The BREXIT Bulletin: Johnson on top as no-deal creeps nearer
Boris Johnson cemented his position as frontrunner of the Conservative leadership race yesterday (13 June), winning an impressive 114 votes out of the possible 313 in the first ballot.
To put this into perspective, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt came second with 43 votes, Environment Secretary Michael Gove came third with 37, fourth was former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab with 27, Home Secretary Sajid Javid won 23, Health Secretary Matt Hancock won 20 and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart won 19.
Failing to achieve the required 17 supporting votes, Andrea Leadsom (11 votes), Mark Harper (10 votes) and Esther McVey (9 votes) are no longer in the running.
Seven candidates then became six as self-described ‘candidate focused on the future’, Matt Hancock, withdrew from the race today (14 June), saying that ‘the party clearly is looking for a candidate to deal with the here and now’.
Unsurprisingly, the candidates’ plans for Brexit have dominated the competition.
Rory Stewart has been the only candidate to rule out no-deal under his leadership, calling it ‘catastrophic’ and insisting that there is no evidence that EU leaders would reopen negotiations. To varying degrees of commitment, the remaining candidates are hoping to re-open negotiations with Brussels and fight for improvements to Mrs May’s deal. Proposals include a ‘new digitised [Northern Irish] border’ (Javid), a Canada-style free trade agreement (Gove), sending a new negotiating team to Brussels, including representatives from the DUP and ERG (Hunt) and the complete ‘removal’ or ‘overhaul’ of the backstop (Johnson and Raab respectively).
Apart from Gove, who has said he would consider a short extension of a couple weeks to a month, the remaining four hopefuls have promised to leave on 31 October, accepting a no-deal outcome if concessions have not been made.
No deal still possible
The chances of a no-deal outcome further increased on Wednesday (12 June) as MPs rejected a Labour-led attempt to take control of the parliamentary timetable. Opposed by 309 votes to 298, the motion would have given MPs the chance to pass legislation to stop an incoming Prime Minister taking the UK out of the EU without parliamentary approval. Although the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, has indicated that he will do everything possible to ensure Parliament is given the chance to rule out no deal, the opportunities to do so are rapidly disappearing.
The coming week of the Conservative leadership race will see two televised debates and up to three further rounds of voting. Johnson’s uncharacteristic silence during his campaign so far (he has answered only six questions from journalists to date) has not gone unnoticed and, despite being the obvious frontrunner, it will be fascinating to see whether he can maintain his momentum.
Whether it is Johnson or anyone other than Rory Stewart who eventually becomes the next Conservative leader, given that the legal default remains no-deal on the 31 October, it now seems perfectly possible for the next Prime Minister to usher in no-deal by simply not acting.
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The view from Brussels