Daniel Hannan: Cameron maligns Brexiteers because he misunderstands them

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

Everyone agrees that David Cameron made a terrible blunder when he called the referendum. Everyone, that is, except the country at large.

Journalists and politicians, civil servants and diplomats, subscribers to the Economist and the Financial Times, half-clever readers who get their opinions downstream from the Davos schmoozefest – all these people tell each other that the Brexit referendum was the worst mistake any British leader has made since the loss of the Americas. All forget how widespread the desire for a referendum was in 2015.

The Liberal Democrats, who now say that Cameron’s decision was “unforgiveable”, were demanding an In/Out referendum long before he was. Jo Swinson, along with the rest, told us as long ago as 2008 that only “a referendum on the major issue of in or out of Europe” would do. By 2013, plenty of Labour and Conservative MPs were taking the same line, largely in response to pressure from their constituents. There is no dishonour here: it is how a democracy is supposed to work.

Oddly, Cameron appears to have adopted the world-view of his critics. He defends his decision to call a referendum, but he does so…well, defensively. The line he takes in his memoirs is, in effect, that the referendum was forced on him by a combination of public demand and EU inflexibility. He had no choice but to go to the country, though he bitterly regrets the result. He reveals that he phoned EU leaders, as well as Barack Obama, to apologise for the way people voted. He still beats himself up about the whole thing.

For what it’s worth, I have always felt the former Prime Minister gets a tough rap. We forget the state the country was in when he took over: Gordon Brown had left us with a higher deficit than Greece’s. Cameron brought us back from the brink calmly and unfussily. Since stepping down, he has behaved with dignity – unlike, it must be said, every other living former Prime Minister. True, the timing of his memoirs is unfortunate, but that is hardly his fault: Brexit was supposed to have been done and dusted by now.

One thing, though, leaps out of Cameron’s book. He never really got Euroscepticism or Eurosceptics. He sees opposition to European amalgamation as an eccentricity verging on a mild mental disorder. The idea that it might matter to people more than, say, party loyalty leaves him genuinely nonplussed: “Michael [Gove] had backed something he did perhaps believe in, but in the process had broken with his friends and supporters,” he writes, in unfeigned bewilderment.

Gove did indeed pay a high price, because he was convinced that Britain would be better off outside the EU. He acted, in other words, from principle. But Cameron can’t understand how anyone could feel that way, and so puts it down to some sort of character flaw.

Similarly, he writes of the present Prime Minister: “Boris had become fixated on whether we could pass legislation that said UK law was ultimately supreme over EU law.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to him that this question – the essence of what it means to be an independent country – might genuinely matter. Johnson, we are invited to assume, cannot truly have cared about what Cameron describes as the “bugbear of the most evangelical Eurosceptics”. The only explanation for his behaviour, the former leader implies, is careerism.

In fact, Johnson – a long-standing critic of Euro-federalism – was tortured by the sovereignty question. I know, because I spent much of 2015 trying to persuade him to come out for Leave. Never once did he give any indication that he was weighing up which side would win. On the contrary, he kept coming back to the issue of legal primacy. If we could settle that then, as far as he was concerned, we could put up with the rest. But if we couldn’t, then staying in the EU would mean, over time, becoming a European province.

I am pretty sure that, if Cameron had been able to address this issue – the issue that had been the sticking point for Tony Benn, Enoch Powell, Hugh Gaitskell and the other Eurosceptic Long Marchers – he would have won the support, not just of Johnson and Gove, but of the majority of the electorate. But he could never see the problem. He couldn’t – and he still can’t – believe that anyone is genuinely bothered by what he sees as an absurd and abstruse abstraction. No wonder he feels hurt.

Sadly, in his annoyance, he reruns the referendum campaign, angrily accusing the other side of dishonesty. And here, I’m afraid, he diminishes himself. After all, we can all remember that, right up until February 2016, he was solemnly declaring that, if he didn’t get the reforms he wanted, he would recommend a Leave vote. Now he says that will always blame himself for the “enormity” of withdrawal. At least he uses that word correctly, to mean dreadfulness rather than enormousness. But how are we to square that maudlin statement with his previous assurances that he would lead us out if he couldn’t tweak our membership terms? One of the two statements must be untrue.

We all have self-serving biases, of course. We all give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. When Cameron looks back at his previous promises, he doubtless sees them, not as lies, but as part of a standard political campaign. Here, for example, is how he explains his decision to resign as Prime Minister: “Why had I promised I would stay on if we lost? If I had admitted that there was any chance of my stepping down if remain lost, I would have jeopardised the referendum entirely.”

To which I say, “fair enough”. There is a difference between putting the best spin on your intentions during a campaign and calculated mendacity. The word “lie” should, in my view, be reserved for bigger offences than Cameron’s. It’s just that, with such a record, he should think twice before using the word “lie” about what was very obviously an honest mistake in one interview by Penny Mordaunt about whether Britain could veto Turkish accession.

More significant is the question of why he didn’t manage to get a better deal from the EU. This is the question that Remainers almost invariably avoid.

Had Cameron come back with any retrieval of power or, indeed, with a sovereignty amendment of the sort that Gove and Johnson had wanted, he would have won the referendum. But the EU was readier to lose its second financial contributor than to allow any diminution of its federal aspirations.

That inflexibility was the proximate cause of Brexit. It helps explain why, after the vote, it proved so hard for the two sides to agree on a common-market-not-common-government type of association. It remains the biggest barrier to a deal. Yet, bizarrely, it is hardly ever discussed. Even now, many Remainers would rather rail against the other side than face up to the reality of what the EU is turning into. The electorate as a whole, though, knows better.

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Electoral Commission: Remainers Broke Electoral Law

The Electoral Commission has found that two Remain campaigns that were set up less than a month before the referendum campaign worked together, breaking electoral law.

“We found that the ‘5 seconds campaign’ was a joint campaign run by WUAV and DDB UK Limited. Spending on the campaign was ‘joint’ or ‘common plan’ spending.”

Wake Up And Vote (WUAV) and DDB were just two of five campaigns that were all set up less than a month before the referendum, sharing big donors, and in total funnelling more than a million pounds into the Remain cause. The others seem to have avoided proper scrutiny…

WUAV and DDB created unbranded videos that was conveniently shared by the official Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, as if it was their content. DDB has been fined just £1,800 for failing to declare joint spending with Wake Up And Vote. This follows a £1,000 fine handed to DDB in March 2018 for other inaccuracies in its spending return…

Last year Guido reported (above) how Remainers shared data, suppliers and campaign materials, coordinated spending, funnelled £1 million to new campaigns set up in the month before the vote, and potentially spent double the legal limit. Guido even produced a special report into the matter…

Louise Edwards, the Commission’s Director of Regulation tells Guido, “Both Wake Up and Vote and DDB UK Limited had an important legal duty to accurately declare joint spending in their referendum spending returns. Both failed to do so, meaning that voters, looking at the reported spending, had no way of knowing that WUAV and DDB UK Limited had worked together on a campaign, or of how much either campaigner spent in total.” In short, Remainers cynically broke the law…

It has taken well over a year for the Electoral Commsion to act on WUAV and DDB. In June 2018 Priti Patel handed the Commission a dossier full of evidence. Initially the Electoral Commission refused to investigate the clearly dodgy practices, leading to outrage from Leavers at the clear bias of the organisation. Despite the work being done for them, the evident law breaking was only fined today, more than three years after the referendum. This is only a partial victory for Guido, as Priti’s dossier shows, the Electoral Commission scratched the surface…

The post Electoral Commission: Remainers Broke Electoral Law appeared first on Guido Fawkes.

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Ed Davey Lies about Lib Dem’s Historic Manifesto Support for EU Referendum

Appearing on Politics Live, Lib Dem Deputy Leader, Ed Davey, squirmed whilst trying to defend his party’s u-turn from wanting an in-out referendum to wanting to revoke Article 50 in the space of just 10 years. The Lib Dems are not having a great media round this morning…

Davey tried claiming the Lib Dems had not supported an EU referendum in their 2010 or 2015 manifesto, unfortunately however this is incorrect.

In 2010, Nick Clegg said the Lib Dems “remain committed to an in/out referendum”:

And again in 2015, the Lib Dem manifesto promised to go even further than the coalition’s law guaranteeing a referendum before any more sovereignty was transferred to the EU, saying the Lib Dems would ensure any referendum was in-out:

The Lib Dems simply cannot defend this undemocratic u-turn. 

The post Ed Davey Lies about Lib Dem’s Historic Manifesto Support for EU Referendum appeared first on Guido Fawkes.

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The curse of Cameron

Somewhere in a parallel universe, David Cameron has lost the 2015 election. Resisting a referendum on Britain’s EU membership has cost the Conservatives their coalition majority in the Commons. Ed Miliband is Prime Minister.

In another of those universes, Cameron has won that election, and the EU referendum too. But that last victory, by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, has settled nothing. UKIP is rampant. Tory MPs are clamouring for a re-run. The Government is marooned. Cameron is under leadership challenge pressure. His most likely successor is his recently-appointed deputy, who was appointed to appease eurosceptic Party opinion: Michael Gove.

In another, Cameron fends off a challenge, but is winkled out a year later. In another still, he is forced out, and Gove begins to prepare for a referendum. In another, he hangs on – only to be beaten by John McDonnell, Labour’s new leader, in 2020.

As we time-travel back to our world, where we will find Cameron’s memoirs waiting for us, it is worth mulling the moral of these visits – namely, that Europe lays Conservative Prime Ministers low in the end. Like death, it is a matter of when, not whether. John Major, Margaret Thatcher: both perished. For Cameron, it was simply a matter of how Europe would get him. Choose your poison. Take your pick. Cameron’s was a referendum.

This is not to say that his decision to hold one was wrong. Yes, he could perhaps have faced down UKIP. Yes, he could maybe have resisted Conservative MPs without sparking a leadership ballot. And, yes, there was no overwhelming public pressure for a poll.

But referendums are now a well-established constitutional device. Cameron had won two already – on electoral reform and Scottish independence. That surprise 2015 election win may have convinced him that he could defy political gravity, and soar to victory fourth time lucky. Instead, he crashed and burned. The vote to Leave defined his legacy and bred these memoirs. Everything else is secondary.

So Cameron should not be judged harshly for providing a third plebiscite that would doubtless have come sooner or later – even if his prime motive was party management. Leavers can’t complain about him providing the referendum that we clamoured for.

Nor should they or anyone else criticise his resignation. He was damned if he went – for putting “his trotters up”, as Danny Dyer put it – and would have been damned if he didn’t, for attempting to cling to office in the face of the greatest electoral rebuff in British electoral history. No, the reason for public resentment, from Remainers and Leavers alike, lies less in the fact of the referendum than in its framing. Cameron failed in his duty to prepare for the result.

This is usually said in the context of governmental readiness for Brexit. But the truth runs deeper, and is ultimately political – bound up with the oddity that distinguished this referendum from its predecessors: that the Government wanted a No vote.

For this reason, Cameron brokered no institutional means of interpreting the result. EEA or No Deal? Or a bespoke deal instead? The Remain campaign, focused on Project Fear, and its Leave rival, fixed on taking back control, mutually failed to spot the problem. So, frankly, did this site. But unlike Cameron, we weren’t charged with governing the country. He trusted to his luck, and lost. And the unravelling parcel was passed to Theresa May.

It would be presumptuous to judge Cameron’s memoir before reading it (not that this will stop some from so doing, this very weekend). But one point leaps out from the extracts. The author has “left the truth at home” – some of it, anyway.

The phrase is one that he applies to Gove, but it could also be applied to his own account. He says he is sorry for the result of the referendum, but not for deciding to hold it. That last claim surely cannot be true. It is impossible to believe that Cameron would have pushed the referendum had he known in advance that it would pull him down. After all, he was the quintessential pragmatic power politician – consistent in tone, attitude and character.

So while he can tell the truth – that he feels that he failed, say, or that he misses office – he cannot bring himself to tell the whole truth. It would be too humiliating. It would leave him no legacy at all, save one that many have already forgotten.

Which is that he was rather a good Prime Minister – salvaging the economy, reforming public services, appointing radical Ministers: Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, May herself. His general election record as a Tory post-war leader was bettered only by Margaret Thatcher’s. But Europe swamped his boat and sunk him. Those parallel universes are just that – unreachable, unrealisable. And perhaps there is more to the title of these memoirs than one sees at first glance.

When a politician makes a statement “for the record” it is usually not so much true or false as a work of art. He is saying what he wants to say rather than what he really thinks – or maybe what he really should say. This is Cameron’s first shot at re-entry.

But the attempt comes too early. Brexit is unresolved. Memories are raw. Voters are not yet ready to lend Cameron their ears and give him a hearing. If they ever will be. One suspects that he knows it. How much better he would have done, in reputational terms, to hold his counsel, stay schtum – and publish later. After all, he is still scarcely 50.

Being a decent sort, he has held off for a time – not wanting to tread on May’s kitten heels while she was Prime Minister. But going to print was necessary sooner rather than later. So here he is, knocking on a door that is shut, and may never open again.

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Tory MPs’ People’s Vote Campaign No Longer Contains Any Tories

The second referendum campaign for Tory MPs, Right to Vote, set up by Phillip Lee, no longer contains a single Tory MP among their ranks, following multiple defections, resignations and withdrawals of the whip by the Government. Coincidentally the website and campaign have since folded…

At its height, the group contained 10 Tory MPs in its fold, however, following a record number of MPs changing party, the supposedly Conservative campaign is now led by a Lib Dem and counts four independents, one ‘The Independents’ MP and one ‘The Independent Group for Change’ MP among others. Keeping up?

The only sign the group was ever Tory-affiliated is the two remaining Tory Lords, who will be grateful that Boris said he wouldn’t withdraw the whip from any Lords supporting the Surrender Bill. A good demonstration of the change seen in British politics over the last year.

The post Tory MPs’ People’s Vote Campaign No Longer Contains Any Tories appeared first on Guido Fawkes.

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Garvan Walshe: No Deal has failed. The choice is May’s deal, no Brexit – or no United Kingdom.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy

Until this week I had thought that Brexit had become inevitable. The referendum victory, though narrow, was clear, and those who continued to oppose Brexit lacked the tactical sophistication to press their case successfully.

That’s started to change. The campaign to take Britain out of the EU is now at risk of failing altogether. But the manner of its failure, the scorched earth tactics of its more extreme partisans, and the increasing radicalisation of the Remain electorate (reflected in the Liberal Democrats’ tactically astute shift in position to direct revocation of Article 50, without a referendum) could cause a significant portion of the public to feel completely alienated from the political system.

So although I opposed Brexit, I still don’t think it should currently be reversed. Around half of Remainers still see EU membership in transactional terms: but David Cameron tested this idea of it to destruction. Many of the rest have turned into pro-European partisans, but out of opposition to Brexit, rather than love of European integration.

Should a stable majority of the British public come to understand that the European Union is a project of political integration that involves the nation states of Europe sharing sovereignty, then the UK should rejoin. But cancelling Brexit now would be bad for both the UK, which would find itself kicking against the loveless marriage to which it had returned, and the EU, which would have an unhappy and divided Britain to contend with.

The Brexiteers have failed internationally because they overestimated Britain’s power.  And they failed domestically because they mistook a moral argument for a political one.

Their claim is that winning the referendum has created an unanswerable case for having some kind, indeed any kind, of Brexit. Both sides of the referendum campaign said that they would abide by the result, and that moral duty, they believe, is sufficiently strong that it should override other considerations, including Britain’s traditions as a representative, not a direct, democracy.

But moral claims on their own do not a political strategy make. Brexiteers needed to convert their victory into a broad and lasting consensus in favour of Brexit. It had appeared that May had planned to do just that when she became the Conservative leader in 2016, but she changed tack during her Tory conference speech that year in pursuit of a very specific hard-right fever dream that came unstuck the following July.

Its effects were to deprive May of a majority, force her to rely on the DUP, whose demands proved incompatible with those of the EU, as well as the need to avoid giving the SNP an argument to demand the same status as Northern Ireland, and resulted in the Withdrawal Agreement, which couldn’t pass the Commons, disastrous EU election results, the rise of the Brexit Party and her resignation and replacement by Boris Johnson.

Johnson inherited a war on two fronts — against the Brexit Party and the LibDems — and devised a sort of Schlieffen Plan to get the Conservative Party through. Complete Brexit by October, then pivot to the kind of One Nation Toryism he professed as mayor, to give a country tired of Brexit and austerity something to unite around.

Over the summer, it looked like he had maintained just enough ambiguity about his intentions to keep his opponents divided. Instead he united them by proroguing Parliament and horrified the party by taking the whip from 21 rebels, sparking the resignation of Amber Rudd, his own brother Jo, and even the Duke of Wellington. Whatever the Conservative Party is these days, it doesn’t have space for the descendants of Britain’s national heroes. Much of this is attributed to his senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who combines the flexibility of the younger Moltke with the defence-minded attitude of Marshal Foch.

Unable to force his policy through a parliament in which he doesn’t have a majority, having reduced that majority further by his purge, he has been outmaneouvred by Jeremy Corbyn; his bid to call an election twice blocked by the Commons.

Situation excellente says Cummings, j’attaque.

The quite obvious plan, as is clear from adverts promising a “People versus the Politicians” election, is to reactivate enough anger from Leave voters to win a parliamentary majority against a divided opposition. It’s a plan with superficial possibility. Some pollsters, particularly YouGov, are showing a sizeable Conservative lead. Others give a much closer result.

The fever dream to which I refer is that the Conservative Party will somehow extend its reach into the northern working class while still holding on to its urban professional vote in the cities and suburbs.  Stirring up anger at the establishment and fear of Corbyn worked during the referendum, where Labour essentially gave up campaigning, but failed in the general election when it was able to hold onto their core vote. It would be quite a gamble, albeit in keeping with World War I inspired strategy, to repeat the 2017 plan two years later.

As I write, the Scottish courts have ruled Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament unlawful, prompting Number Ten to issue an attack on “Scottish” judges, questioning their independence. This latest Fochian outburst is highly unwise and should not have come from a government of a party that still calls itself the Conservative and Unionist Party.

The Supreme Court, which hears the appeal next week, has three options. It can declare prorogation lawful in both, allowing the SNP to say “English” judges overruled their traditions. It could declare it unlawful in both, which would, insofar as it upheld the Scottish verdict, require the Supreme Court to rule in effect that the Prime Minister had misled the Queen; or, it could produce the even more uncomfortable verdict that prorogation might have been lawful in England and Wales but unlawful in Scotland.

Also yesterday, a poll of Northern Ireland was released by Lord Ashcroft showing majority support there for the backstop, and an essentially evenly split vote on reunification with the Republic (51–49 in favour). The even split is maintained thanks to a majority of older voters continuing to support the Union. The youngest age group of voters breaks 60–40 in favour of a United Ireland.

The Johnson Government’s strategy of heightening the contradictions has so far been an unqualified failure. Prorogation united the opposition to require him to seek an extension if he stays in office. The attempts to call an election failed. The removal of the whip from 21 Tory MPs reinforced their determination to defy Number Ten. Polling for the election itself increasingly suggests it would produce another hung parliament

The Prime Minister needs to accept this failure and change tack. Leaving without a deal is no longer possible. Parliament will it. Substantive modifications to the deal are also out of the question. The deal itself allows for a wide variety of Brexits, from Canadian-style free trade to a Norway-style membership of the Single Market.  It would allow the Prime Minister to pivot to the One Nation Conservatism needed to win centrist voters back from the LibDems, and of course, it would allow him to tell Brexit Party supporters that we had left the EU.

The Spartans who consider this capitulation should think very carefully. Theresa May said there were three options: this deal, no deal, or no Brexit. The effect of prorogation has been to take away the option of no deal by constitutional means. The choice left is now this deal, no Brexit, or no United Kingdom.

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Adam Honeysett-Watts: I voted Remain and backed a People’s Vote – here’s why I want Johnson to succeed

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector.

I have written before about my early-life journey from picturesque Beverley – one of the North’s best-kept secrets (and where 59 per cent of voters opted to leave the European Union) – to East Anglia (some 69 per cent voted the same way) where, aged 18 I moved to study politics, including European culture and identity. It is a period of my story which made me develop an understanding for my fellow countrymen’s Euroscepticism.

Yet, sometime during the ensuing decade, I developed a healthy respect for the EU. I attribute this to working in the City and city breaks in European capitals. And so, in 2016, I joined the 79 per cent of South Londoners in Lambeth by voting to Remain in the EU. I understand, therefore, why some people, including fellow Tory Reform Group members, questioned my early support and subsequent enthusiasm for Boris Johnson – for he, perhaps more than anyone else involved, advocated for Vote Leave.

Let me set out why I believe our end destination, under Johnson’s leadership, is more important than the journeys we are on – and how I eventually arrived there.

Our relationship with the EU is quite complex. I believed, rightly so, that it is a relationship of such complexity that it cannot be boiled down into one question in a ballot. I also believed – and feared – that a vote on this issue had the potential to split the Conservative Party and the country. Like George Osborne, this was one of those rare occasions when I disagreed with David Cameron because I couldn’t support the call for a referendum on the EU. However, when, in 2015, the Tories unexpectedly achieved a majority, and with no coalition partners to block one, a referendum became inevitable and the campaigns to Leave and Remain began in earnest.

At that point, I decided to campaign for Conservatives IN. However, the campaign to Remain lost and the campaign to Leave won. The EU referendum question, while simplistic, was clear. We have since discovered that though leave means quite different things to different people, the decision to leave was made. As such, the discussion moved to how we would build national consensus to deliver on the result of the referendum and help move our country forward.

Except, that didn’t happen. Theresa May made virtually no effort to engage the 48 per cent. This time, as a means of finding consensus, I subscribed to The New European and found myself agreeing with Conservatives for a People’s Vote (albeit I prefer the slightly more accurate term ‘confirmatory ballot’). However, Parliament has voted against one and polling indicates that the people do not want one.

One constant throughout these past four years has been the failure of the Remain and remoan camp to run an effective operation and win enough support.

There comes a time when we need to accept where we are and recognise the need to move forward and give businesses the certainty they are asking for. Brexit is an important issue, but it should not be an all-consuming and indefinite issue at the expense of other priorities which shape people’s lives.

Driven by this pragmatism, it didn’t take much to throw my support behind Johnson – a two-term mayoral winner in Labour London – as the man to take responsibility, own this and make a go of it in the national interest. It is a pragmatism which TRG and other membership organisations should applaud, not criticise. We need to leverage Johnson’s qualities to win for the nation and shape a better future for all – Leavers and Remainers alike. After we have reached destination Brexit, we need Johnson’s Conservatives to take on Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, and the remaining loony left. Our society should be about freedom, individual responsibility and community. It’s time to move on and move forward.

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Jonathan Clark: Brexit. Is democracy at risk?

Jonathan Clark was a Fellow of Peterhouse; at Oxford, he was a Fellow of All Souls College; latterly he has been Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago, and Hall Distinguished Professor of British History at the University of Kansas. His latest book is a study of Thomas Paine.

Observers agree that this is the most impassioned episode in British politics for over a century. But it has been so under David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson alike. The last alone is not to blame. Why, then, is it so bitter? We ought to be able to debate whether GDP will be slightly higher or slightly lower in 15 years if we leave or if we remain in the EU without expulsions, mutual denunciations, threats, and lawfare. Other things are at stake, far beyond economists’ guesswork. At least two are at issue, for the Brexit crisis is at its heart a proxy war.

The first is democracy itself, for two conceptions of it are widely held in the UK, representative and direct. In 2019 they collide. What are they?

Representative democracy assumes that Parliament once seized sovereignty from the King, and the Commons then seized it from the Lords; or, alternatively, that if the People once had sovereignty, they surrendered it completely and for all time to members of the Commons, who, collectively, now have absolute authority. Being wise and restrained patricians, MPs rule in the national interest. This theory looks more unpersuasive the more one explores it.

Direct democracy assumes that sovereignty resides with autonomous individuals thanks to God’s gift or to Nature – thoughtful individuals who know all they need to know in order to govern, and who exercise their authority just as they please via universal suffrage. Again, this theory is not wholly plausible. Which of the two predominates is likely to depend on practice more than on theoretical argument.

Practice depends on logistics, and these continually develop. Representative democracy seemed obvious in days when communication was slow and expensive. Members of the Commons might visit their constituencies seldom. The franchise was restricted, newspapers reported little, the actions of most MPs at Westminster were seldom in the public eye. Members were unpaid, so normally had to be rich: they were seldom inclined to defer to the poor. But all that was long ago.

From the mid-1990s, and increasingly every year, the internet has transformed everything. For the first time, it is possible to conduct opinion polls in a shorter time than it takes MPs to file through the division lobbies. For the first time, I can watch my MP speak live in the Commons, or in a recording. I can monitor her every vote. I can email her almost instantaneously (I have even exchanged brief emails with one distinguished MP while he was in a debate). Thankfully, my MP is admirable, in her labours both in Parliament and in her constituency. But for voters who differ from their MPs, the potential for active involvement is far greater than ever before.

Kenneth Clarke speaks for the old school of Parliamentarians in insisting that the referendum of 2016 was merely advisory. But he is out of date. The European Union Referendum Act 2015, which made the arrangements, nowhere said that. Nor did the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. No legislation has ever provided that votes cast in general elections are merely advisory either. On the contrary, the electorate decides things.

We can only deduce the advisory status of referendums by implication, from the premise ‘Parliament is sovereign’. But no Act of Parliament can establish parliamentary sovereignty, any more than Kenneth Clarke can rise into the air by pulling on his shoelaces. Since the People elect members of the Commons directly, by binding votes, and of the Lords indirectly (via elected members of the Commons), it might plausibly be argued that the People are sovereign.

Yet representative democracy is widely championed, and here lies the second great point at issue: a culture war, over what might be called the recent hegemony of social democratic values. It was not so in 1962 when Anthony Sampson published his famous Anatomy of Britain; it shaped the subsequent understandings of ‘The Establishment’ as a closed social circle of the public school and Oxbridge educated who staffed the boardrooms, Parliament, the judiciary and the church.

But a wind of change has swept over Britain as well as over Sampson’s beloved South Africa. The public schools and Oxbridge are still there, but captured for other purposes. Rank derived from birth and class now derives from style and political correctness. The old boy networks are replaced by the luvvie networks. Sampson himself (Westminster and Christ Church) became a Social Democrat during the 1980s.

Set aside the party label; its opponents perceive a state of mind shared by larger numbers of people. They are the commentariat. They allegedly run the media, the universities, the civil service, the judiciary. They are not, indeed, socialist: that would be too uncool an ideology for the twenty-first century. But they are not democrats either, and instinctively reject the outcome of the largest democratic exercise in British history, the referendum of 2016. To them this is ‘populism’, the opposite of themselves.

In this sense, say their opponents with ever clearer definition, social democrats are ‘anywheres’ rather than ‘somewheres’: they have no particular loyalty to a country, let alone Bolsover or Sunderland. They encourage mass migration and multiculturalism. They have places in the sun. They countenance divorce, sex change, and gay marriage. They are secularists who favour religions that are loud against religious establishments. The EU suits them perfectly. Its Roman Law tradition fits their world view, since it works down from grand statements of principle; England’s common law tradition worked up, from specific concrete entitlements. In their eyes, social democrats champion correct, modern, enlightened values. These entail membership of the EU.

Against this perceived social democratic hegemony have developed two great protests: Momentum, and the Brexit movement. To simplify, Momentum wants real socialism; Brexit wants real democracy. They can only achieve either by championing an old ideal that now becomes a new one: the People are sovereign.

Both these conceptions of democracy are plausible, but flawed. They have historic force, but they are contradictory. A collision was inevitable sooner or later. What better ground on which to fight than the UK’s membership of the EU?

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Boris Johnson’s brother Jo quits as MP and universities minister

LONDON — Jo Johnson, the prime minister’s younger brother, stepped down as science and universities minister and as a Tory member of parliament on Thursday because of “unresolvable tension.”

Johnson had represented the constituency of Orpington in Greater London since the 2010 general election. In July, Boris Johnson appointed him to the role of science and universities minister.

In a tweet Thursday, Jo Johnson said: “It’s been an honour to represent Orpington for 9 years & to serve as a minister under three PMs.

“In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest — it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister.”

His announcement comes as a bill to block a no-deal Brexit makes its way through the House of Lords and his older brother has demanded a general election.

This is the second time Jo Johnson has resigned from a ministerial position. A supporter of remaining in the European Union during the 2016 EU referendum campaign, he stepped down from a transport ministry role in November 2018 to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal and campaign for a second vote on the U.K.’s membership of the EU.

Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield, reacted to the news by saying that Jo Johnson “can’t stomach his brother’s no deal Brexit plans.”

“The wheels have come off the Boris bus,” she tweeted.

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Interview. McLoughlin – Hunt’s former campaign Chairman, lifelong One Nation Tory – backs Johnson’s suspensions

Sir Patrick McLoughlin has defended the Prime Minister’s right to withdraw the whip from Tory MPs who refused last night to support the Government.

McLoughlin, who chaired Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign and is the only person ever to have served both as Conservative Party Chairman and as Chief Whip, said “Leadership is about making some very tough decisions” and Tory MPs cannot “just carry on ad nauseam debating this issue”.

He said with deep emotion during this interview, carried out yesterday morning so before last night’s Government defeat, that “I just don’t think we can carry on like we have been doing”.

He added that what is happening to One Nation Toryism is “terrible”, and the party must not become a Brexit party, but in order “not to become a Brexit party we have to deliver Brexit.”

McLoughlin defended David Cameron against the charge that calling the referendum was just a way to fix the problems of  the Conservative Party. He pointed out that Tony Blair and Jack Straw had previously raised the idea of a referendum, the Liberal Democrats had committed themselves to one in their 2010 manifesto, and Labour as well as the Conservatives voted for the referendum which was actually held.

ConHome: “You are the only person to have been both Chief Whip and Party Chairman?”

McLoughlin: “I think I probably am. I don’t think anybody else has been punished like that.”

ConHome: “What’s your view of the Government’s proposal to withdraw the whip from those who don’t support it today?”

McLoughlin: “I regret very much that it’s come to this. But the truth is that if the Prime Minister decides something is a matter of confidence, having just got the overwhelming endorsement from his party to lead it, then I think he has the right to do that.

“Leadership is about making some very tough decisions. I think this is a very tough decision and I wish it wasn’t necessary.

“So I don’t come to it with a sort of ‘Yes, let’s do this, bring it on.’ It’s very much a regret, and it’s very much with sorrow, because some of the people we’re talking about have been good, loyal Conservatives.

“But I just don’t think we can carry on like we have been doing. That is part of the problem.”

ConHome: “Friends of ours like Alistair Burt make the point that ‘we’ve been through the lobbies three times to support this deal, and there are all these characters who haven’t, including the Cabinet ministers who abstained on key votes and helped to bring about the deterioration in discipline.’

“They’ve got a point, haven’t they?”

McLoughlin: “Yes they have got a point. I won’t publicly go, but there are some people who I find absolutely staggering, what they’re calling for.

“But the job for the Prime Minister is not necessarily to look at individuals. And sometimes life is tough. But he is taking the position that we promised…

“All these people voted to implement Article 50. And, you know, we’ve had a six-month delay which cost us very dear. They’re now talking about another three-month delay.

“Well I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next three months that’s not happened in the last six months.

“And I just think we’ve got to move on from this. I’m sorry we’re leaving the European Union. I still remain sorry we’re leaving the European Union.

“But we gave the people a chance in the referendum. And I just would like to say one other thing as well.

“Everybody says the reason David Cameron did this was to try to a) thwart Farage and b) to reunite the Conservative Party.

“It is just worth remembering that in 2010 the Liberal Democrats had an In/Out referendum in their manifesto, and when we actually moved to the referendum the referendum was supported by the Labour Party as well as by the Conservative Party.

“It was never just in my view a ‘try and fix the Tory Party’ scenario.”

ConHome: “When the whip’s removed, the tradition is you remove it on a vote of confidence, and without trying to peer too far into the future, if the Government loses, do you expect the PM to go immediately for a general election if he can, or wait for Second Reading, or wait for the Lords to get its teeth into the Bill, or what?”

McLoughlin: “Well ‘I don’t know’ is the answer to that.”

ConHome: “I’m just trying to establish if it’s really a vote of confidence or not, even if the Fixed-term Parliaments Act…”

McLoughlin: “Well I think the Prime Minister can say I regard this as a vote of confidence in my leadership, and that’s what he’s doing.

“It is not in the technical sense of the word a motion of confidence, as required by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

“But it is a motion of confidence, because the Prime Minister says ‘I regard this as a motion of confidence’.”

ConHome: “I mean presumably without encouraging you to speak up for the deselection of endless numbers of Conservative MPs, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander here.

“And if he comes back with a deal, and it’s opposed by some Conservative MPs, he would be entitled to remove the whip from them, would he not?”

McLoughlin: “One step at a time. We’re dealing with today at the moment, and tomorrow will be a different day. The logic of that, which is what your article basically says today, is that would be the case.

“I think one’s got to be always cautious about using these things, and I’m sure that a lot of thought has gone into it, and I hope they’ve considered all the consequences.

“Because as I say I very much regret it has come to this. But I also don’t think we can just carry on ad nauseam debating this issue, which we seem to have done, some people say for the last three years, actually it’s been more like the last four years, following the 2015 election when the referendum was first promised.”

ConHome: “If a very senior member of the party is reselected by their association, as the former Chancellor was last night, but they vote against the Government today, they could be finding that reselection vote is in vain, could they not?”

McLoughlin: “That’s my understanding, but I know Philip Hammond seems to have a different view.”

ConHome: “Is there going to be a general election this year, and if so, when?”

McLoughlin: “I think it’s looking very likely there will be a general election, and I only know from what everybody is saying, October 14th, a Monday, which would enable the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to go to the [European] Council that weekend.”

ConHome: “Though that’s not been said on the record.”

McLoughlin: “The only thing I know about this election, unlike the last election, is what I’m reading in the newspapers.”

ConHome: “Just as a former Chief Whip who’s used to watching the Opposition the whole time, what do you think the Labour Party’s going to do if it comes to a general election vote?

“Because part of the point of having an election before October 31st, if there is one, is Labour can’t say ‘We’re not voting for this, because if we do there’ll be a no deal Brexit’. That excuse has been removed from them, so they’re going to have to vote for this.”

McLoughlin: “I would have thought so. I don’t understand this new nuance that somehow we should wait until after 31st October.

“Because if there was an election on 14th October, then that allows for the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to go to the European Council on the 17th.”

ConHome: “And if the election comes before Brexit, presumably the Brexit Party will stand as many candidates as they can, arguing you can’t trust the Tories.”

McLoughlin: “Well look, all that we can do, if the Brexit Party stand in every seat, which they may well do, they may take some votes.

“But it’s a bit like at the last general election, when everybody thought the UKIP vote would come to the Conservatives. It didn’t wholeheartedly come to the Conservatives, it was quite mixed, and in some areas it did, you know the Mansfields and the places like that.

“I remember talking to you after that election, pointing out we’d won some seats that we haven’t won for 70 years.

“So look, this next election will not be like the 2017 election and it won’t be like the 2015 election. No elections are. They’re all individual entities, fought very much as things are then.

“And this will be a very quick election. The 2017 election was too long.”

ConHome: “How comfortable do you feel about where the party is now?

“If there’s an election, going in on a manifesto that’s pro-Brexit, possibly, actually, with a reasonably good relationship with the Brexit Party, Leave voters might find this prospectus attractive, but there would be tremendous problems with former Remain voters, London, the south.

“You’ve been a One Nation Tory all your working life, and you’re seeing that bit of the Tory coalition in peril.”

McLoughlin: “It’s terrible. It is not a nice scenario. I’m not doing any of this with glee.

“But I also think that governments have to govern, and you know, that’s what we said in the referendum, what we would do, and I don’t think we can rejudge that.

“I famously used that line at the Cabinet meeting, which David Cameron’s used since, saying I’ve always wanted to live in Utopia – the only trouble is I’d wake up and find the European Union was still there.

“But I also respect the right of the Prime Minister to say, ‘We’ve fought an election, that election was on leaving on the 31st October, I’m determined to deliver that.'”

ConHome: “How do you think he’s doing? As Jeremy Hunt’s former campaign chairman.”

McLoughlin: “I think he’s doing very well. He’s trying not only to address the Brexit issue, but he’s also trying to address the other issues that needed addressing anyway.

“Such as education funding and also what he’s saying about the Health Service and other issues.

“So I think what you see in Boris is someone who does actually want to move on to the other agendas as well, and perhaps he feels we’re being sucked into one issue and one issue alone.

“I said a few months ago the Conservative Party must not become a Brexit party. I definitely believe that. But for us not to become a Brexit party we have to deliver Brexit.”

ConHome: “That suggests you think under the previous regime all collective discipline by the end had completely broken down.”

McLoughlin: “I wouldn’t say all discipline. I almost think, looking at this now in hindsight, and with the benefit of hindsight, I almost think we had to go through that to get where we are.

“And don’t forget, Theresa May became Prime Minister because everybody else faded away. That’s how she became Prime Minister. And I think she carried out the job with incredible dignity, and I will never criticise Theresa, because I think she was trying to do an incredibly difficult job.”

ConHome: “How is she now? I saw you talking to her yesterday.”

McLoughlin: “I saw her briefly yesterday. She seemed fine. I think when you consider for nine years she’d either been Home Secretary or Prime Minister, with all the constraints that has on life, I look at Philip and I look at Theresa and I think they are people who are of the Conservative Party, were the Conservative Party, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for her.”

ConHome: “You’ve already touched on David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum. It was in fact disastrous, would you say?”

McLoughlin: “No, because I think again, that is something we probably needed to do… Blair was the first person to start talking about referendums, Blair and Straw.

“So this isn’t something that DC woke up one morning and thought, ‘This’ll sort everything out.’ It rarely does.”

ConHome: “You are going to stand again, aren’t you?”

McLoughlin: “I very much hope to stand again.”

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Post-Ruth politics: the battle over her legacy will shape the future of the Scottish Tories

There are likely very few news stories which could have made much of an impact yesterday over the roar of Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament. But word of the imminent resignation of Ruth Davidson was one of them.

In both her resignation letter and her televised statement, the Scottish Conservative leader has chosen to play down her differences with the Prime Minister as the cause of her decision – although there are more than enough people playing it up. Going further, she says that in her private letter to Johnson she thanked him for his commitment to the Union.

Of course, there is no doubt that this relationship has nonetheless played an important role in this decision. There was a reason she set herself against his becoming Prime Minister, and whilst Davidson is gone the UK party still needs – indeed, now more than ever – to address its Scottish challenges.

Nonetheless, her prima facie explanation is entirely reasonable. The tumultuous period of British politics kicked off by the 2014 Scottish referedum shows no sign of ending. A general election, a Scottish election, and perhaps another independence referendum – or even another EU one – all loom on the horizon. Having served as leader through one of each Davidson knows full well what those campaigns will demand, and has the self-awareness to recognise that she doesn’t want to fight them.

This need not be the end of her political career. Although she has only said she intends to serve as MSP for Edinburgh Central until 2021, Davidson is young and talented and there is nothing to preclude her returning to the fray at a later date. In particular in the event of another independence referendum sometime in the 2020s, after she has had a few years out of the front line, it is not impossible to imagine her answering the ultimate call of duty to lead that fight. If Alistair Darling did could rejoin the fray, she can.

In the meanwhile, the question arises as to the future of the Scottish Conservatives. The upcoming leadership election will likely be a battle between some revived form of Murdo Fraser’s proposal to split the Party – which remains for all its originator’s good intentions a very bad idea for the Union – and the alternative, especially as there is apparently no succession plan from the Davidsonites. Crucial to this question is that of whether or not the Party can succeed without her.

Davidson has undoubtedly played an instrumental role in the revival of the Party in Scotland. Stephen Daisley aptly summarises this in the Spectator:

“Elected leader in 2011, Davidson slogged her guts out turning a moribund rump with little support outside Scotland’s rural south to the main opposition in the Scottish Parliament and the second largest Scottish contingent at Westminster. She doubled the number of Tory MSPs in a single election and, a year later, took their haul of MPs from one to 13. Davidson was also instrumental in defeating the SNP in the 2014 independence referendum and in successfully fending off Sturgeon’s attempts to revive the issue over the past five years.”

But whilst this might be the truth, it is not the whole truth. It is important not to allow recognition of Davidson’s achievements to turn into myth-making and a counsel of despair for the rest of the party.

After all, Davidson had been leader for four years by the time of the 2015 election, at which the Conservatives won only their lone seat in Scotland. Likewise the past couple of years have been marked by a degree of strategic drift, with both Davidson and Mundell u-turning over the backstop and their closest parliamentary allies colluding against the Government over “post-Brexit devolved powers”, a move which appears to have won them little nationalist support but poses a great danger to the Union.

The sweet spot of ‘Project Ruth’, if Tim Shipman’s Fall Out is accurate, fell between 2015 and 2017, when Davidson’s first-rate talents as a communicator and campaigner were augmented by a support team which added to her tactical instincts a huge capacity for data-led, strategic thinking. The break-up of this team, as much as unfavourable developments in wider politics, must be recognised as a factor in the latter stalling of the Tories’ forward momentum in Scotland.

Furthermore, it would be a gross disservice to Davidson’s legacy to imagine that her departure puts the Party back where it started in 2011. It has hugely expanded its representation not only in Westminster and Holyrood but in local government, giving the Conservatives hundreds of local advocates and on-the-ground intelligence. The Labour Party in Scotland is still dying, and recent statements by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have only affirmed that they cannot be trusted by pro-UK voters.

So Scottish Tories must not allow themselves to sink back into the Slough of Despond from which their leader spent eight years digging them out. Davidson has bequeathed them a far stronger party than she inherited herself, and her would-be successors do neither her or the membership any favours if they treat her achievements as transient things, held together only by a sort of personal magic.

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Brexit talks: Boris Johnson warned Irish backstop has to stay by Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron dashed Boris Johnson’s hopes that European Union leaders would make major concessions to resolve the Brexit stand-off – but backed the 30-day deadline for the Prime Minister to find a formula for breaking the deadlock over the Northern Ireland border.

The French President struck the tough note as he held talks in Paris with Mr Johnson, who has insisted Britain is heading for a no-deal exit unless the Irish backstop scheme is abandoned.

Mr Macron said he backed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s suggestion that the UK Government should be given a month to find a workable alternative to the backstop.

But he also described the scheme, which is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, as “indispensable” and insisted that Brussels would reject Mr Johnson’s demand for substantial changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

EU talks

The French President struck the tough note as he held Brexit talks in Paris with Mr Johnson
The French President struck the tough note as he held Brexit talks in Paris with Mr Johnson (Photo: Getty)

Ahead of the meeting in the Élysée Palace, the Prime Minister vowed to make Britain a “flying buttress for Europe” – the architectural term for an arch which supports a building from outside the main structure.

He has spent much of the week trying to forge links with EU leaders in an effort to convince them he is serious about pressing ahead with a no-deal Brexit on 31 October unless the backstop is ditched.

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However, he faces an uphill struggle as Mr Macron made clear he would only accept minor changes to the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Brussels and Theresa May.

The President said key features of the document, including the backstop, were “indispensable guarantees to preserve stability in Ireland” and to “preserve the integrity of the single market”.

Irish backstop

Angela Merkel gave Boris Johnson a deadline of 30 days to find a formula for averting a no-deal Brexit
Angela Merkel gave Boris Johnson a deadline of 30 days to find a formula for averting a no-deal Brexit (Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty)

Standing alongside Mr Johnson, he said: “We will not find a new Withdrawal Agreement within 30 days that will be very different from the existing one.” But he appeared to accept the timescale suggested by the German Chancellor, adding: “No one will wait until 31 October to find the right solution.”

The Prime Minister insisted that alternatives to the backstop could be found as “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

He said he was encouraged by “positive noises” – such as Mrs Merkel’s comments on Wednesday – about the need to tackle the issue at the centre of Brexit impasse.

“She said if we can do this in two years then we can do this in 30 days and I admire that ‘can-do’ spirit she seemed to have and I think she is right,” Mr Johnson declared.

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NHS staff shortages, fuel reserves and agency staff manning the border

Under the backstop proposal, the UK would remain in a customs arrangement with the EU until a free trade deal is clinched, while Northern Ireland would stay aligned to elements of the European single  market.

Mr Johnson has lambasted the scheme – which was rejected three times by MPs – as “anti-democratic” and repeatedly said scrapping it is a pre-condition of any agreement with Brussels.

Mrs Merkel sought to play down the importance of the 30-day period she floateddescribing it as merely “an allegory for being able to do it in a short period of time”.

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UK government yet to commission Australian migration system review

A month after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to commission a report into Australia’s points-based migration system, he still hasn’t done so, according to the independent committee that would be charged with conducting the review.

“For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points based system,” Johnson said on July 25 in his first speech to the British parliament after replacing Theresa May as PM. “And today I will actually deliver on those promises — I will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to conduct a review of that system as the first step in a radical rewriting of our immigration system.”

But the committee said Johnson’s government has yet to request the review.

“At present we have not received the commission to look at an Australian points-based system for the U.K.,” a Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) official said. “We look forward to receiving more detail on the commission in due course.”

According to the MAC official, it could take about six months to produce a report, though the actual timing would depend on the details of the commission itself.

“I don’t know if they’re going to give us this [commission] separately or as a sort of light-touch one as part of another commission. That’s what we’re waiting for at the moment — whether it’s going to be a real in-depth one, or an initial look and then an in-depth one later,” the official said. “I can’t give you more information at the moment because we’re not sure ourselves.”

Speculation about the commission “stemmed from just a comment [Johnson] made in parliament,” the official continued. “It’s much more work than just saying that and then expecting the answers, isn’t it?”

A No. 10 spokesperson said: “The PM has instructed the Home Office to task the MAC,” and “they will be actioning this in due course.”

A Home Office spokesperson said that Johnson has “set out this government’s ambitious vision for a new immigration system that is open to the world and brings the brightest and best to the U.K.”

“As part of this, the home secretary will shortly commission the independent Migration Advisory Committee to review the Australian-style points-based system,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier this month, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said Johnson’s post-Brexit immigration plan is still “being developed” but insisted that freedom of movement “will end” on October 31, when the U.K. is due to leave the EU. “The prime minister has obviously been clear he wants to introduce an Australian-style points base immigration system,” the spokeswoman added at the time.

Johnson backed the points-based system when he led the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum, and has repeatedly said he wanted to introduce the system in the U.K. after Brexit.

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.

This article has been updated with a response from a Home Office spokesperson.

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Brexit talks: Jeremy Corbyn calls meeting of opposition leaders to prevent ‘damaging’ exit

Jeremy Corbyn has invited senior MPs from opposition parties to an “urgent” meeting to discuss the options available to Parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit.

The Labour leader called on opponents of a disorderly exit to meet next week to look at “all tactics available to prevent a no-deal Brexit”.

In a letter, Mr Corbyn said: “The country is heading into a constitutional and political storm, so it is vital that we meet urgently, before Parliament returns. “The chaos and dislocation of Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit is real and threatening, as the Government’s leaked Operation Yellowhammer dossier makes crystal clear. That’s why we must do everything we can to stop it.”

The meeting is scheduled to take place on 27 August at midday. A Labour spokesman said that Mr Corbyn has decided to postpone a visit to Ghana next week to help try and stop a “damaging” no-deal Brexit.

Government of national unity

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson said she does not think Labour has the numbers to form an emergency government (Photo: Gett)

The letter is addressed to SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, Commons Plaid Cymru leader Liz Saville Roberts, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Change UK leader Anna Soubry.

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Angela Merkel gives Boris Johnson a 30-day deadline to dodge no-deal and solve Irish backstop

Remain-backing Tory MPs Guto Bebb, Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Caroline Spelman are also copied in, as is former Conservative minister Nick Boles, who resigned the whip in opposition to the Government’s approach to Brexit.

The Lib Dems said they will attend the meeting in support of preventing the UK leaving the EU without a deal. But the party made clear that they believe Mr Corbyn will not have the backing of MPs in the Commons to head a government of national unity should Boris Johnson’s government be toppled in a vote of no confidence.

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Brexit talks: Boris Johnson targets EU leaders directly with fresh deal and ignores diplomatic spat over Irish border

Boris Johnson ignored a growing diplomatic spat in Brussels over his Brexit demands by insisting he could broker a fresh deal directly with EU leaders ahead of crunch talks with Angela Merkel.

Mr Johnson is due to make his debut on the international stage as Prime Minister when he meets the German Chancellor to discuss the UK’s withdrawal from the EU over dinner on Wednesday.

But during a terse exchange of words on both sides of the Channel, Donald Tusk attacked Mr Johnson for being disingenuous over the Irish border.

The Prime Minister shrugged off the criticism by claiming a deal could be struck by appealing over the heads of the European Commission and directly to the heads of the EU member states.

‘Practical solutions’

Mrs Merkel suggested she was open to 'practical solutions' to the backstop
Mrs Merkel suggested she was open to ‘practical solutions’ to the backstop (Photo: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

It came as Mrs Merkel suggested she was open to “practical solutions” to the backstop, but insisted the withdrawal agreement would not be reopened. Speaking ahead of his meeting, Mr Johnson said that there needed to be a “total backstop-ectomy” if there is to be any chance of a Brexit deal.

Mr Johnson laid the blame over the impasse in the talks at the door of the EU, claiming its position on installing a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was “paradoxical”.

“We’ve made it clear 1,000 times we don’t want to see any checks on the Northern Irish frontier at all, under no circumstances. Let me repeat again: Under no circumstances will the Government of the United Kingdom be putting checks on the Northern Irish frontier,” he told ITV.

And he added: “By contrast it is the EU who currently claim that the single market and the plurality of the single market requires them to have such checks – I don’t think that’s true.”

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Mr Johnson said he would be speaking to Mrs Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron tomorrow to push his case, stating he would approach the discussions “with a lot of oomph”.

“It may be that for now, they stick with the mantra, rien ne va plus, and they can’t change a jot or a tittle of the withdrawal agreement. Let’s see how long they stick to that, I think there are plenty of other creative solutions,” he added.

Brexit talks breakthrough

The President of the European Council Donald Tusk (Photo: Getty)

Any hopes of an early breakthrough in talks over the insurance policy, which is designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, appeared slim ahead of his Berlin meeting, dramatically raising the prospect of a no deal departure on 31 October.

Speaking during a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, Mrs Merkel attempted to strike a conciliatory tone, stating: “The moment we have a practical arrangement on how to preserve the Good Friday agreement and at the same time define the borders of the (European Union’s) internal market, we would not need the backstop anymore.”

His comments suggest Mr Johnson believes Brussels will blink first in the Brexit standoff. He will meet Mr Macron over lunch in Paris on Thursday before heading to the G7 summit in Biarritz on Saturday.

Sterling wobbles — Merkel helps reverse fall

The value of the pound against the euro fell before recovering as the fate of sterling remained tied to news on Brexit negotiations.

After European Council President Donald Tusk gave short shrift to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s demand for the EU nations to drop the Northern Ireland backstop, the pound fell to 1.08.

The currency rallied when German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that a solution could yet be found.

“I have always said that when one has the will to find these solutions, one can do so in a short period of time,” she said. Her opinion that “the EU is ready to find a solution” helped sterling slightly rise, to 1.09.

Analysts believe that although a no-deal is still likely, as long as there is any prospect of a deal, currency speculation will remain limited, but the fluctation exposed how sensitive the pound remains to potential negotiations between the UK and EU.

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Former Tory MP Sarah Wollaston joins Lib Dems

Sarah Wollaston, a former U.K. Tory MP who quit the party to fight against a no-deal Brexit, joined the Liberal Democrats Wednesday.

Wollaston, who became the Lib Dems’ 14th MP, said in a statement she believed joining the party was the best way to represent her constituency of Totnes, which narrowly voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum.

The GP, who herself voted Remain but pledged to commit to delivering Brexit after the referendum, said her job had played a role in her decision.

“As a doctor for over twenty-four years, I try to base my decisions on evidence, and as that emerges, to be open to changing course,” Wollaston said. “As the economic facts unfolded, I found myself unable to support a version of Brexit with consequences that I know would hurt so many individuals, businesses, families and communities.”

Wollaston initially quit the Tories to join The Independent Group (now known as ChangeUK) in February, but left the group in June to become an independent. Wollaston said in her statement she would be more effective if she was a member of a party rather than continue on on her own.

“We are now entering the final weeks to prevent the dire consequences of the PM’s ‘do or die’ approach to Brexit,” she wrote. “Preventing that harm will take unprecedented cross-party working and my in-box has been full of messages urging me to be part of a Remain Alliance which I will be doing through joining the Liberal Democrats.”

Wollaston’s move came as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a formal offer to MPs from across the political divide on Wednesday to back his bid to seize power from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and block a no-deal Brexit. In a letter to the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, Greens and four senior Tory backbenchers, Corbyn urged them to back a no-confidence vote in the PM and support his caretaker government. He promised to then secure an extension to the Article 50 Brexit process and call an election, in which Labour would campaign for a second referendum with an option of staying in the EU.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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Jeremy Corbyn seeks help to block no-deal Brexit

LONDON — U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn launched a plea Wednesday, urging fellow opposition parties to back his bid to seize power from Boris Johnson and block a no-deal Brexit, but faced immediate attacks from his would-be allies.

In a letter to party bosses and other senior backbench MPs, Corbyn said he would “seek the confidence of the House [of Commons] for a strictly time-limited temporary government.”

He promised to secure an extension to the Article 50 Brexit process and call an election, in which Labour would campaign for a second referendum with an option of staying in the EU.

But his continued refusal to fully support overturning the 2016 referendum results altogether drew the ire of the party leaders he wrote to.

Prime Minister Johnson has vowed to take the U.K. out of the EU, deal or no deal, by October 31 and has refused to rule out ripping up constitutional norms to do so.

Anti-Brexit parties are reportedly set to meet on Thursday to discuss how to maximize their support across the country.

MPs have been mulling routes to block him, including the option of defeating his administration in a vote of confidence and then forming a cross-party government of national unity.

Corbyn wrote to the Westminster leaders of the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, which are all supportive of a second EU referendum, urging them to back him as a temporary premier after a vote of no confidence.

He also wrote to Tory backbenchers Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles and Caroline Spelman, who have been plotting to block a no-deal departure.

The Labour leader said their priority “should be to work together in parliament to prevent a deeply damaging no-deal being imposed on the country, denying voters the final say.”

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said Corbyn is “not the person who is going to be able to build an even temporary majority in the House of Commons” | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“This government has no mandate for no-deal, and the 2016 EU referendum provided no mandate for no-deal. I therefore intend to table a vote of no confidence at the earliest opportunity when we can be confident of success,” Corbyn wrote.

But Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said Corbyn is “not the person who is going to be able to build an even temporary majority in the House of Commons for this task.”

“I would expect there are people in his own party and indeed the necessary Conservative backbenchers who would be unwilling to support him. It is a nonsense,” she added.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he would work with the Labour leader but said the party “needs to get off the fence on Brexit.”

Liz Saville Roberts, the Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru, welcomed the proposal of a national unity government but blasted Corbyn for committing to a general election first over a second Brexit referendum.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he would work with the Labour leader | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

“His approach seems to be driven by the fact that Labour know their current frontbench cannot command the confidence of the House of Commons,” she said in a statement.

She was echoed by Green MP Caroline Lucas, who said “the proposal from the Labour leader does not guarantee that the people are given the final say on Brexit.”

“Holding a general election before a People’s Vote is the wrong way around,” Lucas added.

In what appeared to be a pre-emptive response to the appeal from Corbyn, Johnson earlier on Wednesday accused him of wanting to “cancel the referendum and argue about Brexit for years.”

He said on Twitter: “I am committed to leading our country forward and getting Britain out of the EU by October 31.”

A Downing Street spokesman said there is a “clear” choice: “Either Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, who will overrule the referendum and wreck the economy, or Boris Johnson as prime minister, who will respect the referendum and deliver more money for the NHS and more police on our streets.

“This government believes the people are the masters and votes should be respected, Jeremy Corbyn believes that the people are the servants and politicians can cancel public votes they don’t like.”

Anti-Brexit parties are reportedly set to meet on Thursday to discuss how to maximize their support across the country.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Energy and Climate. From climate change, emissions targets, alternative fuels and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the Energy and Climate policy agenda. Email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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WATCH: Hammond accuses Johnson of setting the bar too high in Brussels

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Johnson recognises the importance of instinct and feeling in the Brexit argument

The Sunday Times said yesterday that though “many thought this would be a leap too far”, Boris Johnson “is starting to look prime ministerial”.

Many people will disagree. But it is noticeable how anxious his critics are to pin labels on him – racist, right-wing, posh – in order to place him in some unacceptable moral category, and condemn him without going to the trouble of listening to what he says.

This urge to reach a definitive view, which excludes other views, is an impediment to understanding what he is actually like.

In his acceptance speech, after it was announced that he had defeated Jeremy Hunt, Johnson sketched his approach to politics:

“I would just point out to you that nobody, no one person, no one party has a monopoly of wisdom, but if you look at the history of the last 200 years of this party’s existence, you will see it is we Conservatives that have had the best insights, I think, into human nature, and the best insights in how to manage the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart.”

Here is a politics which acknowledges emotion, “the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart”, rather than establishing an intellectual orthodoxy before which all else, including human nature, must yield.

To those who crave certainty, this is unsatisfactory. But we have recently been presented with too many certainties. The whole referendum debate was conducted by each side as if it was in possession of the exclusive truth, which demonstrated that its opponents were so many fools or liars.

Here is how Johnson’s acceptance speech continued:

“And time and again, it is to us that the people of this country have turned to get that balance right, between the instincts to own your own house, to earn and spend your own money, to look after your own family. Good instincts, proper instincts, noble instincts. And the equally noble instinct to share and to give everyone a fair chance in life.  To look after the poorest and the neediest, and to build a great society.

“And on the whole, in the last 200 years, it is we Conservatives who have understood best how to encourage those instincts to work together in harmony, to promote the good of the whole country.

“And today, at this pivotal moment in our history, we again have to reconcile two sets of instincts, two noble sets of instincts, between the deep desire for friendship and free trade and mutual support in security and defence between Britain and our European partners, and the simultaneous desire, equally deep and heartfelt, for democratic self-government in this country.”

Noble sets of instincts have to be reconciled with each other. We have argued for generations about Europe, and will go on arguing, because each side has a strong case.

The present Prime Minister will try to reconcile those cases, not achieve a knock-out victory for one or the other.

It is true that achievement of the October 31st deadline will be presented as a crushing victory, and failure to achieve it will be treated as a humiliating defeat.

The conventions of our adversarial system of politics will be respected.

But if we wish to understand what is at stake in this battle, or the mentality of our new prime minister, or his hopes of unifying the nation after Brexit, those conventions are pitifully inadequate.

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Boris Johnson promises ‘impartiality’ in talks to restore Northern Ireland government

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted he can be an honest broker in talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland, despite the Conservative Party’s close ties to the Democratic Unionist Party.

The new prime minister said today there would be “complete impartiality” as he prepared to hold talks with the five main parties in the devolved nation, which has had no government for two and a half years.

He made the comments after he dined with senior DUP figures Arlene Foster, Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson Tuesday night.

Johnson’s government in Westminster is propped up by the 10 Northern Irish unionist MPs in a confidence-and-supply arrangement. That means the Tory government, which has a majority of three in the House of Commons, depends on the DUP to ratify any Brexit deal Johnson manages to strike with the EU.

The Northern Irish party has insisted that the controversial backstop plan to avoid a hard Irish border — by keeping the U.K. bound to EU customs rules and Northern Ireland tied to some single market rules — must be scrapped, and has welcomed the PM’s similar hard-line stance on the issue.

Asked Wednesday morning if he could be impartial in the efforts to get Stormont back up and running, Johnson told journalists: “It’s all there in the Good Friday Agreement. We believe in complete impartiality and that is what we are going to observe.”

He added: “People in Northern Ireland have been without a government, without Stormont, for two years and six months. So my prime focus this morning is to do everything I can to help that get up and running again because I think that’s profoundly in the interests of the people here, all the citizens here, in Northern Ireland.”

Power sharing at Stormont broke down in January 2017 over disagreements about a botched green energy plan, giving official status to the Northern Irish language and equal rights for same sex couples, among other things.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, DUP leader Foster said the backstop is the “continuing and fundamental flaw” within the Withdrawal Agreement.

“We very much hope that our new prime minister will deal with the issue, he will get across to those in Europe, and particularly in Dublin, the fact that they cannot break up the U.K. because essentially that’s what the backstop was doing.”

Asked on the BBC about her meeting with Johnson last night, Foster said they talked about the need for a Brexit deal and that “Dublin and indeed Brussels needed to dial back on the rhetoric and be a willing partner to find a deal, not just for the United Kingdom but for Republic of Ireland and the whole of Europe.”

Brussels and Dublin have insisted the backstop mechanism is necessary and have refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

This has made a no-deal exit more likely, the DUP’s Chief Whip Donaldson told the BBC. “I think given the response of the Irish government in particular, who I believe are key to this issue of addressing U.K. concerns about the backstop, I think the prospect of a no deal is significant.”

Johnson is meeting the leaders of the DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance Party and Social Democratic and Labour Party on the last leg of his tour of the U.K. nations today.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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Anti-Brexit parties test alliance in Welsh by-election

LONDON — U.K. campaigners who want a second referendum to stop Brexit think they have discovered a strategy to break through the Remain ceiling: helping each other win elections.

At the European Parliament vote in May, hardcore anti-Brexit parties won more support overall than those backing a no-deal Brexit. The Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish National Party, Change UK and Plaid Cymru (a Welsh pro-independence party) won 40.4 percent of the vote versus 34.9 percent for the Brexit Party and UKIP. The Brexit Party was the clear single winner, however, romping home with 29 seats.

Now the Remain parties have a cunning plan: stop fighting among themselves. They will test drive it at Thursday’s Welsh by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire, which was triggered when sitting Conservative MP Chris Davies was convicted for expenses fraud. Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Independent Group for Change (formerly Change UK) all agreed not to stand to give the Lib Dems an unhindered shot at the seat.

They hope this “Remain Alliance” will change the political landscape by carving up seats across the U.K. to maximize the chances of the party best-placed to win and avoid fragmenting the Remain vote.

“This is a response to what we should have done in the European Parliament elections,” said Heidi Allen, a former Conservative MP, now an independent, who is trying to broker a wider pact. “Thank God we might have another opportunity in a general election.”

“In this particular time, in this particular contest, I think that the case in favor of standing down was pretty compelling” — Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader

Welsh Lib Dem leader Jane Dodds, who is running in Brecon and Radnorshire, told POLITICO from the campaign trail in Llanwrtyd Wells that it is a “very courageous” move by the other parties. “But I guess the most important thing is the symbolism of it — that it’s about grown-up, adult politics.”

The “grown-up” approach appears to be paying off. A constituency poll by Number Cruncher Politics earlier this month put the Lib Dems on 43 percent, the Conservatives on 28 percent and the Brexit Party on 20 percent. If accurate, it would be an impressive result in a seat that voted by 51.9 percent to leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum, according to an analysis by Chris Hanretty, a politics professor at Royal Holloway University. In the by-election, the pro-Brexit vote is looking larger overall but the Remain parties are cutting through the middle.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said it’s a tough decision not to stand because “the nature of party politics and party competition is that loyalty runs very deep among members and supporters.” But he added: “In this particular time, in this particular contest, I think that the case in favor of standing down was pretty compelling.”

Previous results in Brecon and Radnorshire — where the Lib Dems have scored previous wins and are the clear challengers to the Conservatives — made it a fairly obvious choice: At the general election in 2017, Plaid Cymru won 3.4 percent and the Greens didn’t even stand. The Tories’ decision to stand by Davies despite the scandal made their support, already split by the Brexit Party, even more vulnerable.

‘Prepared to lose my seat’

Allen, who launched the “Unite to Remain” group to coordinate a wider tie-up, said the Brecon model should be used “in as many seats as we can” at the next general election. The specter of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage forming a Brexit alliance, or of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn, is “really focusing minds” among Remain supporters, she said.

“Those threats, and what it means about the kind of country we may become and the path we would set ourselves on, are so terrifying that it is making some of us prepared to behave in ways that we never would have considered before,” said Allen, who is writing to the smaller parties to drive discussion of a national strategy. She has also commissioned an analysis of seats to consider who should be stepping down where.

“It won’t be every seat,” she told POLITICO, “it will be somewhere between 100 and 200 seats where we can really make a difference and return more Remain, progressive, moderate MPs if we stand down and there is just one candidate.”

Analysis by political strategist James Kanagasooriam for Sky News show “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” found a “Remain Alliance” has the potential to win between 66 and 154 seats at a general election. Kanagasooriam told the show two-thirds of the 66-seat estimate is Conservative-held, but that much of the vote share would come from Labour voters in middle England.

There is a financial incentive, too: Small parties could save money, or spend it more effectively, by focusing on seats where they have a fighting chance, rather than fielding candidates across the country.

Allen, who argues that as “an independent who has no skin in the game” she can help broker such a deal, accepts that she could become a casualty of the process in her constituency of South Cambridgeshire.

Heidi Allen launched the “Unite to Remain” group to coordinate a wider tie-up | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

“I am fully prepared to lose my seat,” she said. “I haven’t had a burning desire to be an MP all my life. I’ve ended up becoming an MP at an extraordinary time and I absolutely see myself as a tool. If I can help and be useful and create something that benefits the country then brilliant — that is all I’m focused on.”

As Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster, Liz Saville Roberts, put it: “If [a wider ‘Remain Alliance’] doesn’t happen in future I think history will look very unkindly upon us for having been divided in our own party interests as opposed to putting the political demands first.”

Time-limited option

New Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is positive about the pact being extended, saying that while the campaign for a second referendum on Brexit has made progress, “arithmetic matters” in the House of Commons when it comes to actually stopping the U.K. withdrawal from the EU.

“We need to be very mature about the threat that we face with Boris Johnson coming in as prime minister, with the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party … and that does mean some difficult decisions being taken by parties acting and cooperating in the national interest,” she told POLITICO.

To avoid bias toward the Lib Dems, the largest of the allied parties with the greatest nationwide clout, Swinson said a “degree of reciprocation” will be needed. Allen agreed: “It can’t be all about the Lib Dems.”

Jo Swinson, the new leader of the Lib Dems | Leon Neal/Getty Images

But the goodwill only goes so far: Saville Roberts was enthusiastic about the suggestion the Lib Dems could “donate” some of their questions in the Commons to other parties that helped win a particular seat, but Swinson poured cold water on the proposal, arguing that one MP does not necessarily mean “masses more questions.”

In Brecon and Radnorshire, meanwhile, Plaid Cymru’s Saville Roberts and Price — while agreeing not to contest the seat — have not actively campaigned for the Lib Dems’ Jane Dodds, though Plaid Cymru and Green members have been helping out on the ground.

And while Allen’s ambitions for the Remain Alliance extend to enabling “a government of national unity” after the next election, the parties themselves are more focused on securing a referendum. “You are talking about something which is very focused and very specific and probably quite time-limited,” said Swinson.

Breaking the grip

Not every anti-Brexit party is fully signed up to the Remain Alliance agenda. Change UK’s successor, the Independent Group for Change, agreed not to contest Brecon and Radnorshire but believes the priority should blocking a no-deal Brexit through the current parliamentary makeup, argues its MP, Chris Leslie.

“Superficially, I can see the attraction of having long conversations about the possibility of an immediate general election, but I just don’t think it’s the priority at the moment,” said Leslie, who has no time for Allen since she split off from Change UK alongside Sarah Wollaston, Chuka Umunna and other MPs.

A general election is unlikely and “might not actually be very desirable at all” in terms of stopping Brexit before October 31, said Leslie, whose group performed dismally at the European Parliament ballot and would likely suffer a fatal blow if a general election were held soon.

Liz Saville Roberts is Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster | Leon Neal/Getty Images

Umunna, who left Labour for the Independents before joining the Lib Dems, sees Brecon and Radnorshire as “a pilot” project, but draws lessons from the 1980s alliance between the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party, saying: “If you aren’t focused and target ruthlessly where you seek to be successful, then you can end up in the situation that the Alliance there found themselves in, where they came second in over 300 seats.”

Still, Plaid Cymru’s Saville Roberts sees a chance that the Welsh by-election this week, if successful for the Remain Alliance, could help “break the grip” of two-party politics and allow U.K. voters to make choices based on issues rather than tribalism.

“This was specifically for Brecon and Radnorshire,” she said. “And it has opened doors that have opened corridors and to further doors in future and we shall see where they go.”

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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