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Monday 17 June 2019

Last night, Conservative leadership contenders participated in their first televised debate on Channel 4. With Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom culled at the first round on Thursday and Boris Johnson not attending, Dominic Raab was the only hopeful not ruling out No Deal to take part. Inevitably, the session was heavily skewed towards Remain. Complaints from Leave voters duly flooded in and analysis of the debate discovered the former Brexit secretary was given the least amount of time. Typical.

As the only participant prepared to prorogue parliament to ensure Brexit by default, Raab nicely wound up a studio audience that was supposed to be split evenly, but was clearly emphatically against leaving the European Union.

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Boris Johnson is the winner, announced the Today Programme this morning, not because he showed up the outrageously biased Channel 4 by not turning up, but because the totally ineffectual Matt Hancock is now backing the favourite for the Tory crown. Could it be that the anonymous health secretary, having failed to raise his profile – he pathetically announced he might be dropping out before doing so in a desperate attempt to grab more column inches on Friday – is now sycophantically trying to keep his job under a Johnson government.

It’s also hard to escape the feeling Rory Stewart is trying something similar, having just received a promotion to cabinet after years in the backbench wilderness. Yesterday, the avowed no dealer appeared on Nigel Farage’s LBC show inexplicably asking for support and an intent to work with anyone, dovetailing with Boris’s pledge to unite the party.

“We need to find a way, as a party, of reaching out to you and bring you in to try to work out how we crack this, how do we get this (Brexit) through parliament,” Stewart’s plea to the Brexit legend.

Stewart is now second favourite, despite only garnering 20 votes at the first round compared to Johnson’s 109 and fellow Remainer Jeremy Hunt’s 43. His bizarre entreaty to Farage – for which he’s received plaudits for his “courage” – may enable him to keep his job. It also points to a much bigger play in the offing.

The Telegraph reports that the Tories’ biggest donor group, the anti-EU Midlands Industrial Council said it would look to withhold funding if the party did not extend an olive branch to the Brexit Party, which topped yet another poll yesterday (see below).

The next Prime Minister “needs to be willing to work with Farage,” said the head of the group, Johnny Leavesley. The proposal is for Nigel Farage’s party to not run candidates in seats held by Tories favouring leave, meanwhile, the Tories would help the Brexit Party make inroads in the North using the same tactic.

True to form, Farage isn’t committing and has made known his eagerness to run candidates in every single Westminster seat (see tweet below).

As always, Farage is right. Unless Boris selects an all Brexit cabinet, it will be demonstrably clear he has no intention of following a line on EU withdrawal remotely similar to the Brexit Party’s, which as a consequence, will have a duty to campaign the length and breadth of the land at the next general election.