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Tuesday 28 May 2019

Sunday night’s immense victory by the Brexit Party at the European elections has been followed by forensic polling by Lord Ashcroft that makes for grim reading for the Conservative Party.

As the tweet above shows, an astonishing 53% of Conservative Party voters at the 2017 general election switched to the pro-No Deal Brexit Party, only 21% stuck with the ruling party after two years of catastrophic EU withdrawal negotiations and humiliating attempts to force a dire deal through the House of Commons. Only a third say they will go back to the Tories at the next election. Don’t be surprised if that number dwindles once the Brexit Party have published their manifesto and benefited from wider brand recognition. Remember, we’re talking about a party that’s only six weeks old.

Should the Tories make the unwise decision of replacing Theresa May with a Remainer (it didn’t work out too well last time – read our Friday newsletter on Mrs May’s resignation), they are likely to endure the same outcome, gifting yet more votes to Nigel Farage’s new and highly professional outfit.

Jeremy Hunt is one such candidate and looked ready to boost his credentials with Tory activists by insisting No Deal is no bad option – how convinced the grassroots would have been is an altogether different question. Following the European elections, in which a respectable, if not impressive, result for the Lib Dems has led the media to peddle the absurd claim that Britain has suddenly becoming a land of Remain (see below from the BBC), Hunt has changed tack, a huge error.

Today’s top story is Hunt’s warning that No Deal Brexit, leading to a general election, would be “political suicide” for the Tories.

“Attacked by the Brexit Party on the Right and the Liberal Democrats on the Left, we will face extinction. Any candidate for prime minister whose strategy leads inexorably to a general election is offering a prospectus for disaster,” Writes the foreign secretary in a Telegraph op-ed.

“Trying to deliver no deal through a general election is not a solution. It is political suicide, that would delight Nigel Farage and probably put Jeremy Corbyn in No 10 by Christmas.”

It is not obvious why there would be a general election and Hunt does little to help readers understand:

“Any prime minister who promised to leave the EU by a specific date – without the time to renegotiate and pass a new deal – would, in effect, be committing to a general election the moment parliament tried to stop it.”

Appearing on Radio 4 this morning, the maligned former health secretary struggled to explain why he would perform any better than May, proposing a new negotiating team with Wales and Scotland represented. The ERG would also be involved, although Hunt played down any role for the DUP. Even if the Celtic representation proposed by Hunt is made up of Tories, note Scotland secretary David Mundell was one of the architects of the Commons toothless block on No Deal, it remains unclear why there would be a breakthrough. If there were to be, no doubt it would be under the premise of an even softer Brexit, but that was tried last week by Mrs May herself and led to her immediate resignation.

In the typical style of Westminster spin, Hunt’s meaningless detail detracts attention away from the disastrous consequence of taking No Deal off the table. His predecessor only did this in a formal sense after agreeing the terms of her deal with Brussels. Doing so before negotiations have even begun will lead to even an worse deal.

Parliament is in recess this week. Filling the vacuum will be more stupid ideas from Hunt’s identikit contenders for the Tory crown.