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Westlake Legal Group > Ruth Davidson MSP

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

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Johnson’s August 1) He must spend some time in Scotland

It is now overwhelmingly likely that Boris Johnson will be the next Conservative Party leader and become Prime Minister.

He may well face a no confidence vote in September, and the Brexit extension expires at the end of October in any event.

So he and his new team will have to hit the ground running in August. We open today a brief series on what he should do during that month and late July before the Commons is due to return on September 3.

– – – – – – – – – –

Today’s papers suggest that the new Prime Minister will visit Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron – it apparently isn’t yet decided in what order – and seek to visit Donald Trump early in search of a UK – US trade deal.

He will also have to go to Dublin to make personal contact with Leo Varadkar – testing and perhaps fruitless though such a trip may be.

One can begin to see from the number of journeys that Johnson will have to make from Downing Street that he will need a strong team, with perhaps a Deputy Prime Minister or First Secretary of State in place, and certainly a capable Minister at the Cabinet Office, to run much of the Government’s new domestic policy in his absence.

The new Prime Minister shouldn’t be out of London more than is absolutely necessary – after all, the Iran standoff may suddenly flare up, in the manner of August foreign policy crises – but he will surely have to find time for a trip to Scotland.

There is evidence that his ratings in Scotland are weak; much of the Scottish Conservative Party will have voted for Jeremy Hunt; Ruth Davidson is not a fan, the SNP would undoubtedly use any No Deal Brexit to make a new push for Scottish independence – and Scottish Parliamentary elections are due in 2021.

In short, the threat to the Union “hasn’t gone away, you know”, and the new Prime Minister must seek to head some of the trouble off.  His main downside seems to be that he is seen in parts of Scotland as quintessentially English figure.

But the same could be said of almost any Tory successor to Theresa May, including Jeremy Hunt.  And some Scottish MPs and MSPs have broken for the front-runner.  Ross Thomson, Colin Clark, Douglas Ross and Andrew Bowie are now signed up.

The last is May’s PPS, and will be a useful guide to Scotland for the new Prime Minister.  Thomson is a long-standing supporter.  One of Johnson’s first decisions will be what to do with David Mundell, the experienced Scotland Secretary, who along with several of his colleagues backed Michael Gove.

Three MSPs  – Michelle Ballantyne, Margaret Mitchell and Oliver Mundell – are also doing so, though they are very much in a minority in their group.  Mundell explained his reasons recently on this site.

Johnson has dropped his original wish to recast the Barnett formula, and will now seek to be styled Minister for the Union as well as Prime Minister.

But he will need to do much more than that if he is help bolster the Union early – and rebuff claims of indulging in mere Red-White-And-Bluewash.

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Henry Hill: Westminster legislating for Northern Ireland sets a useful precedent for the DUP

DUP accepts Westminster changing abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

Sam McBride writes for the Independent that the Government’s parliamentary allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, show no sign of causing ministers much difficulty over the Commons legislating for the Province on social issues.

Although the socially-conservative party is formally opposed to extending same-sex marriage or legal abortion to Ulster, in truth many of its modernisers will be quietly pleased that these particular boils have been lanced without the Party having to risk alienating its core support by being directly involved.

Moreover, as I explained in last week’s column, the DUP will also be very pleased that MPs have blown such a large hole in the Government’s increasingly threadbare case for refusing to introduce wholesale direct rule. Just about the only remaining justification for the Northern Irish Office’s current non-solution of letting the civil service govern Northern Ireland without democratic oversight has been the relative consistency with which ministers have stuck to it.

Now that Parliament has acted directly to take important decisions in the absence of a devolved administration (and the passage of these amendments means that it is now certain not to return before their October 21 deadline, as doing so could block the reforms), it will be much harder to justify refusing to step in again. Noted unionist blogger Owen Polley has set out in a piece for the Article some areas which could do with ministerial attention.

However John Larkin, the Northern Irish Attorney General, has raised concerns about the drafting of the abortion amendment, drafted by Stella Creasy and overwhelmingly passed by MPs, according to the News Letter. He reportedly feels that it is “is unclear and inconsistent with important human rights texts”. Lord Duncan, an NIO minister, appears to share his concerns and has hinted that the Government may try to push back the deadline.

By contrast to their relative quiescence on these issues, the DUP have not been shy about naming their price in other areas. This week Nigel Dodds, the leader of the party’s Westminster group, indicated that they were rowing behind the Sun’s campaign on behalf of veterans and would make policies for ex-servicemen and women part of the next confidence and supply deal. Unionist concern at the handling of so-called ‘legacy investigations’ into soldiers remains high.

Hunt urges Johnson to rule out more powers for Holyrood…

The Herald reports that Jeremy Hunt has called on Boris Johnson to ‘draw a line under devolution’ and rule out any new tax powers for the Scottish Parliament, in the same week that he himself pledged not to approve a second referendum on Scottish independence even in the event of a separatist majority at the 2021 Holyrood elections.

Amidst reports that the underdog is hoping to run up a “big win” north of the border, where local Tories are reportedly deeply wary of what a Johnson premiership might been for their political recovery, a story resurfaced that Johnson once asked Nicola Sturgeon if full fiscal autonomy – a confederal arrangement wherein Scotland would have its own Treasury – would “buy off” the SNP.

This comes in the same week that Lord Forsyth, the former Secretary of State for Scotland and far-sighted opponent of devolution, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the real threat to the Union lay in constantly giving the nationalists and devocrats more powers. Stephen Daisley also penned a magisterial piece (for which I even got a little credit) for the Scottish Daily Mail on the same theme – it has been a good week for devosceptics.

…as First Minister of Wales picks new fight on ‘devolved powers’…

Meanwhile Mark Drakeford, the strongly-nationalist but technically-Labour First Minister of Wales, has attacked both candidates’ plans to replace EU funding with a UK-operated Shared Prosperity Fund.

Drakeford, who has stated that he views the UK as essentially a non-sovereign confederation, claims that Johnson’s intention for there to be a “strong Conservative influence” over the funding contradicts Labour’s motto of “Not a penny lost, not a power stolen” by suggesting a shift in power back towards London, the BBC reports.

This would, of course, be a very good thing, and entirely in line with the aims of Theresa May’s legacy-building devolution inquiry of finding ways to enhance the role of the British Government in the devolved territories. Neither Johnson nor Hunt should flinch from taking Drakeford – who has declared his party’s support for the UK to be ‘conditional’ – head-on.

…and Lidington and Mundell warn of danger to Union

On the other side of the argument, David Lidington warned this week that English ‘apathy’ about the United Kingdom risked breaking it up. According to the Times, he said:

“In England, I think that there is an indifference to the Union; a sense of taking it for granted. It is something that is there as part of the landscape rather than something that you’ve really got to make a conscious effort to work to sustain.”

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, also warned that a no-deal exit might strengthen the hand of the separatists in Scotland and Northern Ireland – even as his son Oliver, an MSP, has endorsed Johnson on this site on the basis that he will “deliver Brexit and secure the Union”.

Johnson has pledged this week to prioritise keeping the UK together over Brexit, although we must stress again that on the available evidence that isn’t the choice.

News in Brief:

  • Barclay warns that no-deal exit will harm Ireland more than the UK – Daily Telegraph
  • Dublin admits it will impose border checks under a no-deal scenario – The Sun
  • Reality intrudes on the Irish Government’s Brexit game plan – Irish Times
  • Johnson pledges £160 million ‘back payments’ to Scottish farmers – Daily Telegraph
  • SNP MP has made citizens’ assembly ‘ten times harder’, says adviser – The Herald
  • Davidson lashes out at Labour for letting unions set its Brexit policy – Daily Express

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 

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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Interview. Johnson says that every member of his Cabinet must sign up to Britain leaving the EU on 31st October – deal or no deal

If Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister, he will expect every member of the Cabinet to agree with his policy of leaving the EU on 31st October, deal or no deal.

He argues in this interview that there is only a “very, very, very small possibility” of no deal actually happening, but he says that ministers “would have to be reconciled” to that possibility.

Johnson maintains that since the failure to leave on 29th March, “we’re in a different political world”, where the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats are “feeding like puffballs on the decay of trust in politics”.

This means “the parliamentary mood has changed” and the Commons will not vote for another extension. He considers the latter eventuality so improbable that he declines to say what he would do if it came to pass.

But he certainly does not wish to call a general election.

Johnson insists he has “a very good relationship with Ruth Davidson”, and that getting Brexit through on 31st October will strengthen the Union, as the SNP will find it very difficult to campaign for Scotland to rejoin the EU.

Asked whether he had agreed to Sajid Javid’s call for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, Johnson said he had discussed this with Javid and “what we’ve committed to is a general investigation into all types of prejudice and discrimination including anti-semitism”.

When reminded that he used to refer to Iain Duncan Smith, who has just become chairman of his leadership campaign, as “Iain Dunkin’ Donuts”, Johnson replied:

“Did I? I think I can say that to his face and I think he would be all right. Iain is a friend. The thing I admire about Iain is he has done a fantastic amount to take the Tories on to the agenda of social justice.”

Johnson denied his campaign team is a Boys’ Club, dominated by men, and pointed to the number of women who worked for him at City Hall.

He added that “one of the things I learned from City Hall is the vital necessity of arriving with a well thought through plan, having things ready to go”.

And he said that as PM he would be “the hireling of the people” and would have no time to complete his book on Shakespeare.

ConHome: “Brexit and all that, do or die. It must be the case, must it not, that every member of your Cabinet, when you appoint them, must be committed to leaving on 31st October, deal or no deal.”

Johnson: “Yes, that will be the policy of the Government.”

ConHome: “This means an awful lot of people will be automatically excluded – Greg Clark or David Gauke or Amber Rudd – all these people who abstained rather than have no deal, they can’t sit in your Cabinet if you’re committed to leaving on 31st October.”

Johnson: “Well, I don’t believe we will get a no deal outcome. I think that people who are determined like me to leave on terms other than no deal, which I am…”

ConHome: “But they’ve got to be committed to do it if you can’t…”

Johnson: “I want obviously to have a broad range of talent in my Government, the Government that I will lead, but clearly people must be reconciled to the very, very, very small possibility, and I stress it will be a very, very small possibility, that we would have to leave on those terms.

“I don’t think it will happen but they would have to be reconciled to it.”

ConHome: “One of the reasons why we are where we are now is that you can’t have an extension if the Prime Minister doesn’t sign up to it.

“So Theresa May has twice requested an extension because she thought correctly that the Commons would vote for one.

“What are you going to do if the Commons votes for another extension?”

Johnson: “Well, um, obviously I just think we’re in a different political world to 29th March and I think the Prime Minister’s decision to seek two extensions has done a great deal of damage to the Conservative Party and also to trust in politics.

“I think that people expected us to leave. The fact that we missed two deadlines has led to the growth, the puffball-like growth both of the Brexit Party, but also of the Liberal Democrats.

“And they are feeding saprophytically, like puffballs, on the decay in trust in politics. That’s where they’re getting their strength from.

“And they will continue to thrive until we get it done. And if we fail again, if we kick the can down the road on 31st October, if we continue to delay, if we treat this as a fake deadline, just yet another rigmarole, then I think the voters will be very frustrated indeed.

“And I think that our party, the Conservative Party, which I fought for for a very long time across this country, I think that we will not easily recover.

“So getting back to your point about Cabinet colleagues and the spirit of the party, where we all are, actually I think people understand that.

“And I think they also understand, intellectually, that you have to keep no deal on the table. Not only keep no deal on the table but you have to prepare for it actively and with confidence.

“And it’s very striking in the last couple of week, perhaps even the last couple of days, to hear some outbreaks of common sense.”

ConHome: “I think what you’re saying is if they vote for extension you will not go and seek an extension, because we must leave on 31st October.”

Johnson: “I’m not quite saying that. What I’m saying is that the parliamentary mood has changed and continues to change, and I think that actually, listening carefully to colleagues, and I will, and I’ll try to understand exactly where everybody is, and you know I will make myself totally available and try to work very, very hard to get this thing through – that’s been why I’ve been so pleased to get the numbers I did [in the parliamentary phase of the leadership election] – I think people can see the existential threat that we face.

“Here’s the choice that colleagues face. It’s a sensible Brexit deal that protracts the existing arrangements, that allows us to get on and deliver on the mandate of the people, that allows us to build a new partnership with our friends across the Channel, that allows us as Tories once again to build strong bilateral relationships with France, with Germany, to be pro-European, that allows us to get on and defeat Jeremy Corbyn when the election comes, that allows us to put out a fantastic agenda of modern conservatism.

“On the other hand, there’s voting it down, and then enraging the electorate.”

ConHome: “You’re basically saying the context has changed.”

Johnson: “Yes.”

ConHome: “And MPs won’t ask for an extension. I’m asking what you’ll do if they do.”

Johnson: “That is exactly what I’m saying. I think it has changed and continues to change. Several important things have changed in addition to the context.”

ConHome: “But if the Commons do ask for an extension, you are committed to leaving on 31st October. That’s an absolute.”

Johnson: “Well I am certainly committed to leaving on the 31st. I absolutely am. But I think it very, very unlikely that Parliament will want to kick the can down the road again.

“And my objective in this contest is to make it absolutely clear that kicking the can means kicking the bucket.

“When I hear from other candidates, actually there is only one other candidate left, when I hear from the other side that somehow 31st October has become again, you know, it’s turning into a mirage, we’re going to arrive at the oasis and find it’s not there, and that suddenly it’s been put off till the Greek Kalends, to next year.

“I really think there is no objective reason at all why we should not leave on 31st October.”

ConHome: “But are you ready if the Commons doesn’t do that, and does vote for an extension, and you don’t leave on 31st October, are you ready to face a general election?”

Johnson: “Well, it will be certainly not my intention or desire to have a general election, and in fact I want the exact opposite. Nor do I think is it the desire of MPs on either side of the House to have a general election.

“The public has been consulted in 2015, in 2016, in 2017. They don’t want to be pushed out to the polls again. They don’t want to be asked to vote again.

“And they’re quite right. What they want is for us to get it done and what they expect is for us to get it done on 31st October.

“And what they don’t want is more pointless can-kicking. They want a decision, and they want action.

“And that’s the only way, I’m afraid, to spike the guns of both the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats who are prospering mightily as a result of the indecision of the main parties, particularly our party.”

ConHome: “Do you accept that your candidacy is a problem for the Conservatives in Scotland, and therefore for the Union of Scotland and England?”

Johnson: “Well I’m delighted to have strong support from excellent Scottish MPs. I have a very good relationship with Ruth Davidson indeed…”

ConHome: “She was against you some months ago.”

Johnson: “Well, actually we have a very good relationship.”

ConHome: “I think you had Ross Thomson at the start.”

Johnson: “We have several Scottish colleagues now who are openly backing me. I’m very proud of that.

“And I would just make one point about the Union. I think the Union will be greatly strengthened by getting Brexit done in a sensible way.

“And if I were thinking in Scotland about who I want to govern the country, my country, Scotland, and if I were looking at the Government of the United Kingdom, and it totally failed to deliver on this essential request from the British people, and it couldn’t even do that, I would think well why am I being governed from London.

“On the other hand, once we get Brexit done, there’ll be lots of things we can do to cement and strengthen the Union, to champion the Union between England and Scotland, and the Union between Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union with Wales.

“There are all sorts of ways in which we can show the value of the awesome foursome and take it forward.

“And interestingly, there are things we will have to do legally to underpin the internal market of the UK as we come out of the EU.

“And final point, do you really think that the Scots Nats, once we leave, are going to have a song to sing about leaving the UK and joining the EU?

“And joining the euro, joining the Schengen area, submitting Scotland to EU rules, losing control of fish in Scotland to the EU? Really? Absolutely not.

“This thing, far from damaging the Union, Brexit is going to make life very, very difficult for the SNP indeed. I think it will take away a lot of their arguments, and it will greatly cement and strengthen the Union.”

ConHome: “The Boris Johnson tax cuts programme. Just to clear up the business about the 40 per cent threshold. Is that the first thing you want to do, or are there other things you want to do with it?”

Johnson: “There will be a package of fiscal measures, most of which will be directed at helping people on low incomes, including lifting thresholds for National Insurance and so on.”

ConHome: “Are you waving farewell to what’s known as ‘austerity’? You’ve got this spending programme, education, infrastructure, broadband, and you’ve got this tax cuts programme.

“What’s going to happen to spending control?”

Johnson: “Don’t forget the Chancellor’s revenues exceeded his expenditure in February alone by 14.5 billion. There is money there. Of course we’ll spend it sensibly.

“I never like the word ‘austerity’, but I think both George and Phil Hammond have done great work in exercising restraint, in reducing both the deficit and debt, very, very important.

“But I think most people you talk to today think there is room for some spending, particularly on education, where I want to level up.”

ConHome: “Will you be able to carry on writing books? Harold Macmillan claimed to read novels in the garden at Number Ten.”

Johnson: “He took a Trollope to bed, didn’t he?”

ConHome: “When are you going to bring this playwright, Shakespeare, before a wider public?”

Johnson: “This unjustly neglected author.”

ConHome: “What proportion of that book have you actually written?”

Johnson: “The truth is I’ve written a terrifyingly large quantity of stuff, but it’s one of those projects that continues to grow in ambition as it goes on.

“But I want to stress that if I succeed in this job I will be the hireling of the people, and I will be working flat-out on their behalf.”

ConHome: “Why has Iain Duncan Smith been brought in as campaign chairman now?”

Johnson: “Iain is a long-standing friend and supporter. I’m a fan of Iain.”

Paul Goodman for ConHome: “This is the man who you and I used to refer to in our light-hearted way when we were Members of Parliament together as Iain Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Johnson: “Did we? [laughter]

“I don’t think that showed particular disrespect for the great man. I think I can say that to his face and I think he would be all right.

“Iain is a friend. The thing I admire about Iain is he has done a fantastic amount to take the Tories on to the agenda of social justice, and campaigning for the interests of the poor and the needy in society.

“He gets all that. His heart is very much in the right place. He has a great understanding of the Conservative Party grassroots, and he enacted some pretty difficult reforms of welfare when he was in charge of that area, and he also is a guy who understands the intricacies of the EU issue.

“So he’s well-placed to chair the second phase of the campaign as we go out now to the members.”

ConHome: “Have you deliberately gone up a gear? There was all the stuff over the weekend and before that, Boris Johnson won’t do any debates.

“You’re doing the hustings, you’re doing this interview, you did Laura Kuenssberg.”

Johnson: “I love campaigning.”

ConHome: “You won’t do the Sky debate.”

Johnson: “I had to do the Conservative Friends of Israel dinner apart from anything else, which was a long-standing engagement, which I wasn’t going to blow out.”

ConHome: “The cry is that Boris will go out and debate, but he’s not going to go out and debate until after about 8th July, when most of the members have voted.”

Johnson: “We’re doing all sorts of debates and hustings, and I’m very, very keen to use whatever contacts I have with the media, whatever debates I’m doing, to get across what I want to do, which is come out on 31st October, get the thing done, unite the country and beat Corbyn.

“Every opportunity I have to say that is good.”

ConHome: “Given that you’re quite likely to win, how much planning for Downing Street are you doing?”

Johnson: “Obviously it’s very, very important at this stage not to appear in any way to be taking things for granted. But one of the things I learned from City Hall is the vital necessity of arriving with a well thought through plan, having things ready to go.”

ConHome: “Have you canvassed the present Prime Minister for her support?”

Johnson: “I haven’t. I did talk to her today and yesterday about another matter. She didn’t volunteer it.”

ConHome: “You were too shy. You missed a trick.”

Johnson: “There was a slight pause in the conversation where perhaps she could have said.”

ConHome: “Had she wished.”

Johnson: “You never know. You never know. I don’t rule it out.”

ConHome: “Is your campaign team open to the criticism that it’s a Boys’ Club? And that Downing Street also, were you to get there, would be a Boys’ Club?”

Johnson: “Not at all. On the contrary. Look at my administration in City Hall, which you may recall, which was basically a feminocracy of one kind or another. We had about half and half.”

ConHome: “The claim is that at your morning meetings it’s all men.”

Johnson: “There are lots of female MPs supporting my campaign. I don’t go to these morning meetings myself, but we have lots of women working, look at the campaign team, go downstairs and you’ll see Charlotte and Ellie, and virtually everybody is a woman on the campaign team.”

ConHome: “In that BBC debate, when Sajid Javid called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, everyone said yes. Did you agree?”

Johnson: “Well I took it up with Saj afterwards, and he said that actually, if I understand it correctly, what we’ve committed to is a general investigation into all types of prejudice and discrimination including anti-semitism.”

ConHome: “An independent one?”

Johnson: “Yup. Thanks so much, Ellie. Thank you very much. [She has brought him a mug of tea.] So yes, we’ll have to study exactly what Saj has in mind, but it sounded like a sensible idea when he mentioned it.”

ConHome: “In 1998, you wrote a tremendously trenchant piece defending Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky business, making the argument that all politicians are entitled to a private life and it’s none of the voters’ business. Is this still your line?”

Johnson: “Yes, yes. The reason I give for it happens to be true, which is that it is quite difficult to say things without dragging people in who are not political figures.

“All it does is divert people’s attention. It frustrates voters actually. They genuinely want to hear how I’m going to take the UK out of the EU.”

ConHome: “Have you found it hurtful to lose some of the popularity you had before the EU referendum? People who used to smile indulgently at the thought of you, some of them started to hate you.”

Johnson: “Well the great lesson of politics is that when you’re unpopular, it’s not something you should take personally, because what they’re taking against is what they think you stand for.

“The flip side of it of course is that when you’re loved, and when you’re popular, that is equally transitory and I’m afraid probably equally superficial.

“These are slight illusions, popularity and unpopularity.”

ConHome: “What’s your reaction to being called a coward by Jeremy Hunt?”

Johnson: “The eleventh commandment of Ronald Reagan, thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow conservative.”

ConHome: “And that’s the end of that? You don’t feel compelled to challenge him to a nude mud-wrestling contest? To have it out mano a mano?”

Johnson: “I would defeat anybody in such a contest, were I obliged to do so, but that’s not how I propose to win this. This is about coming out of the EU on 31st October. It’s about uniting our country. It’s about re-energising Conservatives with an exciting vision for our party and our country.”

ConHome: “Would you serve under Jeremy Hunt if he won?”

Johnson: “It’s always a great honour to serve in a government of any kind. I only resigned on principle over Chequers with a huge sense of regret.”

ConHome: “And you’d offer him a job?”

Johnson: “One thing I’m not doing is promising jobs to anybody at the moment, and I think that would be wrong. But I would stress that Jeremy is one of many, many talented colleagues that we have at the moment.

“I don’t think the Conservative Party in my memory has had quite so many brilliant people in Parliament. There really are a lot now.”

ConHome: “As you set out to reunite the country, what are you going to do on this question of Heathrow? Can we take it you won’t be lying down under the bulldozers?”

Johnson: “Well I think the bulldozers are a long way off. I will follow with great interest the current court cases, because it is still the case that the promoters of the third runway have a long way to go before they can satisfy the legal requirements they must meet both on noise pollution and air quality. And there are many people in west London who would say the same.”

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Henry Hill: This week’s polling highlights devolution’s threat to the Union

Polling raises questions about grassroots support for the Union

By far the biggest Union-related story this week, at least as far as the Conservatives are concerned, is some new polling from YouGov.

It suggests that a majority of Tory members would consider the break-up of the United Kingdom a price worth paying for delivering Brexit.

According to the figures published by the Times Scotland, members they surveyed would choose Brexit over retaining either Scotland or Northern Ireland by margins close to two-to-one.

Now, there are questions we can ask about this finding. Matt Singh, the polling expert behind Number Cruncher Politics, suggests that a highly-engaged audience such as party activists may be more likely to consciously exaggerate their position to ‘send a message’.

But the headline figures are nonetheless troubling, and their significance is not diminished by opportunistic pearl-clutching from Remainer ‘unionists’ who are happy to pray in aid of the integrity of the UK… except when it contradicts their narrative.

Personally, the two people I think have got closest to the underlying drivers are Kevin Hague and Stephen Bush. Hague, probably rightly, chalked the findings up as a “big win for the SNP’s strategy of making Scotland’s voice in the UK sound like that of false-grievance mongering dicks”.

Bush, meanwhile, spotted this:

I think this tangibility point is true in two senses. The first is that, yes, Conservative activists have good reason to doubt at this point that Brexit will dissolve the country. The ‘myth of the fragile Union’, wherein the break-up of Britain is threatened by politicians and commentators in pursuit of other things (usually “more powers”) remains busted. The ‘knife at the throat’ looks blunt and rubbery – not that this will stop the likes of Carwyn Jones pushing this line for all they’re worth.

But it is also the case that, after two decades of continual devolution, the Union simply feels less tangible in our day-to-day lives. A vast and still-growing sphere of national life is now siloed away, and the devocrats continue to strive to replace what British-level contact remains with wrangling between devolved administrations or parliamentary ‘blocs’.

This has always been one of the biggest problems with the whole ‘devo-max’ idea. If you tell one part of the country that maximal devolution plus full fiscal transfers represents “the best of both worlds”, your implicit argument is that the only good thing about the Union is the cash.

Such an approach has an obvious problem, in that it requires those parts of the Union from which said fiscal transfers currently flow either not to think about it or, if they do, to adopt a much more existential (and therefore, highly asymmetrical) attitude towards the UK. Quite why the transparently mercenary attitude of the devo-maxers should engender such depth of feeling is, shall we say, non-obvious.

These figures show that Scottish Conservative MPs are right to insist that the next Prime Minister must make a priority of saving the Union. But they also hint at the uncomfortable truth that doing so will involve slaughtering devolution’s sacred cows – a herd those same MPs have been only too keen to defend in the recent past.

Are they ready to do that? Perhaps Adams Tomkins is. The fact that Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservative MPs have not (as some hoped) walked out of the Party over the prospect of a Johnson also suggests that old-fashioned devocrat politics is losing ground to the harder, but infinitely more valuable, challenge of making a genuinely British politics work. We live in hope.

News in Brief:

  • Brecon and Radnorshire recall petition closes today – The Guardian
  • Davidson warns against pact with the Brexit Party… – Daily Telegraph
  • …as no Scottish MPs backed Javid despite her endorsement – New Statesman
  • Bradley can’t get Stormont parties to turn up for free booze – BBC
  • BBC’s new Scottish channel a dismal failure as some shows pull zero viewers – The Scotsman

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Andrew Gimson’s leadership sketch: Javid takes on the old school tie

“Brexit & Beyond” – the slogan adorning Sajid Javid’s lectern – sounds like the title of the chapter towards the end of a guidebook where you are told about the bits of the country you do not really need to see if you are in a rush.

My popular culture correspondent assures me, however, it actually recalls Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase in Toy Story, “To infinity and beyond!”

Javid held the last launch, on the day the biggest beast had already launched. The tenth candidate was delayed for several hours by the shenanigans in the Commons, so his friendly campaign staff urged us to have a drink.

Ruth Davidson, who was to introduce him, bounced about telling jokes. The view from the Skyloft, on the 28th floor of the Millbank Tower, was as wonderful as ever, and thanks to the absence of disco music, the atmosphere was less louche than when Michael Gove held his launch there, a long time ago as it now seems, though it was only on Monday.

And here were Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConHome, and David Burrowes, who has his interview with ConHome as the pinned tweet at the top of his Twitter feed, a practice which ought to be more widely observed.

They and Robert Halfon, who now chairs Javid’s campaign team, have been friends since the four of them met at Exeter University, where they renamed part of the Student Union building “Norman Tebbit Corridor”. One looks in vain for that enlightened and progressive measure in Javid’s leadership programme.

Davidson introduced him with a short and charming speech: “Now this is a phrase I’ve not used very often, but he’s the man for me.”

Javid came on with a broad smile. He described how, when he looked for a job in banking, the “old school bankers with their old school ties” had no time for him.

He was altogether very down on old school ties. This seemed a bit ungrateful to David Cameron. But Javid is pitching as the outsider, the non-traditional Tory, Westminster’s version of Davidson.

Yet Javid and Davidson are in many ways highly traditional figures; an affirmation of the Conservative tradition; living proof of the adaptability of that form of politics. He is, after all, Home Secretary, and before that he reached, despite the dreaded old school ties, the top of a bank.

Javid’s script was uninspiring. He allowed himself to say “our best days do lie ahead of us”. He is like a batsman who shows flashes of brilliance, makes shots over which other players would labour look absurdly easy, but has somehow not yet amassed a winning score in an important match.

Nick Watt, of Newsnight, asked if Javid was worried about the introduction by Johnson of “Trumpian tactics” in the UK.

Javid rather admirably replied: “I think that was a warm-up act for me.” But he had already said he was concerned about divisive politics.

“I would like to be able to write a story about this leadership election which is not about Boris Johnson,” one of the reporters covering this launch said as we marched back along Millbank to the Palace of Westminster.

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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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Mordaunt leads the pack in our latest Cabinet League Table

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-May-19-1024x965 Mordaunt leads the pack in our latest Cabinet League Table ToryDiary Theresa May MP The Cabinet Steve Barclay MP Sajid Javid MP Ruth Davidson MSP Rory Stewart MP Philip Hammond MP Penny Mordaunt MP Paul Davies AM Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Mel Stride MP Matthew Hancock MP Liz Truss MP Liam Fox MP Karen Bradley MP Julian Smith MP Jeremy Wright MP Jeremy Hunt MP James Brokenshire MP Highlights Greg Clark MP Geoffrey Cox MP David Mundell MP David Lidington MP David Gauke MP Damian Hinds MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Chris Skidmore MP Chris Grayling MP Caroline Nokes MP Brandon Lewis MP Amber Rudd MP Alun Cairns MP

*Note: Theresa May scored -68.7, and Chris Grayling -72.4.

This month’s Cabinet League Table is very much a snapshot of the end of a regime. With the race to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party about to begin, there is very likely to be a substantial reshuffle in the near future.

A glance at the above chart suggests why one is needed: only eleven Cabinet ministers record positive scores from our panel, and even the top-rated minister has barely hit +50. Here are some takeaways:

  • Mordaunt tops the poll. Our last two surveys both had her in fourth, so the Defence Secretary’s leap to the top of the podium will do nothing, so soon after she wrote for us about the leadership, to cool speculation that she might be about to enter the competition herself.
  • Truss holds on to second place. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has endorsed Boris Johnson, so no leadership speculation here, but her energetic championing of small-state, pro-freedom Conservatism is clearly striking a chord with the grassroots.
  • Davidson is back. Ruth Davidson’s return to the front has been noted, and rewarded with a 16-point increase in her positive rating. Were she in the Cabinet, she would have taken the silver medal position from Truss.
  • In fact, all three podium slots are held by women. Mordaunt, Truss, and Davidson are the three most popular Conservative politicians with our panellists. At present not one is running for the leadership, but it nonetheless challenges lazy stereotypes about the Tory grassroots and should give those MPs in the leadership race food for thought.
  • Although May’s score remains Stygian. Although she is at least scoring better than Chris Grayling this month, this score is a sour note on which to depart Downing Street and will cast a shadow over those candidates trying to carry forward aspects of her legacy.
  • Gove, Hunt, and Javid have respectable scores… Of the leadership candidates running from the Cabinet, these three are clustered together near the top of the table. Ratings in the low-to-mid 20s would not ordinarily look like endorsements, but alas these are not ordinary times.
  • …whilst Hancock and Stewart struggle. The Health Secretary is at least in the black, with a score of 5.6. The International Development Secretary however is on -18, scarcely an auspicious jumping-off point for any leadership bid.

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