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Westlake Legal Group > Rory Stewart MP

What Johnson said about an independent enquiry into Conservative anti-Muslim hatred



Cards on the table.  This site first called for an enquiry into anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice as long ago as 2010.  If any right-of-centre media outlet did so before then, we’re not aware of it.

Last year, we suggested that the Extremism Commissioner look at hatred and prejudice more widely in a single inquiry – including anti-Muslim hatred, of course.  It would need to be a major strand of such an investigation.  This is the broad route that the Government is going down.

Some say that there should be a stand-alone inquiry into anti-Muslim hatred focusing on the Conservative Party alone – perhaps commissioned independently by the Party itself.  They add that the main Tory leadership candidates, including Boris Johnson, committed to one during the contest.

For the record, the Conservative Party clearly has a problem with anti-Muslim hatred – though not remotely on the same scale as Labour’s anti-semitism one.  It is also worth looking at the tape to see what was actually said and by whom.  The forum was a BBC debate.  Viewers will find the relevant section at 1.23 minutes in.

  • Sajid Javid says: “You’re all good guys. Shall we have an external investigation in the Conservative Party into Islamophobia?”
  • Jeremy Hunt says “absolutely”, and emphasises his view by stretching out his arms and opening his hands in a gesture of agreement.
  • Michael Gove moves his head up and down very slightly.  It looks more like a movement of assent than not, but he says nothing.
  • Boris Johnson nods, then shakes his head sideways, then barks something.  It might be agreement – or one of those characteristic wordless Johnson expostulations.
  • Javid then says: “Rory, you agree?” to Rory Stewart.  Stewart nods.  Readers will remember that he didn’t fully engage with the debate.

It is true that none of the candidates dissented from Javid’s challenge.  That can certainly be read as assent.  But, contrary to some claims, we can’t see any evidence from the tape that Johnson explicitly committed himself to a Conservative-only investigation.

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Revealed: The potential route back for some of the 21 Conservative MPs who lost the Whip

A host of bogus theories and fantasies have floated around the official position of the 21 MPs who lost the Whip last month. There were claims that prior readoption by their associations protected them (it doesn’t), and there was even excited talk that some would take the Conservative Party to court to overturn the decision or insist on their right to be a Conservative candidate (they haven’t, for the good reason that they would lose).

Not all of the 21 are even interested in regaining a future as Conservative MPs.

Some are off the reservation entirely, and seek careers elsewhere. Sam Gyimah has joined the Liberal Democrats. Rory Stewart has resigned his Tory membership and intends to stand for Mayor of London as an independent.

Some – including Ken Clarke, Nicholas Soames, Justine Greening and Oliver Letwin – don’t intend to stand for Parliament again. Letwin’s seat was the first of the 21 to select a successor candidate.

A number of the others, however, would like some sort of route back. Quite how that might technically happen has been a bit of a mystery so far; until now.

I can reveal that there is a formal process buried in the thicket of agreements and addenda which have attached themselves over the years to the Conservative Party’s rules.

After Michael Howard ruthlessly stripped Howard Flight of the Whip in 2005, thereby deselecting him and denying him the right to stand as a Tory in that year’s General Election, the 1922 Committee  – rather alarmed by that summary execution – demanded some kind of protection against abuse of such power by the leadership.

They had to wait for a new leader to be elected, so it was in 2006 that David Cameron, Patrick McLoughlin (then Chief Whip) and Sir Michael Spicer (then Chairman of the ’22) put their names to an agreement creating an appeal process for MPs who lose the Whip.

It works like this: within six months of an anticipated General Election, any de-whipped former Conservative MP may request to appeal their status. A panel of three people is then convened, composed of an MP nominated by the Chairman of the ’22, a representative of the voluntary party nominated by the President of the National Convention, and a third person mutually agreed between the ’22, the Convention and the Chief Whip.

The MP then pleads their case – and if successful can regain not the Whip but their membership of the Candidates’ List, ie the right to apply to stand again as a Conservative candidate and re-enter the fold following the ensuing election.

There are a few things to note. First, even for any MP who navigated the panel successfully this arrangement still rightly leaves the final verdict to readopt or not in the hands of their association

Second, there are no specified criteria for judging the MP’s fate. And as the process has so far never been used, there is no case law. In essence it will inevitably be a political decision for the panel, and likely the powers that be. “The MP’s conduct since losing the Whip is likely to feature”, as one person close to the process put it to me.

Third, the particular carrot – regaining the right to stand again, rather than automatic full reinstatement immediately – might lend itself to applying conditions for good behaviour between now and the elusive election. It isn’t hard to imagine a panel effectively binding a supplicant MP over to keep the peace/support Brexit as a requirement for later release from their exile.

I’m told it is expected that at least one of the 21 will seek to exercise this right to appeal, and possibly several will do so. We don’t know yet on what basis their case will be made: continued Hammond-like, defiance on the issue which cost them the Whip in the first place, or an attempt at reconciliation. By the same token, we don’t know yet what attitude the panel will take to them, or what conditions it might apply if it was willing to consider a return. Ultimately, you can bet that it will be a purely political call: does the leadership want them back?

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The Moggcast. “The Government will obey the law, but it’s not necessarily entirely clear precisely what the law is.”

You can also listen and subscribe to the Moggcast on iTunes, through our YouTube channel, or through the RSS feed here, as well as on Spotify and via numerous leading podcast services.

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Rupert Myers: Stewart has left the Party. But here’s why other moderates must stay, keep faith – and change it for the better.

Rupert Myers is a barrister and writer.

Reports of the death of liberal conservatism are greatly exaggerated, but after the departure of the once ultra-loyal Rory Stewart you would be forgiven for checking its pulse. Only months ago, he was alone in TV studios defending Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the face of widespread hostility, but watching the MP for Penrith and the Border walk away from the party to stand as an independent candidate for London Mayor should not serve as a reason for politically sympathetic party members to follow suit.

As a former Association Deputy Chairman and local Conservative candidate, many of my friends are asking me whether I’m staying with the Party. I am, and if you’re reading this wondering if you should leave, I hope that you can also be persuaded to remain.

Stewart’s circumstances are unique: there is a particular opportunity in London to remove a Mayor who is failing Londoners, a Mayor who has overseen a city mired in a violence that, like many Londoners, I know only too well: two months ago I was woken in the night by the screams from a triple stabbing on my road in zone one.

Around the city, young people are losing their lives to a set of complex problems that require fresh solutions. It’s an uncomfortable truth for the Conservatives but, on current form, Shaun Bailey’s campaign is unlikely to unseat Sadiq Khan. On the biggest issue in politics for a generation, Bailey is largely silent, seemingly unable to articulate support for a Brexit he supports but which the capital certainly does not.

Stewaer has shown himself to be an eloquent and sincere politician who reaches beyond traditional party political lines. He has already made it clear that he will attack Khan’s record on crime while championing the city against the dreadful risks of a No Deal Brexit. His skills are ones which we can but hope are one day brought back into the fold, but his current fight is distinct from the choices facing individual members.

Those of us alarmed at the ejection from the Party of heroes like Ken Clarke may be worrying that the tent poles of the right-of-centre coalition are falling in, but there are three compelling reasons to stay.

The first is that something has to give.  If there has been one pressure on centre-right activists in the party, it has of course been Brexit. Whisper it, but almost 40 per cent of conservatives, the majority of Conservative MPs, and every Tory Prime Minister before Boris Johnson backed Remain, yet the speed with which these facts have been conveniently forgotten could give you whiplash.

Gradually, and then suddenly the party has gone from being a place where division on Europe was tolerated when the Eurosceptics were in the minority, to a place where almost no dissent is accepted. If you feel frozen out by this transition, keep faith. Do not mistake the current intolerance of pro-European voices for power: it is a sign of the brittle fragility of a current leadership which inherited a gargantuan mess, and which is running out of options fast. A Party that changed so quickly after the referendum can change again.

It is inevitable that Johnson, who tethered his chariot so successfully to the Brexit cause, will do anything and everything to get it done. Not only is Brexit the issue around which he defined his candidacy and staked his leadership, but it is understandable that any leader would want to rapidly find a way to move forwards from the most divisive and toxic argument in British politics. This current uncertainty has been shown not only to be harmful to business, but even to be detrimental to our mental health.

Time is against the Prime Minister, with polls showing that support for remaining in the European Union is now solidly ahead of leaving. The same people who demand that the will of the people is respected will now do anything they can to prevent the people from expressing an updated sentiment, but their efforts may well not be enough. Either way, once Brexit is carried out or abandoned, there will be much good work for the Conservative Party to do.

The second reason to remain inside the tent is that, short of switching from the Today Programme to Radio Three, ending your news subscriptions, and taking up butterfly collecting, if you remain interested and active in politics then you have to take a side. There is simply no other Party today that is worried about the encroaching size of the state, passionate about building ladders to freedom and opportunity, that eschews high political theorising for empirical pragmatism, and that places trust and responsibility in the hands of individuals and their families in the same way that the Conservative Party traditionally has. Why abandon your natural political home at the first sign of trouble?

It isn’t just that there seem to be no other really good options at the forthcoming general election, but that all conceivable outcomes lead to the simple choice between a Labour and a Conservative Prime Minister. There has perhaps never in the history of our democracy been a less appealing candidate for the top job than Jeremy Corbyn, a man who, when Russia deployed chemical weapons on British soil, thought that we should send them samples so that they could tell us whether or not they did it. How many Jewish MPs does Labour need to try and deselect before ordinary voters see that it is their moral duty to ensure that a man who attended a memorial service for the terrorists behind the Munich Olympic massacre does not enter Downing Street?

We must admire the tenacity of those who are now in control of the Conservative Party and the patience that it has taken them to both pursue and for the moment win the debate on the European Union. The lesson is to get organised, form networks, make the positive case for the centre-right side of the argument, and stake a claim to running the tent, not abandoning it.

The main political parties may currently be enthralled by their extremes but there’s no evidence that the wider population is. Tom McTague recently observed that: “Blairism is as dead as the rules he established for winning power. The next election will be won not from the center, but by the party that can get out its vote—more Karl Rove than Bill Clinton.” This is undoubtedly true for now, but the public will soon tire – if they have not already – of harsh political binaries and steroid-enhanced tribalism. When it does, the party that reforms fastest will reap the reward.

The third reason to stay is because there is so much to do. The underlying problems that people articulated when they voted to leave the European Union won’t be solved overnight by leaving it, but by addressing the concerns that those of us on the centre-right well understand. The great global problems of this century like the unchecked power of corporations to abuse a lack of transparent international tax cooperation, the environmental crisis, and the destabilisation of the cooperative, rules-based international order all require international solutions, not isolationism or ultra-nationalism.

Political ideologies won’t make people feel like their lives are improving or put food on their tables. The problems the country faces aren’t going anywhere, and for moderate conservatives looking at the departure of one of our most impressive standard bearers, there has scarcely been a more important time to stay put and get to work.

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Ex-Tory MPs split three ways on the question of compelling advisers to publish private correspondence

The Government was defeated in this evening’s vote on Dominic Grieve’s proposal that a named list of advisers should publish their private correspondence, by 311 votes to 302. The motion was proposed under Standing Order 24, the mechanism for backbenchers to seize control of Commons business.

No Conservative MPs rebelled in the vote, although some former Conservative MPs voted in favour of Grieve’s motion: nine who now sit as independents, two who now sit as Liberal Democrats, and one from the ever-changing TIGfC (The Independent Group for Change, since you didn’t ask):

 

Independents

Heidi Allen

Guto Bebb

Nick Boles

Ken Clarke

David Gauke

Justine Greening

Dominic Grieve

Sam Gyimah

Oliver Letwin

 

Liberal Democrats

Phillip Lee

Sarah Wollaston

 

TIGfC

Anna Soubry

 

Interestingly, there was evidently a degree of divided opinion among the former Tory MPs sitting as independents. Seven of them – six of whom lost the whip last week – voted with the Government:

 

Independents

Richard Benyon

Steve Brine

Greg Clark

Charlie Elphicke

Stephen Hammond

Caroline Nokes

Rory Stewart

 

In addition, one Labour MP voted with the Government, against the motion:

John Mann

 

The remaining former Tory MPs who lost or resigned the whip last week – Philip Hammond, Richard Harrington, Margot James, Anne Milton, Amber Rudd, Antoinette Sandbach, Nicholas Soames and Ed Vaizey – did not vote.

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The end of the Conservative Party as we have known it

  • The roll-call of 21 rebel Conservatives from whom the whip has been removed includes two former Chancellors of the Exchequer, one of which held the office only a few weeks ago, the other being one of Margaret Thatcher’s public service reformers; four other former Cabinet Ministers (plus one “entitled to attend”); a former Attorney-General and a former Deputy Chief Whip; all the others bar one have been Ministers.
  • Their expulsion leaves Boris Johnson 43 votes short of a majority.  This suggests a general election sooner rather than later, and one which may well take place without Brexit having been delivered.
  • Some of the 21 will stand down when it comes (including, we now read, Rory Stewart); others may might their seats as independent conservatives; some may seek a coupon arrangement with the Liberal Democrats; some may get a coupon and others, since the LibDems will already have many candidates in place, won’t.  Some may win; most probably won’t.
  • Other Conservative MPs of roughly the same outlook may also go, as Keith Simpson announced he will yesterday.  So will a slice of Association members – though not a large proportion of the whole, given the pro-Brexit views of most activists.  The Tory MPs of the immediate future looks to be more pro-Leave than today’s are.  In broad terms, the balance of the Parliamentary Party will shift rightwards.
  • To be more precise, the Conservative Party’s appeal at the coming election will be pitched, even more than in 2017, to northern, older and Leave-backing voters.  In a nutshell, the Party will become less economically liberal (a change that Ryan Bourne worries about in his debut column on this site today) and less socially liberal (on, say, crime and immigration).  Rejoice, Nick Timothy. Despair, Liz Truss.
  • If this appeal works, Boris Johnson, whose family background can fairly be described as liberal elite, will become Prime Minister of a more Trump-flavoured party, with Dominic Cummings presumably hovering in the wings: bent on delivering Brexit, more northern infrastructure, cash for “our NHS”, tough policy on crime, “an Australian-style points immigration system” and tax cuts for poorer workers.
  • And it is quite possible that Johnson will succeed – at least in England, which in turn could pave the way for a second independence referendum in Scotland and a border poll in Northern Ireland.
  • If he doesn’t, there will probably be no Brexit.  But the Conservative membership and Parliamentary Party as both stand are unlikely to let the project go.  Expect both to cling to it, as debate gathers about a permanent arrangement with the Brexit Party, for at least one more Parliament.  And popular support for leaving the EU is likely to remain substantial for the forseeable future.
  • It is hard to see this kind of profile playing well in London, most cities, among ethnic minorities, younger voters and in the prosperous parts of the greater South-East in which there was a high Remain vote in 2016.  The libertarian-flavoured bits of the centre-right, no less than what survives of the pro-EU Tory left, is going to struggle to have internal impact.
  • It is wisdom after the event to blame Johnson for a prorogation-and-whipping gambit that seems to have failed, and which looks to have profound consequences (after all, Philip Hammond and company are now unlikely to regain the whip).  But, frankly, Johnson was dammed if he did and dammed if he didn’t.  The Conservatives have tried the Theresa May way – seeking to please everyone.  That didn’t work either.
  • The recently-appointed Prime Minister deserves his chance to put his case to the people.  We backed him for the leadership precisely because we felt that, in the event of a snap election, he has the projection to pull off a surprise win – with the Brexit Party coming at him from one end, the Liberal Democrats doing so from another, the SNP on his back in Scotland, and Jeremy Corbyn waiting in the wings.
  • But the Party is going to have to think very hard about what to do if Johnson doesn’t succeed, Brexit is thwarted – and a Marxist Government takes office.  Maybe it should be beginning to mull about what to do if the voters won’t swallow a Canada-type approach.
  • In which event, it might want to start thinking again about an option which this site has always treated respectfully but critically: EEA membership.  Yes, as a policy it is deeply problematic.  But in a polarised Britain in which an a la carte arrangement with the EU won’t work, but the country retains its broadly Eurosceptic orientation, a future government might have to reach for a solution which is table d’hote.
  • Perhaps we are wrong in thinking that yesterday’s vote marked the end of a chapter in the Conservative story.  Maybe the expulsion of the 21 will have no wider effect.  Perhaps they and Johnson will kiss and make up.  Maybe Tory MPs will suddenly unite around a common position.  No: like you, we think none of that sounds remotely likely.  Today, Conservatives walk between two worlds, “one dead. The other powerless to be born”.

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The rebels – 21 Conservative and two Labour – on the Letwin SO24 motion

Tory rebels

Here are the 21 Conservative MPs who rebelled to vote for the motion seizing control of Parliamentary business from the Government:

Alistair Burt

Anne Milton

Antoinette Sandbach

Caroline Nokes

David Gauke

Dominic Grieve

Edward Vaizey

Greg Clark

Guto Bebb

Justine Greening

Kenneth Clarke

Margot James

Nicholas Soames

Oliver Letwin

Philip Hammond

Richard Benyon

Richard Harrington

Rory Stewart

Sam Gyimah

Stephen Hammond

Steve Brine

The BBC reports that the Chief Whip has begun to phone round each of them informing them that they have lost the Whip.

Labour rebels

Two Labour MPs – John Mann and Kate Hoey – rebelled against their own party to vote with the Government.

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Lord Ashcroft: An open letter to Alok Sharma, the new International Development Secretary

Dear Alok,

Congratulations on your richly deserved elevation to the Cabinet. The job of International Development Secretary is always a challenge for a Conservative politician, given our desire for fiscal responsibility and understandable scepticism among Party members over the sanity of fixing aid spending as a proportion of national income rather than determined by need. The struggle must be especially acute for someone who was trained in accountancy.

As you have no doubt already discovered, the Department for International Development seems to see itself as closer to the charity sector that it funds so lavishly than to the rest of Whitehall, which can only look with envy at the department’s constantly-rising budgets. Even as Tory prime ministers oversaw the imposition of austerity policies in Britain, Dfid’s budget doubled in a decade to more than £14 billion. Little wonder there is such public concern, since this is more than we spend on our hard-pressed police forces in England and Wales as they grapple with issues such as gang violence, knife crime and cyber-theft.

Although pleased for you personally, I am disappointed the Prime Minister did not do as he suggested earlier this year by folding Dfid back into the Foreign Office to maximise the potential of Global Britain. ‘We can’t keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO,’ Boris Johnson told the Financial Times. ‘The present system is leading to inevitable waste as money is shoved out of the door in order to meet the 0.7 per cent target.’

This apparent shift matches that of some of your predecessors, whose prior scepticism mysteriously disappeared on taking on taking on the job. With his experience working in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, Rory Stewart had even admitted the public was being duped by politicians claiming they could create jobs in poor parts of the planet and impose stability on fragile states. He pointed to some astonishing sums being frittered away such as £4.5 billion spent in Malawi over half a century – yet it ended up poorer.

India provides another example. Though we no longer give aid directly to its government, Britain still spends tens of millions of pounds of aid money in the country, despite its economy being forecast to overtake our own as the fifth biggest in the world. India has both a thriving space programme and its own aid agency giving large sums to poorer nations. These alone are valid reasons to question if it still needs our charity, even if you ignore that nation’s constant struggle against corruption. And a leaked memo from Nirumpama Rao, a former foreign minister, once pointed out the damage caused by the ‘negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID.’ The drip-drip of such depressing imagery of developing countries as basket cases desperate for Western aid also causes fury in Africa.

I am glad you have already managed to visit Uganda to highlight the fight against Ebola. Few critics, not even sceptics such as myself, would begrudge aid going on the vital struggle to defeat this cruel disease when almost 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding areas have already lost their lives. But nor should we avoid the facts. One reason the last outbreak in West Africa took off so tragically was the failure to control and monitor aid spending, resulting in weakened local health sectors. A British parliamentary inquiry found the European Union gave £19 million in the year before the devastating outbreak to Liberia’s health ministry, but only £2.5 million reached its destination. No wonder academics have used this country as a case study in aid’s failure to stabilise fragile states. Western donations also poured into Sierra Leone, despite systemic corruption in the health services that failed to thwart the ravage of Ebola when it struck with such appalling force.

You have highlighted the difficulties of delivering life-saving Ebola treatment in a conflict zone. So perhaps you should ask why we keep pumping money into despotic states run by leaders with bloodstained hands such as Rwanda, the cause of so much misery in the region, and Uganda, which was even found to have been inflating refugee numbers in its most recent aid scandal last year.

If we believe in the concept of Global Britain, as I do, then surely we should stand as a beacon of democratic values in a dark world. Instead Dfid ignores the wisdom of development experts who point out that these massive aid flows can achieve the opposite of their aims by undermining the evolution of democracy, especially when showered on societies under the thumb of repressive regimes. Other critics say it fosters conflict and corruption. I know there is so much cash swilling around this sector it is hard to find untainted experts, but might I suggest you listen hard to those without a personal stake in the aid boom rather than those consultants and charity chiefs who make their living from the aid industry?

Unlike many commentators, I believe this to be an exciting time as Britain strikes out boldly to reassert our independence as a nation. Disruption can be a creative process, as I have seen often in the business world, and Westminster definitely needs to be shaken up. This makes it an ideal time to look again at the sheer lunacy of having a fixed aid target that is swelling each year despite the decline in poverty around the world and number of urgently pressing domestic issues.

I know many Tories who want to help those in desperate humanitarian need, but few who think this target is the right way to go about it. Some fear that the mega-charities, which failed to stop gross abuse by staff, will claim the ‘nasty party’ is back if the Conservatives dare to ditch their precious aid target. But if you want to help the world’s poorest people while setting Britain on a brave new course for the future, please turn off those golden taps and change course, so our success in this field is measured by the good we achieve, not just by how much we spend. It is both right, popular and smart – a rare mix in politics.

Yours sincerely,

Michael

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Iain Dale: This Cabinet is the most right-of-centre in modern times. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

A reshuffle in which Penny Mordaunt is sacked and Priti Patel is given one of the top three jobs was always going to provoke negative comment. Patel has many talents.  But for her to re-enter the cabinet into one of the great offices of state after such a short time is eyebrow-raising to say the least.

It used to be the case that anyone who resigned ministerial office, or was sacked from it due to an impropriety would be expected to face the voters before being reincarnated into ministerial office. That was certainly the convention operated by previous Conservative Prime Ministers.

Having said that, it is truly a sign of the times when two British Asians now occupy two of the three great offices of state. There are now four British Asians in the cabinet now and two black/mixed race members. Ethnic minorities comprise around 13 per cent of the UK populations, but 18 per cent of the ministers sitting around the cabinet table. That’s real progress.

Rather more disappointingly, there are only six female members of the cabinet, yet women comprise 51 per cent of the population. Work to do.

This is without doubt the most right-of-centre Cabinet in modern times – and for the avoidance of doubt, I see nothing wrong with that at all. It is a cabinet designed with one aim in mind – to get us out of the EU by October 31.

But the view that this is a total Leave Cabinet is for the birds. By my reckoning, 13 of the people sitting around the cabinet table voted Leave and 20 voted Remain. Clearly many of those have pivoted towards Leave since, and have all had to sign up to the possibility of leaving with no deal if necessary. And quite right too.

– – – – – – – – – –

As you read this, there are only 97 days until October 31. Few people can see the pathway to leaving the EU without a deal. There are a few signs that Dublin is experiencing a squeaky bum, and may be willing to urge their EU colleagues to shift their position on the Backstop, albeit only marginally.

If we do leave with a deal, surely it would have to be alongside a slightly tweaked version of the Withdrawal Agreement. The question is: would a few tweaks be enough to get it through the Commons?

It seems difficult to imagine any document which would attract the support of both the Gaukeward Squad and the ERG. It may well be that this has been factored in by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings. They will go through the motions – but that’s about it.

If the EU refuses to negotiate, they’re not going to lose too much sleep. Any such refusal will be seen by the public as typically unreasonable, and if it leads to us leaving under No Deal, the EU will be blamed, rather than the new Government.

One factor few are considering is that the EU 27 may become so enraged by what they will see as Johnson’s unreasonable stance that they themselves may decide that offering to extend Article 50 beyond October 31 is one step too far. It’s entirely possible that Emmanuel Macron may well decide to veto an extension, as he apparently nearly did in April.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tim Shipman must be licking his lips. He has become the country’s official chronicler of the whole Brexit process. His first two books have been best-selling corkers. I can hardly wait to read his account of the events of the last few days.

Forming a Cabinet is one of the trickiest things that a new Prime Minister has to get to grips with. Predicting who will be in or out of a new cabinet is one of the exercises that political journalists and commentators try to carry out – with mixed success.

Strangely they (we) are rarely held to account for our predictions, despite them being available for all to go back to. For myself, I predicted 18 of the May Cabinet would be out – I got it wrong by one. There were 17. I was the first to predict (in my Sunday Telegraph column) that Priti Patel would become Home Secretary and that Grant Shapps would become Transport Secretary.

I also reckoned that Jacob Rees-Mogg would join the Cabinet, although I got the job wrong. In retrospect, I should have worked out that Leader of the House would be a good fit for this devoted House of Commons man. Apart from that, I completely failed to see the removal of Penny Mordaunt, but then again, so did everyone else. I could go on…

– – – – – – – – – –

I have now written two long read profiles and interviews of politicians for the Sunday Times magazine. I profiled Gavin Williamson in December, and Penny Mordaunt last Sunday. Well, we know what happened next. I wouldn’t blame Ben Wallace if he declined to cooperate with any similar article I might be intending to write!

Of course, now that we have a new Prime Minister the betting markets are already turning their minds to who might be the next one. I asked David Williams from the Rank Organisation who was heading that market and was somewhat surprised when he told me it was Rory Stewart.

Given there were 17 sackings or resignations, we can expect some pretty tough jostling position over the next few months as to who would be the King or Queen over the water in the event of Johnson self-combusting. There are quite a few contenders.

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Johnson’s shuffle. If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – don’t complain when it’s delivered.

ConservativeHome offered Boris Johnson advice on his coming reshuffle over a month ago.  Whatever you do, we said, shuffle with purpose.  Every single member of your new Cabinet must be signed up to leaving the EU on October 31 – without a deal if necessary.  Do or die.  All together now.  Band of brothers (and sisters).  No more Theresa May-era mass resignations over Brexit policy, totting up in the end to over 50, even without taking into account the very last ones.

A question this morning is whether or not the new Prime Minister has followed that train of thought to the point where it crashes into the buffers – and drives uncontrollably through them, leaving a trail of wreckage and corpses in its wake.  For he not only fired those Cabinet members who couldn’t support the policy (those that were left, anyway), but went on to sack many of those who surely could have done, or would at least have made their peace with it.

Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Damian Hinds, David Mundell, James Brokenshire, Karen Bradley, Jeremy Wright – all of these would presumably have rallied round the new leader.  Two of them, Fox and Mordaunt, were 2016 Brexiteers.  The latter was prominent within Vote Leave.  One of them, Brokenshire, was a Johnson voter in the leadership election.  Yet the new Prime Minister deliberately chose to bundle them up in no fewer than nine full Cabinet sackings.  Greg Clark hung on until the end, while Chris Grayling went of his own volition. That brings the total to ten.

This was the bloodiest Cabinet Walpurgisnacht in modern history – making Macmillan’s night of the long knives look like a day trip to Balamory (although technically the changes marked the start of a new Government, not a shuffle within the old one).  Add the ten to the departure of Theresa May, Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and David Lidington, and one reaches 15.  And that’s before getting into the dismissal of MPs entitled to attend, such as Mel Stride and Clare Perry.  That’s ten Conservative MPs alienated and in some cases added, perhaps, to the core of perhaps 25 ultra-rebellious Tory Soft Brexiteers and Remainers.  And the Government’s majority soon looks to dwindle to one.

There are many ways of assessing the replacements for the departed 15 or so.  For a start, there is ethnicity.  To Sajid Javid is added Rishi Sunak, now to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Alok Sharma at International Development plus, above all, Priti Patel at the Home Office (and of those entitled to attend there is James Cleverly, the new Party Chairman, plus Kwasi Kwarteng).  Then there are women: to Patel, we can add Liz Truss at Trade, Andrea Leadsom at Business, Theresa Villiers at Environment, Nicky Morgan at Culture, Amber Rudd at Work and Pensions.  This is Johnson’s briefed-in-advance “Cabinet for modern Britain”.  May had only three female members of her full Cabinet: Rudd, Mordaunt, Bradley and herself.  Javid was the only ethnic minority member.

As for the changes themselves, they seem to us to be a mixed bag.  Sunak, Cleverly, Leadsom, Robert Buckland at Justice, Ben Wallace at Defence: these are good appointments.  Julian Smith will know the Northern Ireland scene well from his work as Chief Whip.  Alister Jack is presumably in because Johnson wants a Leaver at the Scottish Office.  Nicky Morgan at Culture can take as her motto the saying of Leo X: “God has given us the papacy – let us enjoy it”.  Robert Jenrick, with Sunak one of three authors of a pro-Johnson leadership endorsement, has a big promotion to housing.  Their co-signatory, Oliver Dowden, will be a Cabinet Office Minister “entitled to attend”.

He will be among a swelling group of people: no fewer than ten, including Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House.  The new Prime Minister is doing nothing to make the Cabinet more compact.  The site would have preferred to see Theresa Villiers back at Northern Ireland rather than pitched in to Michael Gove’s shoes at Environment.  The big experiment will be exposing Gavin Williamson to the electorally-sensitive world of teachers and parents.

But if you want to locate the key to this reshuffle, it isn’t ethnicity, or gender, or finding horses for courses.  Rather, it is support for Johnson himself – and for Brexit. Rudd is the only declared Hunt voter to survive.  Morgan plumped for Gove.  Everyone else voted either for Johnson, right from the start of this contest, or at least after elimination themselves (if we know what they did at all).  Furthermore, 15 out of the 32 people eligible to gather round the Cabinet table voted Leave in 2016, compared to seven out of 29 in May’s last Cabinet.

Dom Raab at the Foreign Office – First Secretary of State, to boot – plus Patel, and Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office, working hand in glove with Dominic Cummings, while Steve Barclay hangs on at DexEU.  These are all general election-ready, Vote Leave veterans.  One has the spooky sensation, looking at this Cabinet and leadership, that the year is somehow 2016 – and that we now have the Government that we should have had then, ready at last to counter the charge that Vote Leave scurried away from Brexit, rather than manning up to deliver it.

Yes, the slaugher is spectacular.  And yes, the demotion of Hunt was unwise – though perhaps not as much so as his own refusal to take responsibility in government for our armed forces.  But look at it all another way.  Johnson stood accused of being a soft touch – indecisive; yielding; vacant.  So one can scarcely complain when he wields – not least before those who look on from abroad – the power that the premiership still has.  Brexiteers are accused of not taking responsibility.  After this shuffle, they can’t be: Johnson and Patel and Raab and company are unmistakably, unmissably in charge.

Remainers and Leavers alike can converge on a shared point.  Vote Leave helped to create Brexit.  Let their leaders now own it.  If one asks for decisiveness – for an end to drift – one can scarcely complain when it’s delivered.

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