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Wednesday 5 June 2019

As things currently stand, only one of the Tory leadership contenders voted against Theresa May’s deal at the final attempt on 29 March. However, Sam Gyimah is a Remainer ludicrously campaigning on a second referendum platform. No surprise then that he currently doesn’t have any backers (see below). He will soon drop out of the race.

This is a concern. Andrea Leadsom, Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson have all made No Deal noises of varying degrees of intensity. Esther McVey has come out and said she prefers leaving on WTO terms. None of them inspire confidence. They all voted for May’s deal. If any of them make it to Number 10 they are likely to try and fudge it through before giving an ounce of consideration towards doing right by the 17.4m.

Steve Baker voted against the deal in the House of Commons on all three occasions. He recognises No Deal needs to be on the table and pursued with intent. If Brussels doesn’t offer to renegotiate between now and October 31, we leave on WTO terms. Without applying that leverage, May’s deal will never be disassembled. If the EU doesn’t blink so much the better, WTO delivers on the 2016 referendum. More importantly, the public want it. Two weeks ago, the Brexit Party won a national election solely on that basis.

Speaking to the Sun, Baker acknowledges this second point: “Conservative MPs need to understand that the Conservative Party will be obliterated by the Brexit Party if they don’t satisfy our voters who have defected. This is the time to put a stake in the ground.”

The stake in question is a WTO-based Brexit plan Baker has circulated among MPs. He’s pushing for at least one of the contenders to adopt it. If no-one does, he’ll run himself.

Baker isn’t alone in issuing warnings about the Brexit Party. Boris is hoping to leverage his strong profile among Leave voters to bring onboard moderate Tory MPs who rightly fear the Brexit party. They too recognise the need for a charismatic Leaver leader. Whether Boris would be prepared to go WTO is an entirely different question. He probably wouldn’t.

“We are looking at a very difficult situation and we must get ready, eventually but not immediately, to beat Jeremy Corbyn and put Farage back in his box,” Boris told moderate MPs at hustings in Westminster last night.

“We are facing an existential crisis and will not be forgiven if we do not deliver Brexit by October 31.

“I believe I am best placed to lift this party, beat Jeremy Corbyn and excite people about Conservatism and Conservative values.

Existential is the byword for the Tory’s current crisis. Rishi Sunak (Leave), Robert Jenrick and Oliver Dowden (Remain) use it in a joint op-ed that makes the front page of the Times.

“We need to be honest. We are in deep peril. Not difficulty. Not a bump in the road. The Conservative Party is facing an existential threat,” the trio’s opening line to their piece, naming Nigel and Jeremy Corbyn in the next paragraph as the threats in question. The Brexit Party leader being the more significant figure.

“We need to ask ourselves who can not only confront but defeat these twin threats. And if that’s the question, we believe there really is only one logical answer: Boris Johnson,” they add.

The three juniour ministers are not household names, but their backing of Boris looks significant. Sunack and Jenrick both supported Michael Gove in 2016.

“Boris commands the instant credibility needed to achieve support for a renegotiated deal amongst a suspicious public, let down by delays and defeats. We do not want no deal, but he is right to fully prepare for it and keep it on the table.”

Remainers Jenrick and Dowden will, like their many fellow Tory MPs who voted Remain, recognise a Brexiteer has to be on the final ticket to go out to party members throughout the UK. For them, it has to be either Boris or Gove. The likes of Leadsom and Raab are too hardcore – which says everything about the division between the Conservative Party in Westminster and elsewhere. Leadsom and Raab aren’t hardcore enough, which is why Baker’s intervention will be very popular and could prove significant.

The division between the capital and the counties is why the Brexit Party under Farage has become such a lethal existential threat. Unless a real a Brexiteer takes the helm, it won’t abate.

The Tory moderates may understand, but not nearly enough.