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Friday 17 May 2019

Theresa May’s use of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill as a fourth and final attempt to get her deal approved is a gift to Boris Johnson, who yesterday announced his run for Number 10 once the prime minister steps down.

As reported in yesterday’s BB, Tory Brexiteers like Boris who cleaved to May’s will at the last vote on the deal are now poised to vote against it, they have a shot at redemption.

Polling by Politico-Hanbury (see image below) has found that Boris isn’t just the frontrunner, but the only potential leader who would gain the Tories seats at the next general election. Significantly, among disaffected voters – i.e. Brexiteers – he is the only leading candidate who would make them “marginally” more likely to vote Conservative again.

This is important stuff. The polling finds, to the surprise of no-one that Boris is the Tories’ only chance at stemming the rise of the Brexit Party. Nominal Brexiteers, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab, both of whom voted the same way as Boris in March, were included in the poll. Neither of them are assets. Boris is, but only just. His net positive score is 2%.

How much of an asset? According to his close associates, the former mayor of London is quite keen for May to get a deal so that he doesn’t have to try and renegotiate. He has vowed in the past to surgically remove the backstop. That seems like a false promise.

But the job at hand is to get Mrs May out of Downing Street. The party leader had a showdown with the 1922 Committee yesterday, telling members she will only agree to an exit timetable once the withdrawal legislation has passed through the House of Commons.

“She said it would be a better contest if Brexit was out of the way. It would be a battle of ideas and who would be better placed to beat Jeremy Corbyn,” said an insider.

“The alternative was running the race dominated by the question of another extension of Article 50.”

The emphasis placed by the PM on neutralising another Article 50 extension is interpreted by the Times as a signal of support for any candidate who isn’t Boris Johnson. She really has no idea of what’s possible (e.g. her deal – it isn’t) and what’s good for the party, Boris is the Tories only shot among the declared contenders. But what’s good for the Conservatives isn’t necessarily good for the country. The rise of the Brexit Party is offering a very different, welcome and realistic vision for Britain at the expense of the two-party axis.

Iain Duncan Smith, who is not a member of the 1922’s executive committee has used an op-ed in the Telegraph to slam May for being so evasive about her impending departure.

“The wording [of May’s terms for stepping down, negotiated with the committee] is so vague. What the party and the country is crying out for is clarity. We need to know whether a leadership contest can be concluded before parliament rises for the summer recess in late July. This has to be the deadline for a new leader taking office if anything is to be achieved on Brexit over the summer.”

Spot on, the Tories are so distracted by May’s “prevarication” and manoeuvring between potential successors they seem to have forgotten the mission of the millennium remains uncompleted and requires urgent attention. A good start would be to ramp up No Deal planning, a proposal that received a decent amount of buzz at the beginning of the week that’s now sadly fizzled out.

Downing Street has cynically spun the “showdown” with Sir Graham Brady, chair of the committee as “very teary”, a blatant diversionary tactic. The time for sympathy is over. If May cared about the country she would have left long ago or better still, led the negotiations with pride and optimism in a great nation’s future outside of Europe’s failing bloc.

EU withdrawal “has been treated throughout as a damage limitation exercise. Behind that belief is 40 years of EU membership,” blasts Duncan Smith in his column. “For the EU didn’t just insert itself into all our policymaking areas, it also entered the heart and soul of the political establishment. It has sapped at their self-confidence and left those responsible for this process unable to countenance the UK beyond the EU. Spot on.

Besides, May didn’t turn on the waterworks. She “did not cry, have a tear in her eye or even blow her nose when she met with the ‘22. There was not a tissue in sight,” Someone in attendance told Sky News. It’s not just May who needs to get out of Downing Street, the whole rotten bunch, at the front of the line: her comms team.

Readers of this blog slightly more inclined to May’s perspective will point to ongoing negotiations with Labour – at least she’s doing something you might argue. Hardly, according to the BBC, the talks are over. A new phase of negotiations will soon be launched, based around establishing consensus in the Commons that will uncover a pathway out of the impasse.

This is already Downing Street’s policy, it’s part of the reason May has gone down the WAB route, amendments can help detoxify the deal for the many Remainers in Parliament, less for the Leavers.

The new phase also stinks of conspiracy. If the Commons as a body is supposed to find shared ground it would have already – this trick has been played not once, but twice before. Which means a different outcome would require whipping from the respective leaderships. This would suggest both Labour and the Tories have already traded policy positions during their discussions up until now. In other words, a compromise has been struck, but the dirty washing won’t be hung out in public by Corbyn and May. Instead, Parliament will “inadvertently” spool it out onto the garden fence.

We need Farage now more than ever.