LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Monday 10 June 2019

Today is the deadline for Tory leadership hopefuls to submit their candidacies. Don’t expect any last-minute entries into the race though.

Yesterday, both Steve Baker and Priti Patel came out in favour of Boris Johnson. Baker was the only real Brexiteer – by virtue of voting against Theresa May’s deal on all three occasions – tipped to throw his hat in the race and shake things up. No chance of that now, although he pretty much confirmed he wouldn’t be running last Wednesday on ITV’s Peston.

Both Baker and Patel – who has a similarly exemplary record in voting against May’s deal – have been putting admirable pressure on leadership contenders to do right by the people by showing a clear determination to leave the European Union by October 31st.

Boris responded, telling colleagues he would deliver a “clean, managed Brexit”, the words lifted directly from the title of Baker’s blueprint for a sovereign withdrawal from the failing bloc (see below).

Boris’s words are reassuring. He has described Theresa May’s deal as “dead” and vowed to take Britain out of the EU by the end of October. Britain will not release any of the £39bn to the EU in the event of No Deal either.

It is important to note however that with the key exception of May’s deal dying, Boris’s position doesn’t stray far from current government policy. And while the EU will not open the withdrawal agreement, there is always the prospect of binding arrangements being made on the side to make it more palatable, but still far too bitter to swallow – a time limit on the Irish backstop for instance.

Perversely, the former foreign secretary’s pledge to take Britain out of the EU by the time the extended Article 50 expires is cause for concern. It implies he is more interested in getting withdrawal done with in any shape so that he can then focus on repairing the Tories’ shattered image and clawing back votes from the Brexit Party. Those alarm bells wouldn’t be ringing if Boris was going hell for leather over No Deal Brexit, but he isn’t.

It would be naive to think Tory MPs want anything other than withdrawal over with, extinguishing the lethal threat posed by Nigel Farage’s new outfit. The Brexit Party is exerting tremendous pressure.

Patel and Baker are doing great work in trying to keep the Tory hierarchy honest, but the only currency the likes of Johnson care about is votes, sharing space on the trading floor, scooping up valuable commodities are the Brexit Party.

This concern is playing out only in the background of the Tory leadership campaign. Boris is seen as a vote winner, and also a pliable, liberal Tory – not a real Conservative – which explains why the likes of Remain mad Damian Collins are behind him.

“The only thing that can get us back from the dead is getting us out,” says one Conservative MP looking to give Boris his support. That says everything, the priority is party, not country. Boris has 59 backers, almost double second placed Michael Gove’s 34.

The environment secretary’s campaign isn’t exactly going swimmingly – check out today’s front pages, the cocaine story broke two days ago and it’s still the top story.

In other news, following rumours of maybe endorsing Boris, Amber Rudd is siding with Jeremy Hunt, but honestly, who cares.