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Thursday 25 July 2019

“After three years of unfounded self-doubt it is time to change the record,” said Britain’s new prime minister on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street yesterday.

“To recover our natural and historic role as an enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain, generous in temper and engaged with the world.

“No one in the last few centuries has succeeded in betting against the pluck and nerve and ambition of this country.

“They will not succeed today.”

No, they shall not. Boris Johnson set the cosy Westminster consensus ablaze yesterday, firing 17 cabinet ministers – admittedly, some made the jump first – replacing them with the Vote Leave old guard of referendum days, both front and back of house.

Michael Gove is the new Duchy of Lancaster, tasked with No Deal planning, a responsibility the policy boffin should excel at. We’re under no illusions though, Gove would happily accept a very bad deal over a No Deal.

Give’s protégé, Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s chief strategist, is Johnson’s facto chief of staff. It has been reported that special advisers to all cabinet ministers will report into him. Given how much Johnson likes to delegate responsibility, Cummings is poised to yield unprecedented power.

Other exciting appointments are Priti Patel as the new home secretary and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new leader of the House of Commons.

“The hard right has taken over the Conservative Party. Thatcherites, libertarians and No Deal Brexiters control it top to bottom. Liberal One Nation Conservatives have been ruthlessly culled,” tweeted a hysterical Nick Boles last night.

Ironic that Boles would include Thatcherites in his list of bogeymen. He is the MP for Grantham, Mrs Thatcher’s birthplace.

Ironic and downright incorrect we should add. The Vote Leave lot are not hard right. For a start, they’re pro-immigration, Boris more than anyone. And since when was being a Thatcherite ever a dirty word for the Conservative Party, this is how rotten the Party has become in Westminster – not so in the counties, Boles was deselected by Granthamites earlier this year.

Nevertheless, Boles’ tweets are receiving a huge response. Fake Conservative MPs such as he are doing the media rounds lamenting Johnson’s supposed indifference to “uniting” the party, a typical refrain of new party leaders. Johnson honoured t tradition at the earliest possible opportunity. He is uniting the party like no other, the grassroots want Brexit, he is seeking to deliver it. Fake news.

Boris deserves credit for yesterday’s “summer massacre”, to quote Nigel Evans, but the cabinet is hardly chock full of Brexiteers – nowhere near in fact. Amber Rudd is still there, and Nicky Morgan, who was initially one of the most outpsoken critics of Brexit, has been promoted to culture secretary from the back-benches.

In all, there are just eight Leavers in the cabinet, thirteen Remainers (see full list below). It’s plausible that one or two Remain voters like Gavin Williamson – back after being thrown under the bus over the Huawei leak – have become true converts, but thirteen is is implasible. The media also claim Boris has surrounded himself with yes men. Anyone who knows anything about Dominic Cummings knows that he is no yes man. Absurd.

First cabinet meeting

  • Sajid Javid – chancellor of the exchequer (Remainer)
  • Dominic Raab – foreign secretary and de-facto deputy PM (Leaver)
  • Priti Patel – home secretary (Leaver)
  • Michael Gove – chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster (Leaver)
  • Ben Wallace – defence secretary (Remainer)
  • Steve Barclay – Brexit secretary (Leaver)
  • Andrea Leadsom – business, energy and industrial strategy secretary (Leaver)
  • Matt Hancock – health secretary (Remainer)
  • Gavin Williamson – education secretary (Remainer)
  • Amber Rudd – work and pensions secretary (Remainer)
  • Robert Jenrick – housing, communities and local government secretary (Remainer)
  • Liz Truss – international trade secretary (Remainer)
  • Grant Shapps – transport secretary (Remainer)
  • Theresa Villiers – environment secretary (Leaver)
  • Robert Buckland – lord chancellor and justice secretary (Remainer)
  • Nicky Morgan – digital, culture, media and sport secretary (Remainer)
  • Alok Sharma – international development secretary (Remainer)
  • Julian Smith – Northern Ireland Secretary (Remainer)
  • Alister Jack – Scottish secretary (Leaver)
  • Alun Cairns – Welsh secretary (Remainer)

Besides, if the Conservatives under Boris really have lurched to a genuinely pro-Brexit agenda, they would already be making massive inroads into the Brexit Party, but they’re not. The latest poll from the last two days keeps the Tories exactly where they were on 25%, the Brexit Party have only dipped two points, 17%.

Boris may not have drained the swamp, but he’s given it a decent skim. The good deal or it’s no deal rhetoric with Brussels has been reassuringly ramped up too. France’s former Europe minister, Nathalie Loiseau appeared on the Today programme for the second time in the space of a week to re-affirm the EU’s position. The Withdrawal Agreement is non-negotiable.

Presenter Martha Kearney uncharacteristically taunted the MEP. You realise if a new deal isn’t offered, Boris Johnson will go for No Deal. Ms Loiseau’s voice cracked as she tried to respond.

Loiseau only represents one part of France, yet appears to be making these media appearances on behalf of both the EU and the whole of her country, a joint-spokesperson for both President Macron and Frenchman Michel Barnier.

This points to the heart of the matter. The EU27 minus France are wobbling. Even Guy Verhofstadt is panicking (see above) offering a re-write of the non-binding political declaration, which he knows will not cut it, laughable that he even suggested it. In true self-destructive fashion, the French are going for the kill, even if it hurts them the most.

Nigel Dodds of the DUP praised Boris’s rational position on No Deal, but also said a better deal was possible. Brussels may switch off over the summer, but EU leaders do not, and they have the power.

France is nearing isolation. Emmanual Macron expended tremendous political capital to get his nominations for the EU top jobs approved by the other member states. His bargaining power is depleted, rival ports in the Netherlands are better prepared for No Deal and the other half of the EU axis, Germany is anxious. The bluff and bluster will slip, Boris can capitalise.

“We in this government will work flat out to give this country the leadership it deserves,” signed off Boris in his speech yesterday. This nation has been bereft of leadership for too long. Boris has already delivered his summer massacre, now to take the fight to Brussels. Mrs Thatcher would be proud.

Brexit Brunch signs off for the summer this Friday, returning when Parliament resumes in early September.