better than Johnson’s, and accuses his rival of being “really defeatist” for implying “that we’re going to have to leave the EU without a deal”.

The interview took place on Friday morning, the day after Hunt came second in the first round of voting, and shortly before Johnson, the front-runner, agreed to participate in some of the television debates, though not in the first one, to be held on Sunday.

When asked about Sajid Javid’s attack on the old school tie, Hunt, who went to Charterhouse, joked that he would not criticise Johnson for going to Eton.

But Hunt added: “In Britain, we unfortunately still have the remnants of a class system, which I absolutely detest with every bone in my body.”

At the end of the interview, he quotes some good advice about the leadership race given to him by his seven-year-old daughter.

ConHome: “Are you the underdog in this contest?”

Hunt: “Absolutely, the underdog. I’m the anti-Establishment candidate who comes from the heart of the Establishment.”

ConHome: “Did either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor vote for you yesterday?”

Hunt: “I’ve no idea.”

ConHome: “You don’t know?”

Hunt: “I absolutely don’t know.”

ConHome: “Have you canvassed them?”

Hunt: “I welcome all votes. Each and every vote that I can get is most welcome.”

ConHome: “You’ve not saying you haven’t canvassed them, but you don’t know how they voted.”

Hunt [laughter]: “All votes are welcome!”

ConHome: “What do you want to say about the debates?”

Hunt: “We have got to have a proper contest with proper scrutiny. Lots of people feel that is what did not happen in 2016. I’m going to make sure this is not the 2016 leadership election.

“It is the 2005 leadership election where the underdog came from the outside, came second in the first round of MPs’ ballots, but then when you had the proper scrutiny, people started thinking about who they wanted to be the leader, David Cameron came through.

“So we’ve got to absolutely make sure that we have that scrutiny, and we cannot do that if the front runner hides away. We have got to have proper media questioning, proper involvement in all the debates. This is to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This is a big, big job, and we just need Boris to be a little bit more brave.”

ConHome: “You’re saying to him, ‘Come over here if you’re hard enough.’”

Hunt: “I’m saying, ‘Subject yourself to the scrutiny that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is going to be facing every single day inside Number Ten. Because if you’re up to this job now you’ll certainly be up to the job of taking part in some TV debates ahead of going in there.”

ConHome: “At one point it was said that you were unwilling to debate if Johnson wouldn’t debate.”

Hunt: “Well I do think that all the candidates should take part in these debates. I’ve always said that I’m delighted to do it. I will do it whatever. But yes, I wanted to try and do something that would encourage Boris to take part, and that’s what I’m calling on him to do today.”

ConHome: “On Thursday morning you tweeted, ‘Woke up this morning and felt a bit like the morning of my wedding’. Does today feel like the day after your wedding?”

Hunt: “Well I had a wonderful wedding. It was actually in the mountains of south-west China. So I felt nothing but elation and joy the morning after my wedding.

“And I’m very excited this morning. You know, lots of speculation that some of the other candidates who are running extremely professional and well-organised campaigns were going to overtake me, but they didn’t.

“And I’m clearly second-placed now to Boris, and ready to make the argument that we have better choices as a country than Boris is now offering us.”

ConHome: “On our figures, yesterday morning we had 74 people undeclared, roughly. Johnson took 30, you took seven, on our figures. You must have been a bit disappointed.”

Hunt: “In these campaigns, anyone who knows the way Westminster works knows there is always a front-runner bandwagon effect. And so I’m not at all surprised if people make the calculation that Boris is most likely to win that they flock behind him.

“That doesn’t mean they really think he would be the best Prime Minister. And that doesn’t mean they think he’s offering this country the best choices it could have.

“And he’s not. And I am.

“I’ve always said I’m willing to embrace no deal if that’s the only way to leave the European Union. But his hard stop of the 31st October means that we would effectively be committing to a no deal Brexit, or a general election if Parliament managed to stop it.

“And I think if we have a Prime Minister who is a negotiator we can get a better deal which changes or removes the backstop and allows us to leave the EU without the risks to businesses and the risks to the Union that a no deal Brexit could involve.”

ConHome: “Do you think you’re reasonably placed if some of the candidates lower down the order drop out?”

Hunt: “I’ve got lots of supporters who are lending their support to other candidates in the first round and have said to me that when their person gets knocked out they will come in behind me.

“But the argument I’m making is it’s not just that my vision of how we leave the EU gives us better options than Boris, but I’ve also got the experience that means I can deliver that. I mean I’ve been in government now, in the Cabinet for nine years.

“I’ve negotiated extremely complex deals, whether it was more funding for the NHS, the junior doctors’ dispute, the BBC licence fee. But I’m an entrepreneur by background. I did negotiation every day of my life before I came into politics.

“In my bones, I don’t think this is going to be easy, but in my bones, there is a deal there. And I want to get that deal for the country because I think that would be way better if we possibly can. In extremis, I’d leave without a deal, of course. We have to deliver the referendum result.

“We’re not at that point yet, and I think it’s really defeatist to say that we’re going to have to leave the EU without a deal, which is effectively what Boris is saying.”

ConHome: “You would serve under Boris?”

Hunt: “I would serve under Boris and I hope he would serve under me.”

ConHome: “Sajid Javid has made a lot of his state education. You would be the first Old Carthusian Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool, who held office from 1812-1827 and ran a big team including Wellington [gestures at the picture of Wellington on the wall].

“Is there too much class war in today’s Conservative Party?”

Hunt: “I am not going to criticise Boris for going to a posher public school than me [laughter]. You know, that is the politics of envy gone completely mad, and I’m just not going to go there at all.”

ConHome: “Javid was doing a lot of anti-old-school- tie stuff, which to me at least sounded a bit old-fashioned.”

Hunt: “In Britain, we unfortunately still have the remnants of a class system, which I absolutely detest with every bone in my body. But we are a country where everyone has a background of some sort, but what British people are interested in is what you’re going to do as Prime Minister.

“I think if anyone looks at my background they’ll see I’m someone who started a business from scratch, without any capital. I’ve faced massive challenges in my life, I was the longest serving Health Secretary, hardly the easiest job in government.

“They want to know, are you up for all the challenges, all the battles any Prime Minister has. And I think my background speaks for itself.”

ConHome: “Coming out of the traps fighting, aren’t you.”

Hunt: “Because I think that our country deserves better choices that it’s be offered by Boris Johnson at the moment, and I’m going to make that argument to the very end.”

ConHome: “Just on the Brexit policy and all that, you said in The Daily Telegraph on 27th May, ‘With the current deal, I cannot see a way forward.’

“So we want to be clear what you’re going to do with the negotiation. Is the whole deal dead? Are you dropping the Withdrawal Agreement, or are you trying to build on it?”

Hunt: “With the backstop as it is, the Withdrawal Agreement is dead. I believe that if you could remove the elements of the current deal that mean we could be trapped in the Customs Union indefinitely, it may still be possible to get a parliamentary majority for that Withdrawal Agreement.

“Certainly I think it would have been earlier this year. But to do that you’re going to have to rebuild the Conservative/DUP coalition, which is badly frayed, and that’s why I would have the DUP, the Scottish Tories, Welsh Tories, the ERG, in my negotiating team.

“So that we only put forward proposals that Brussels knows the British Government can deliver through Parliament.”

ConHome: “And you’re prepared to extend if necessary? That’s what you were saying earlier. You can’t treat this as a hard deadline.”

Hunt: “Any extension is highly undesirable. But it is impossible to know what situation you may be in on 31st October.

“A wise Prime Minister will make choices on the basis of the situation as it is then. We don’t know for example what Parliament might have done with the law around no deal.

“We don’t know who the new people taking over the European Commission are.

“If we got to 31st October and there was no prospect of a good deal that could get through Parliament, then I would consider no deal if Parliament had kept it on the table at that point.

“But I’m not going to get drawn about the choice I would make on that date when I don’t actually know what the real choices are. I don’t think any wise Prime Minister would do that.”

ConHome: “You did think aloud, actually it got you into a bit of hot water, about what would happen if the Conservative Party faced an election and hadn’t delivered Brexit – you used the word ‘disastrous’.”

Hunt: “Suicide.”

ConHome: “Does that mean, you’re the leader, for whatever reason things go wrong and you can’t get what you want through the Commons, are you therefore, in that situation, doomed to lead a campaign that’s going to lose?”

Hunt: “Look, the one choice I will not make, and this is my absolute commitment, is that I will not lead the party into a general election or provoke a general election until we’ve delivered Brexit.

“We cannot go back for another mandate from the British people until we deliver what we promised we’d do in the last mandate. So that’s what I was talking about in terms of political suicide.

“And my concern about the hard deadline is if Parliament then blocked it, it’s not as likely thankfully after last week but it’s still not impossible, and there’s always the no confidence motion route, you could then be in a situation where the only way you overcame a difficult Parliament was to force an election, and I think that would be catastrophic.

“Because if you look at what happened with the Peterborough by-election, we were squeezed by the Brexit Party on the Right and the Lib Dems on the Left. Labour comes through the middle.”

ConHome: “The question isn’t whether you’d choose one or provoke one, which would obviously be a crazy thing to do. It’s could you win one if it’s forced on you.”

Hunt: “You say I wouldn’t choose one or provoke one, but the candidates who said they will leave on 31st October come what May are choosing one if the Parliament blocks it.

“Because in order to honour that promise, they would have to take measures to overturn what Parliament is trying to do.

“That’s why I’m saying it’s a dangerous thing to do to have that hard deadline. It might be the only way you can keep that promise is to get a general election in order to change the parliamentary arithmetic.

“If I was forced into an election, well I don’t want to go there, that’s not what I want, but I think someone who had tried hard to get a deal would be far more likely to get the votes of 48 per cent of the country who voted Remain than someone who hadn’t tried.

“And if you look at the polling I saw yesterday that said I am best placed to get votes from both Remainers and Leavers, because Leavers know I am absolutely committed to leaving, but Remainers know I am absolutely committed to do so in a way that is positive.”

ConHome: “Do you now regret that in your party conference speech you compared the European Union to the Soviet Union?”

Hunt: “The point I was making in that speech is one that I stand behind, which is that the EU was set up as a club of free countries to stand together in the face of Soviet totalitarianism and to maintain freedom and democracy in Europe.

“And therefore it is not appropriate for the EU to act in a way that makes it impossible for someone to leave a club of free nations. That was the point I was making, and I do think the EU needs to behave in a fair way in these negotiations.

“And I believe that if we give them the right Prime Minister, who is prepared to engage with them, but also negotiate with the toughness and the determination that we need, I think we can get a deal that is right for the UK and allows us to leave.”

ConHome: “So does the EU need a sort of Gorbachev figure?”

Hunt: “Well I think that if you talk to European leaders, they do understand that Britain is one of the oldest democracies in Europe, and we have to respect what the people have decided.

“And it has to be a deal that allows us the parliamentary sovereignty that we voted for, including leaving the Customs Union. So I think they do understand that.

“I think they have sincere worries about the Northern Irish border. And so given that we’re clearly not going to be able to address those through the backstop, we have to find another way of doing it.

“And I happen to think the technology-led solutions are the right ones. But if they’re going to be the right way forward, then we’ll need to find a way of dealing with the issues that happen when people disagree about what technology’s capable of doing.”

ConHome: “Can they be done quickly?”

Hunt: “I believe they can be. The EU believes they can’t be. So that’s why we need to find a mechanism to arbitrate when there’s a disagreement.”

ConHome: “Because the Steve Baker/ERG position seems to be that you don’t need new technology at the moment to make alternative arrangements work.”

Hunt: “Yes, and I think their arguments are very compelling on that. But, you know, if you’re going to sign an agreement where there is a disagreement about something as fundamental as whether the technology can work, you need a mechanism to resolve that disagreement.”

ConHome: “Just on that Soviet Union point, no doubt some of this is anti-Hunt propaganda, but what is put around is ‘oh well, we can’t have Jeremy because he’s already blotted his copybook with the EU by comparing it to the Soviet Union, and Tusk got very cross and the Poles were infuriated, so he didn’t really understand the complexities of the issue and all that.’

“What do you say to that?”

Hunt: “I think it’s a curious argument to make when my rival is Boris. But look, the argument I was making is that if the EU is reasonable we will be reasonable, and we will find a way to leave the EU which means we can remain good neighbours and the best of friends.

“And I think that’s what people in this country want. If you leave without a deal, which in extremis I would do, but only in extremis, you are making it likely we will have very difficult relations with our neighbours for generations to come, and, you know, I don’t think that should be our first choice.”

ConHome: “For the party, one of the choices near the heart of this leadership election is this. The Prime Minister is on record as having said a hundred times we leave on 29th March. We didn’t leave.

“She then said we should leave in June. We didn’t leave in June. She said having European elections would be unacceptable. They happened.

“Now throughout this you and the other people at the top of the Cabinet, you’ve done your duty and served on, because that’s what you do, you’re serious people and serious ministers.

“But some people would say the danger is you’ve now been tarnished by association with what happened. And with the Brexit Party rampaging around we need something new.

“And people are just going to look at Jeremy Hunt or some of the other candidates and say, ‘It’s more of the same’.”

Hunt: “You don’t solve a problem by walking away from it. And I have many profound disagreements with Theresa May.

“Over the course of the Brexit negotiations, I did not want to settle when we had the backstop in place.

“I didn’t think that it would get through Parliament and I was unhappy with some of its provisions.

“But in the end the choice people are going to be making is who is going to do the right thing for the country and give us the best possible choices.

“And with respect to the Brexit Party, Lynton’s own polling, which let’s be clear has been produced for furthering the interests of one particular candidate, says that the majority of Brexit Party voters will not come back to us, even if Boris is leader.

“The only way we deal with the Brexit Party is to Brexit.

“So the question is who the person who is most likely to get us a Brexit that allows the country to move on.”

ConHome: “When the Prime Minister sought at one point to move you from Health, you stayed on for a bit, and it’s said you drew a comparison with an admiral or a captain in charge of a ship who didn’t think it was right to go.

“People don’t ask you very much about your background. Did you pick up this sense of duty from your father? What did you learn from having an admiral for a father?”

Hunt: “Well, my dad did have a very big influence on me, he’s not with us any more, I think everyone’s father has a big influence on them.

“In my dad’s case he had a tremendous sense of duty, but he always believed in basic human decency. He always believed that people, even if they get to the very top of the tree, should show decency to everyone around them.

“So in a probably rather imperfect way that is something I try to follow.”

ConHome: “When did you decide to go into politics? You were politically active at Oxford, weren’t you, before you then went abroad.”

Hunt: “I got very interested in politics at Oxford. I was hugely inspired by Margaret Thatcher, who was at the height of her powers between 1985 and 1988.

“And I got active with the Oxford University Conservative Association. But actually what she inspired me to do was start my business.”

ConHome: “Had you contested a seat before you contested the one you won?”

Hunt: “No, and I was rather horrified when I was selected for South West Surrey, because I didn’t for a moment think they’d choose me. It was a highly marginal seat and I really put my name forward for interview practice, because I had no experience of politics apart from university politics.

“Then to my shock they chose me, and I suddenly had the battle of my life, with a very dug-in Lib Dem candidate, who’d been doing nothing but politics his whole life, and had reduced the Conservative majority to just 861 votes.”

ConHome: “Although your head was not above the parapet, you were a decapitation seat in 2005.”

Hunt: “We were the number three Lib Dem target in the country. It was a time when the Lib Dems were very strong and were doing very very well. They had posters all over the constituency saying ‘861 to go’.

“I have an amazing team of people in South West Surrey but I know what it’s like to knock on every single door.”

ConHome: “There have been so many policy pledges flying around in this campaign it’s been quite difficult to keep up with them. You’ve been quite limited, haven’t you.

“You’ve made the point about corporation tax. What else have you pushed?”

Hunt: “To make a success of Brexit we have to turbo-charge the economy. In a decade’s time the verdict of history will be that Brexit was a success if our growth outpaced our European neighbours, and Brexit is a failure if it doesn’t.

“You look at America, which has GDP growth double ours at the moment, through some very smart business tax cuts that Trump introduced, and I think you’ve got to do something at the point of Brexit that shows the world that we are absolutely determined to become the most pro-business, pro-enterprise, fastest growing high-tech economy in Europe.

“And so the big symbolic thing that I would do would be to cut corporation tax to Irish levels, 12.5 per cent, which is one of the very lowest in Europe and even in the world.

“I would also look at capital allowances and cut business rates. These are not populist tax cuts. These are to send a message to the world that we are going to land an economic jumbo jet on the doorstep of Europe at the point of Brexit.

“My second big pledge is that we also need to send a signal to the world that Britain is out there, we are reaffirming our global vocation, and so I’ve said we will increase defence spending to beyond two per cent of GDP.

“The two other areas where I’ve made pledges are education, where our national blind spot is the 50 per cent of school leavers who don’t go to university.

“And then the final one is, as a party, our strategic priority has to be young people. I think the single thing that jars most with young people is the interest rate on tuition fees. I cannot explain on the doorstep why someone should be paying six per cent interest rate. It’s just not fair and I think we need to address that.”

ConHome: “It’s not a very long list compared to some of the other candidates.”

Hunt: “No, it’s a simple list, and I’ll tell you why. Because I think I’ve learned in government you have to have a very short list of things that you’re actually going to change.”

ConHome: “What’s Mrs Hunt making of all this?”

Hunt: “Mrs Hunt is the first to admit that when we got married she knew nothing at all about British politics. I was actually an MP when we met, but she didn’t even know what that meant.

“So she has been on a learning curve. But she is the most competitive, driven person I know. She is absolutely determined for me to succeed.

“And she’s an absolutely incredible person. For me, the benefit of having a foreign wife is they sometimes have a sensible sense of perspective about the madness of British politics.

“My daughter said to me this morning – by the way this is a seven-year-old girl – I’ve got some advice for you daddy: ‘Don’t criticise your rivals. Copy their best ideas.’

“That’s not bad for a seven-year-old.”

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Nick Hargrave: How Johnson became Prime Minister, cut a Brexit deal, won an election – and triumphed. For a bit.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

The least becoming habit of the columnist is to be ironclad in one’s convictions. When we do this, we tend to make fools of ourselves.

In recent years there have been many examples of unravelled truisms from the political class. We were told that the Coalition wouldn’t last six months. That Jeremy Corbyn didn’t have any shot of power. That the status-quo always won in referenda. That Theresa May was an unassailable leader.

These assumptions had rational evidence behind them.

But politics is not science. There are structural trends that drive the tide. Being a successful politician has a human layer on top though: a melting pot of charisma, cunning, coincidence, calculation, opportunities taken and moments missed by others.

The latest example of conventional wisdom in this leadership election is that a Boris Johnson premiership is doomed to end in disaster. He faces the same immovable headwinds at home and abroad as May when it comes to getting a Brexit deal over the line – and his failure to rule out No Deal means he will eventually end up succumbing to a chaotic general election before Brexit is implemented. Either that, or he will end up delaying like his predecessor and pay the price.

The logic behind this thesis is compelling. Indeed, I think it is overwhelmingly likely. Not least because the path of a second referendum as a device to Leave – rather than a device to Remain – has been so categorically ruled out.

But we are foolish – and letting our world view colour our thinking – if we do not recognise that there is still a small chance of a successful escape by Johnson and his Teflon qualities.

The account that follows is necessarily abridged. I doubt his team have planned so far ahead and there are a thousand points where the chain breaks down.

But none of it is impossible and, if there is a common thread, it is the self-interest of MPs in avoiding an election at all costs before Brexit, the fact that the DUP and the hardest Brexiteer Tories are not actually aligned on strategic goals – coupled with the capacity of a gambler to surprise.

The choice that Conservative MPs must make is if they can foresee a better political outcome with a statesman rather than a gambler. If they can, then they should vote for the statesman. If they can’t then a five per cent bet is better than a zero per cent bet. Consider at all points what you are gambling with – and remember that there is no perfect ending in any scenario.

1. Johnson is elected Leader of the Conservative Party and becomes Prime Minister in late July.

He speaks behind a desk in Downing Street setting out his intentions. He does not want to leave without a deal and says that renewed energy and respect can find a solution to the backstop. Plans will be escalated for no-deal in case the talks are unsuccessful, but no one wants that outcome. His team keep the press occupied with 48 hours of unifying Cabinet appointments.

2. Moderate Conservative MPs bottle it

The EU say that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for negotiation, they are open to constructive dialogue – but  they too are ready for ‘no deal’ as a sensible precaution. . Labour table a vote of confidence. Nervous Conservative MPs on the brink of voting against the Government meet Johnson privately and are asked to wait until September. The Prime Minister gives a tour-de-force opening the debate in the Commons and gets the benefit of the doubt.

3. The ball gets rolling on legislation and then August happens

The current Withdrawal Agreement Bill is put down on gov.uk in draft form with a steer that the backstop provisions will be amended once a settlement is reached with the European Union. ERG and DUP figures this time give him the benefit of the doubt. Everyone agrees to go on holiday for August because the sun-lounger is more attractive than the stump. Other stories dominate the news.

4. September comes and the Commons returns to paralysis

It’s back to school for a drama filled but unproductive month. MPs panic and predict impending doom – but the fear of the apocalypse election again prevents them from exercising the ultimate sanction. Cooper Letwin Mark 2 passes with the help of the Speaker but a new, pliable Attorney General issues advice that the legislative cannot bind the executive in this way.

5. Johnson gives a rousing speech to the Conservative faithful in Manchester at the beginning of October.

The Prime Minister breaks the habit of a lifetime and engages with his speech early. The delivery surprises by its statesmanlike qualities. He invokes the spirit of Thatcher and Churchill and implores the nation to hold its nerve. He once again plays down the chance of no-deal but he needs it in his back-pocket. As was the case for May’s speech last year, the hall goes away uplifted and wanting to believe. A daily catalogue of parliamentary drama takes place over the next ten days with the same results as before.

6. The EU Council of 17-18 October dawns

The markets go haywire across Europe as analysts predict whether the gambler is bluffing. This drives behaviour. With a fortnight until exit day – and the European Commission a lame duck entity until November – a meeting in the margins of the Berlaymont takes place between Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Johnson and Leo Varadkar. Convention of unanimity is broken and the original proposal of a Northern Ireland only backstop is re-floated. It is heavily sugar-coated by words on a Stormont Lock and the Belfast Agreement where Northern Ireland will never diverge from the rest of the UK without further democratic consent in a restored assembly. Non-legally binding words are issued about the Super-Canada Plus Plus Plus deal that the EU stands ready to get on and discuss with Johnson with every effort made to find new technology.

Johnson thinks about the union differently to Theresa May. With one eye on a post-Brexit election, where he will be less reliant on the DUP, he gambles on gut to go for it without consulting civil servants.

7. The DUP go apoplectic– but tired politicians make deals

Sammy Wilson cuts off his eyelids. But with the door open to a Johnson-led Canada deal it becomes clear that the DUP pact with the ERG is no longer 100 per cent aligned. The backstop is also popular among Northern Irish businesses. Billions to the province are pledged. A frank and long meeting takes place with the Chief Whip where the Stormont Lock is emphasised, and it is agreed that the DUP will abstain rather than vote against the Government in the vote of confidence that will surely follow; the alternative being a Prime Minister Corbyn who avowedly wants a united Ireland. The DUP numbers matter less anyway on the day of the debate, because of the abstentions of self-interested Change UK offshoots for whom an election would be existential.

8. The Withdrawal Agreement legislation is passed with a short technical extension of days

No one quite knows how it came together in the end. But a combination of weariness, momentum in the media, fear of the alternative by Conservative MPs, peerages for elderly northern Labour MPs in Leave constituencies and a slew of abstentions gets the legislation over the line.

9. A triumphant Prime Minister Johnson basks in strong approval ratings and then goes for a general election

He uses the next few months to trail a crowd-pleasing, austerity busting agenda to appeal to both sides of the Brexit values divide – and then goes for a general election in spring 2020 seeking a mandate to unite the country

He wins a modest 15 seat majority after a professional campaign by his long-standing consultants but with Remain-minded younger voters still culturally alienated. A win is a win though.

10. But the honeymoon period doesn’t last long

Twenty-four hours later the ERG submits a letter of demands on priorities for Canada -style trade deal and the reality of the trade-offs begin to dawn. Johnson begins the path to be the fifth Conservative Prime Minister to be consumed by the vexatious issue of our relationship with the European Union.

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Henry Hill: Union is centre stage as the Tory leadership contest prepares to launch

The ‘Union dimension’ of the current leadership contest

For the next few weeks this column is going to adopt a slightly more focused format, and concentrate on the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and otherwise ‘Union’ dimensions of the current Conservative leadership contest.

And compared to the last one in 2016 – and especially when compared to the one before that, all the way back in the mists of 2005 – those dimensions are much more pronounced, and important, than ever before.

For the first time since John Major was chosen, the Party sports a strong caucus of Scottish MPs. The Government also depends on the Democratic Unionist Party for its day-to-day majority in the House of Commons. This means that both these nations – and the broader question of the Union – will have a much higher profile than before.

Candidates set out proposals for Irish border…

With their Brexit strategy necessarily a centrepiece of every leadership hopeful’s campaign, more than one has set out this week how they hope to resolve the impasse created by the Irish backstop.

Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, has outlined plans for a ‘grand gesture’ to the Irish Government, wherein the United Kingdom would foot the full bill for a ‘digitised border’ in Northern Ireland in order to build ‘goodwill’.

However, the Belfast Telegraph pointed out that Dublin would probably not appreciate being called “the tail that wags the dog” during Javid’s appearance on Andrew Marr.

Meanwhile Matt Hancock called for the establishment of an ‘Irish Border Council’, chaired by an independent figure, in order to keep the frontier open whilst allowing the UK to pursue an ‘independent trade policy’, the BBC reports. This would form part of his ‘credible plan’ for delivering Brexit.

However another part is reportedly a time-limit to the backstop, something Brussels has ruled out several times. This might make it tricky for the Health Secretary to criticise other candidates whose proposals involve renegotiation.

…as Stewart attacked for ‘parroting nationalist propaganda’

None of the hopefuls have attracted such ire as Rory Stewart, however. Despite trying to position himself as the unionist candidate – and having some good credentials on that score, such as his ‘Auld Acquaintance Cairn’ – he has sparked a fierce backlash over his position on the Border.

It started when Chris Montgomerie took to Twitter in the wake of one of Stewart’s campaign videos, filmed walking along (and indeed across) the aforementioned frontier, and took apart the candidate’s historical reading of the Border question, especially with regards to the order of (and causal relationship between) the end of the IRA’s terror campaign and the dismantling of British security infrastructure.

This was then expanded upon by Owen Polley, a well-known unionist writer from Northern Ireland, in a blistering attack in The Article. Stewart’s ‘facile’ comments, he said, “endorsed the Irish republican justification for violence in Northern Ireland, in all its brazen dishonesty, without criticism or qualification.”

He went on to attack the candidate’s adoption of Theresa May’s habit of taking up the language of Irish nationalism in order to try to build support for an Irish Sea border which would allow the Government to pass the Withdrawal Agreement as-is (and that is indeed the basis of Stewart’s Brexit strategy).

This would be a good time to remember, therefore, that the DUP also weighed into the leadership contest this week – to impress on all participants the importance of finding an alternative solution.

Unionists of Polley’s persuasion may also be wary of the fact that Stewart has been endorsed by Murdo Fraser, a self-styled ‘quasi-federalist’ who previously angled to break the Scottish Tories away from the UK party. Elsewhere the Scotsman reports that he would not rule out, as other candidates have, holding another vote on Scottish independence.

Elsewhere Kirstene Hair, the Tory MP for Angus, has published a piece in the Times setting out what she wants to see from the leadership candidates. In addition to fierce opposition to Nicola Sturgeon, she floats the excellent idea of “a new “Union unit” within No 10, a cross-departmental focus on how policies affect all parts of the Union as well as building on the current investment through economic and cultural projects.”

Scottish Conservatives’ anti-Johnson campaign stalls

Speaking of them, there has been a spot of bother for Ruth Davidson this week over her evident back-pedalling on the previously unthinkable proposition of Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister.

Back in February, I wrote about reports of a sustained lobbying campaign – dubbed ‘Operation Arse’ – aimed at dissuading Conservative colleagues south of the border from endorsing his candidacy.

There was even excitable talk that Davidson might concede Fraser’s logic and split the party if he won, and Kenny Farquharson, writing in the Times, says that her failure to do so is somehow a failure of authenticity.

Such criticism is not fair. Like any idea which stands to profit the devocracy, setting up a separate party in Scotland will keep being raised by the usual suspects. But Davidson herself has never once supported it. Indeed she won the leadership opposing it, and indulging such logic – much like the idea of Scottish Conservative MPs acting as a ‘bloc’ – undercuts the case for remaining integrated.

But as the saying goes: “If you come at the king, you best not miss.” By striking a tough posture against Johnson when it looked as if his moment had passed, Davidson was storing up trouble. It evinces the same sort of strategic miscalculation which saw senior Scottish Tories have to perform a screeching u-turn on the Irish backstop last November.

If Johnson does have a serious shot at becoming leader, and you believe in a UK-wide Conservative Party, then acting as a bridge between the man and the Scottish people will be Davidson’s task. Easy outs, such as banning him from the Scottish conference, will not be viable.

However, this should be no excuse for Johnson himself to ignore the sincere and deep-rooted concerns which gave rise to the campaign. Comforting stats (pulled from subsamples, by the looks) will not cut it as unionist credentials.

Not that the fighting has finished. James Kanagasooriam, one of the Scottish Tory inner circle, has published a thoughtful, data-led piece on the Spectator website exploring the downsides of a Johnson premiership. But the battle may be over.

News in Brief:

  • Bradley slammed by NUJ for snubbing the media – BBC
  • Former SNP MP receives 18-month sentence for fraud – Guido Fawkes
  • Ulster police reject Mordaunt’s call for Troubles amnesty – The Guardian

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