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Thursday 5 June 2019 – D-Day

The Brexit Party are poised to make history. The Peterborough by-election takes place today. Having voted 61% in favour of leave at the 2016 referendum voters in the marginal seat are hungry for a decisive candidate who wants Britain out of the EU by October 31st, that man is local businessman Mike Green. He is set to be the party’s first MP. The way things are going, he won’t be the last. And to think, the party is only 7 weeks old.

Read this account of the election campaign in Peterborough for an insight. The Tories are nowhere to be seen. Labour currently hold the seat and are said to be better mobilised on the ground than the media are reporting. They are nonetheless extremely wary. “We need to get people out, and that can be tough in a by-election,” an activist tells the Guardian. If you live in Peterborough, ensure to get down to the polling station today.

Nigel Farage is looking to independently direct Britain’s fledgeling trade negotiations with the United States. Britain’s negotiators are floundering in Washington. Nigel’s special relationship with Donald Trump could be used to accelerate progress.

“What I was very struck by over the course of this week was the extent to which the US administration has really put some thought and hard work into this,” said the Brexit legend a day after meeting with President Trump.

The Americans “really want to make this work, and I’m struck that the British position is greatly inferior to that.”

The plan is for Nigel to assemble a crack team of British businessmen, industrialists and dealmakers over the next weeks and months. The new trade mission will then head over to the United States to kick off talks.

“I intend to request a visit to go and see [US trade secretary] Bob Lighthizer and to have a conversation,” added Farage.

“And if we have to independently [from Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade], as the Brexit Party, set up a blueprint for what needs to be done, we will.”

The scene over at the Tories is considerably less exciting. Michael Gove has caused a stir with his explicit intention to delay Brexit if a deal isn’t agreed by the end of October.

Following whispers over the weekend, the environment secretary would extend Article 50 until late 2020, he has said a delay would only be a for a matter of weeks, although close ally George Eustice has said it would more likely be months.

No Deal would be “on the table” but is “not the best option”, Gove said yesterday – a statement to consume with an ample pinch of salt.

Sharing the headlines with Gove is Dominic Raab. The former Brexit secretary nicely wound up so-called “one nation” Tories – Remainers – at a closed hustings yesterday by threatening to shut down Parliament via prorogue to stop MPs like Amber Rudd – a prominent member of the One Nation Group who led the campaign within cabinet to take No Deal off the table – from taking over the House of Commons and forcing through another delay, or even revoking Article 50.

Naturally, Rory Stewart blew up over Raab’s statements on ITV’s Peston last night, slamming it as illegal. He’s only angry because it will work. You also get the impression that as a technocratic former civil servant, a profile the Penrith MP makes fatigue-inducing play of, Stewart fears Raab, who was also once a Whitehall official life and is bigger on detail.

Stewart is only backed by five MPs – compare that to Boris (42), Gove (28), Raab (22) – but is getting wide media coverage. All the MPs backing him are fanatical Remainers: Ken Clarke, Nicholas Soames etc.

Also appearing on Peston was Steve Baker, who is emerging as an absolutely pivotal figure in the Tory leadership contest, even though he’s unlikely to run himself. Having laid down his No Deal ultimatum late on Tuesday, Baker yesterday published his Clean Managing Brexit manifesto, sponsored by the ERG, which he is the deputy chair of. The paper states:

The current draft Withdrawal Agreement is completely defunct. It has received three resounding defeats in the House of Commons and attracted little public support, with only 9% of voters endorsing it by voting Conservative in the European Parliament elections on 23 May 2019.

Esther McVey, who is struggling to get traction (5 MPs), reacted by publicising her No Deal credentials on LBC, saying she would not include any Remainers in her cabinet. But Baker appears to be looking at one of the big players, hinting at backing Boris during last night’s ITV broadcast, he also heaped praise on Raab.

However, Boris is unlikely to get Baker’s endorsement – with many other ERG members following suit – unless he drops the liberal baggage and positions WTO Brexit front and centre.

This contest is taking a welcome turn.