Former Conservative leadership hopeful Sam Gyimah defects to Liberal Democrats

Ex-Conservative MP Sam Gyimah has defected to the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Gyimah made a surprise appearance at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth on Saturday, where he announced he was defecting to the party.

The MP for East Surrey was one of the 21 MPs to have lost the Conservative whip for rebelling against Boris Johnson over no-deal Brexit earlier this month.

Speaking to The Observer, he attacked Mr Johnson’s “scorched earth approach” to Brexit and warned that centrists are being “cast out of both main parties.”

Undermining democracy

He said: “I listen to ministers undermining the courts. Ministers questioning experts because their views are inconvenient for what the government is saying about no deal.

“You have a government that says law enforcement is the centrepiece of its platform, and yet says in another breath that it will pick and choose what laws it chooses to respect.

“This is in many ways undermining key pillars of our constitution and the functioning of our democracy. The issue for me is not just Brexit.

“It is beyond Brexit – how you conduct politics and the veering towards populism and English nationalism.”

Sam Gyimah was cheered by Liberal Democrat members as he appeared at the party conference
Sam Gyimah was cheered by Liberal Democrat members as he appeared at the party conference

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said Mr Gyimah had “stood up for liberal values with great integrity.”

She said: “[He has] been prepared to lose the whip because he will not follow Boris Johnson taking our country off a cliff edge. [He is] someone I have known as a friend for more than ten years.”

Mr Gyimah’s exit from the Conservatives comes just three months after he put himself forward to lead the party.

He was one of 13 MPs who put himself forward for the party leadership in June, standing on a platform of a second Brexit referendum, but withdrew before the first ballot of MPs.

MPs seek refuge with Liberal Democrats

Mr Gyimah marks the sixth MP to have defected to the Liberal Democrats since the 2017 election and the third to have done so in the past month, with former Conservatives Phillip Lee and Sarah Wollaston also seeking refuge ahead of the heavily-anticipated snap election.

However, the defections have not been universally welcomed by Liberal Democrat members.

Three leaders of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats were among those to quit in protest at Dr Lee’s membership, noting that he opposed same-sex marriage and campaigned to bar people with HIV from being able to come to the UK.

Chair of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Jennie Rigg said: “If the party is a home for someone whose views are so diametrically opposed to mine, then it can’t be for me.

“You can work with people without admitting them to the party.

“I would not have objected to working with him in a ‘remain alliance’; admitting him to the party is not so much making a broad church as blowing the church’s walls out and hoping that somehow the roof stays on.”

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Liberal Democrats to vote on revoking Article 50 to stop Brexit without a second referendum

Liberal Democrats are debating whether to officially support revoking Article 50.

Party leader Jo Swinson is looking to members to back the policy, which would be written into the party’s election manifesto if approved at the conference.

Article 50 – a legal mechanism in the Lisbon Treaty – was triggered to begin the process of the UK leaving the EU.

If it was to be revoked, this could stop the Brexit proceedings without a second referendum.

It has been said by Lord John Kerr, who was involved in drafting Article 50, that the clause is reversible.

Election on the horizon?

Ms Swinson said: “We got into this mess as a result of having a referendum in the first place and that (revoking Article 50) is the only satisfactory way out of it.”

The discussions are taking place amid an unstable political climate, as the Lib Dems act to prepare for the possibility of a snap election.

Should an election happen, Ms Swinson is looking for her party to appeal to voters as the one most unequivocally in favour of staying in the EU.

She said in an interview with The Guardian that she could not support either Prime Minister Boris Johnson or Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in government.

Lib Dem Leader Jo Swinson wants party members to back a policy to revoke Article 50 (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Lib Dem Leader Jo Swinson wants party members to back a policy to revoke Article 50 (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

During the autumn conference, Ms Swinson will take questions from those in attendance at the Bournemouth International Centre on Sunday, following a speech by her predecessor Sir Vince Cable.

Former Labour member Chuka Umunna, who joined the Lib Dems some time ago, will address party members on Monday in his role as treasury and business spokesman.

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Former PM David Cameron’s lack of contrition for this political Brexit chaos is startling

Other MPs to recently switch to the Lib Dems, include former Tory minister Dr Phillip Lee, ex-health committee chairwoman Dr Sarah Wollaston and former Labour and one-time The Independent Group (TIG) members Luciana Berger and Angela Smith.

As well as a growing number of MPs, with 17 now in the House of Commons, the Liberal Democrats are seeing a surge in membership numbers.

The party now counts a record high of around 120,000 members, thought to be spurred on by the its anti-Brexit stance.

Lib Dem surge

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is looks to weather the storm following the ruling from Scottish judges this week that his advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament was unlawful

Parliament has so far denied Mr Johnson’s request for an autumn trip to the polls as opposition parties look to see the Benn Bill – legislation that demands the PM extend the Brexit deadline until January 2020 rather than take Britain out of the European Union without a deal – enshrined in law.

But with Royal Assent for the Bill now achieved and no majority in the House of Commons for the PM, both the Conservative Party and its rivals are gearing up for another Brexit-themed election.

Labour’s policy would involve renegotiating a deal with Brussels and putting that to a confirmatory vote, should the party win the next general election.

Additional reporting by PA 

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The Conservatives are failing to make headway in the Brexit supporting North and Midlands

At the next general election, the Conservatives’ hopes of regaining the overall majority in the House of Commons will rest on winning a substantial number of seats from Labour in Brexit supporting areas in the North and Midlands of England. This is especially true given that they can expect to lose seats in Remain voting areas in London, the South East and Scotland.

The map above compares the results of the 2016 EU referendum on a constituency basis (with seats coloured to indicate whether the result was 70%, 60%-50%, 55%-60%, or 50%-55% in favour of leave or remain) with the results of 2017 general election. Overall, there were 242 constituencies where the majority of voters voted to remain in the EU, and 408 that voted for Brexit. A majority in both Conservative (75%) and Labour (60%) constituencies voted to leave the EU.

However, there is no sign that the Conservatives are making sufficient progress in leave voting areas in the North and Midlands to regain their majority through this path. To demonstrate this, I looked at the regional breakdowns in the two polls released by ComRes so far this month. One poll had the Tories with a 1% lead over Labour on 30%, the other showed them with a 4% lead on 31%; I took the average of the two polls.

The charts below show the regional breakdown of party support for the 11 regions in Great Britain.

The following charts show the same data, except instead of vote shares they show the movement of vote shares from the results at the 2017 general election (for the Brexit Party, I have used the 2017 Ukip results as a comparison).

To have a chance at regaining a majority, the movement in Conservative vote share will need to exceed the equivalent movement in Labour support in the West Midlands, North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. However, there is little evidence that this is the case.

In the West Midlands, both Labour and the Conservatives are down 14%, the Lib Dems are up 12% and the Brexit Party are up 12% on Ukip’s 2017 performance. Given that they are basically static in terms of the Labour vs. Tory contest, the Conservatives would be unlikely to make much of a dent in Labour’s 24 MPs, other than in ultra-marginal seats such as Newcastle-under-Lyme (Labour majority: 30).The Lib Dems aren’t really in contention anywhere here.

In the North West, the Conservatives will be hopeful of success in some of the 39 Labour seats that voted for Brexit, to add to the 20 that they won in 2017. Labour’s support in the ComRes polls indicated that their support is down 14% from the election, and given that the Tory vote is “only” down 10%, this suggests that they may be making a small of ground on Labour here.

However, there is not an abundance of Tory targets in the North West. There is only one seat (Warrington South) that voted Labour where the Tories were within 5% of victory, and only a further five (Workington, Bury North, Bolton North East, Weaver Vale and Blackpool South) where the Tories were within 10% of Labour. Only making a net gain of 4% in terms of vote share over Labour in the North West is unlikely to be sufficient to make substantive gains.

In Yorkshire and the Humber, there were almost four times as many Leave constituencies (43) as Remain constituencies (11). Labour won 36 seats in 2017, of which 29 had voted for Brexit. The Tories won 18. However, given that Labour and Conservative support appears to have fallen at around the same rate, there is little evidence that the Tories are on course to make many gains here either. The Liberal Democrats will be very confident about regaining the seats lost to Labour in 2017 of Leeds North West and Sheffield, Hallam.

The story in the North East is better for the Conservatives. Nearly five times as many constituencies in the North East voted Leave as Remain (24 to 5), whilst the Tories only won three seats to Labour’s 26. The fact that the Tories are “only” down 13% whilst Labour have fallen 20% means that they are making progress, but as with the North West, there is a lack of obvious targets.

There are only two Labour seats that were close in 2017 (Stockton South and Bishop Auckland), and a third (Darlington) where Labour had a 7% majority and the seat is within range for the Tories. However, the remaining 23 Labour seats were won with substantial double digit majorities and it will be very difficult for the Conservatives to win, assuming that the election is reflective of current polling.

If there is an area of strong opportunity for the Conservatives it is a perhaps unexpected one: Wales. Conservative support is broadly flat from the 2017 election here, whilst Labour’s has plummeted by 15%. This means that there are as many as nine strong opportunities for the Tories to make gains at Labour’s expense, in seats such as Vale of Clwyd, Wrexham, Cardiff North and Delyn.

Another possible outcome is that London isn’t as disastrous for the Conservatives as is widely thought. The Tories are down 7% in the capital, but Labour are down a catastrophic 26 points. Labour and the Lib Dems are essentially tied in terms of popular support in London, with the Conservatives only slightly behind. This may mean that they are able to sneak through the middle in new three way marginal seats.

Whilst the Conservatives are likely doomed in seats such as Richmond Park where the Lib Dems performed strongly in 2017, they may well survive in constituencies such as Finchley and Golders Green where the Tories only have a 3% majority over Labour, where the Lib Dems can expect to gain a substantial amount of Labour votes but might not be able to win the seat themselves.

It is obviously a horrendous cliché to say “a lot can change between now and polling day”, but it’s especially true for this election, when even the question of whether there will be an election this year is in some doubt. However, on the basis of current polling, the Conservatives are going to find a route back to Number 10 through the Brexit supporting North and Midlands an extremely difficult one.

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Sarah Wollaston predicts more Conservatives will follow her into the Liberal Democrats

A Conservative MP who defected to the Liberal Democrats has predicted that several of her former colleagues are poised to follow her into the party.

Sarah Wollaston argued that the 21 Tory MPs stripped of the Tory whip this month would feel more at home in her new party, and said an “awful lot” of them were considering their next move.

Dr Wollaston quit the Conservative Party in February in protest over its Brexit stance to help form the breakaway Change UK grouping and moved last month to the Lib Dems. She is one of five MPs who have joined the party since Jo Swinson became its leader.

Heidi Allen, the former Change UK leader who is now an independent, is among several MPs who are tipped to be about to switch to the Lib Dems.

Warning over standing as independent

Heidi Allen, the former Change UK leader who is now an independent, and has been tipped to join the Lib Dems
Heidi Allen, the former Change UK leader who is now an independent, and has been tipped to join the Lib Dems (Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

Speaking on the eve of the party’s annual conference, Dr Wollaston told i that she believed several of her former colleagues on the Tory benches were poised to switch sides. She said: “A lot of them will be looking very seriously about how they can be most effective.

“There are an awful lot of people in the Conservative Party who, like me, genuinely care about issues of social justice and genuinely care about what will happen if we do leave [the EU] – particularly with a chaotic no deal.”

She argued that disillusioned Tories could end up siphoning support from “progressive centre parties” instead of the Conservatives if they stood as independents.

Dr Wollaston urged them: “Look very carefully look at the groundswell of opinion wanting more than that choice of a hard Brexit egoist or somebody who is embracing something much further to the left than we have had in British politics.”

Disagreements back to Cameron years

The former GP said her “fundamental disagreements” with Tory policies began with David Cameron’s overhaul of the National Health Service structure in 2012, and had gathered pace as the party moved to the Right.

“People have been telling me for years that I wasn’t a proper Tory and they were absolutely right,” she said.

With hindsight, she said, she wished that she had moved directly to the Lib Dems rather than forming the ill-fated Change UK party.

“We needed to create a mechanism for people who felt they needed to leave the Conservative Party and the Labour party,” the Totnes MP said.

Tories ‘completely toxic’

“But now I think it would be right for it to fold into the Liberal Democrats and to have a single progressive centreground force.”

She denounced her former party as “completely toxic” and claimed that many Tory local associations had been taken over by Brexit Party supporters.

Dr Wollaston, a keen supporter of her new party’s commitment to overturning the Leave vote by revoking Article 50, claimed that it felt like “coming home” to be a Liberal Democrat.

“It feels much more comfortable to be in a party where there’s genuinely a debate about policy rather than it being decided by a few people in a dark room,” she said.

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Gareth Streeter: An intelligent spending review could halt the Liberal Democrats in their tracks in the South West

Gareth Streeter is a Councillor in Croydon and a former Parliamentary Candidate.  He grew up in the West Country, where he has campaigned extensively for 20 years.

As another spending review – fuelled by talk of a Brexit dividend and a renewed commitment to public spending – draws near, the usual pleas for pet projects and priorities are again entering the public arena.

A number of exciting pledges around education, the NHS, and policing have already been announced over the summer, and it’s clear that the direction of travel is centring around a renewal of One-Nation conservatism and a commitment to providing opportunities for Britain’s most vulnerable inhabitants.

Almost inevitably, resulting conversation starts to drift toward the Conservative Party’s offer to the North of England. This is both welcoming and encouraging – from the Northern Powerhouse to a revolution in school standards, a genuine commitment to broadening our UK-wide appeal has been one of the most inspiring strands of Conservative Government since our return to power in 2010.

However, as we approach the spending review and the surrounding political narrative it will shape, it is vital that another often-neglected part of England receives its fair share of attention and investment. Namely, the South West.

Often lumped together in discussions on the ‘South’, the South West does not share the wealth, infrastructure, or connectivity of its Eastern counterpart.  While many picture the region as the backdrop to their idyllic childhood holidays (which it still supplies a-plenty) those of us who live there or grew up there know that this it is not the full story.

Rural and coastal poverty is every bit as biting as urban poverty, and research suggests that 600,000 working age people across the region find themselves subject to it.

But there is also an acute political motive for ensuring our Western-most region receives its share of attention. We’ve all enjoyed recent polls which suggest that the much needed ‘Boris bounce’ is steering us toward a Conservative majority at the next election – but thanks to an unwelcome rise in support for the Liberal Democrats, there is a real danger that this could come at the expense of some of our MPs across Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall.

What Liberal Democrat campaigns lack in integrity, they often make up for in precision and effectiveness. Buoyed by their recovery in the polls and success in recent local elections, Lib Dem strategists will be setting a strong collection of South West seats in their sites.

However, with the forthcoming spending review, we have a real opportunity to show and strengthen our commitment to the Westcountry, and halt the Liberal revival before it has truly begun.  Here are just 5 suggestions that the Government should consider:

Introduce a rural bus route guarantee – Even without pressures on local authority budgets, rural bus services were always likely to decline in usage.  However, for those that do rely on them they are an absolute lifeline. While the DfT has already provided important funding to keep services running, there is now scope for a modest increase which can be packaged as a pledge to ensure every community is served by a bus at least twice a day.

Continue to invest in high-speed broadband – While the words ‘gig-economy’ are not always music to the ears of policy makers, the South West has an opportunity to play host to the sector’s bright side. I regularly come across self-employed marketers, website designers, journalists, and PR consultants who would love to make their home in the South West, but would struggle with a patchy and slow broadband service. Recent surveys have shown that the South-West has the worst broadband service in England but that people in Dorset, Devon, and Somerset would value an improvement the most. Government investment in high-speed broadband is already revolutionising the local economy – but the spending review present a great opportunity to hammer home our commitment.

Turbo-charge tourism – While some claim that Brexit has already damaged Britain’s tourism sector, there is little evidence to support this. The opportunity, however, is huge. In Government, the Conservatives have already done much to revive coastal communities with targeted funding – but now it’s time to announce a new headline figure for the Coastal Communities Fund. Not only will this make a tangible difference to the communities that need the boost – it will send a clear message to tourists everywhere that Brexit Britain is open for business.

Ensure a West Country voice in fisheries policy – The Common Fisheries Policy has been one of the most controversial aspects of EU membership for decades, and almost everyone accepts that returning control of policy making to the UK is essential once we Brexit. However, in the run up to our departure, most of the debate has focused around protecting the needs of Scottish fishers – a community which has an entire devolved administration to fight their corner. The needs of South-West fishing communities also need to have a voice in the setting of future policy, and Defra should formalise the process of securing one.  There would be real merit in the Government appointing a representative – perhaps a West Country MP – to advocate the needs of South West fishers in the setting of future policy.

Create a long-term road map for agriculture – The Government has played a blinder by guaranteeing agricultural subsidies until 2022.  However, as we constantly hear, business needs certainty in order to plan effectively and in this respect, farmers are businesspeople like any others.  If the event of a no-deal Brexit, a road map on the future of agriculture beyond the next three years must be top of the agenda.

The South West of England, like every other part of the UK, does better with the Conservatives.  But in the same way that the Liberal Democrats have chosen to champion project fear in their national narrative, we should expect an onslaught of highly localised scaremongering campaigns to be unleashed in the West Country as an election draws near.

By highlighting our excellent record, ensuring a fair slice of the pie in the spending review, and intentionally crafting a narrative for the South West of England, we can ensure that a future Conservative majority Government does not have to come at the expense of hard-working and effective MPs in Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset.

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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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Lib Dems would revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit immediately if they won election, Jo Swinson says

The Liberal Democrats are poised to campaign to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit altogether in an effort to ramp up their image as the pro-Europe party.

The party has been an avid supporter of holding another Brexit referendum, or a People’s Vote, which would give the British public the chance to vote to stay in the EU.

But party leader Jo Swinson has said that if she were elected Prime Minister with a majority in the Commons she would move to scrap Brexit immediately.

The proposal is due to be voted on by party members at the Lib Dem annual conference which starts on Saturday in Bournemouth.

Lib Dems would revoke Article 50

And if it is supported by the majority of the party it will be included in the Lib Dem manifesto for the next General Election.

Britain’s Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson (Photo: Reuters)

Ms Swinson tweeted that her party has “long argued for a People’s Vote. But if we have a general election before a People’s Vote, my position is clear. A Liberal Democrat majority government would revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit”.

She told The Guardian: “I relish the chance to take the fight to Boris Johnson in an election, and I’m confident we’d make significant gains.

“Whenever the election comes, our position is clear and unequivocal. A majority Liberal Democrat government would not renegotiate Brexit; we would cancel it by revoking Article 50 and remaining in the European Union.

Stopping Brexit

She said that since the referendum, the Conservatives have “made a mess of Brexit” and brought the country to the brink of no deal.

The Lib Dems are the “strongest” party for Remainers and those who support a People’s Vote, she said, and they are committed to stopping Brexit “so that we can mend our broken politics, build a fairer society and protect our planet”.

It is understood that the party would back immediate revocation of Article 50 in an election campaign but, if it did not win an outright majority, would go back to supporting a second referendum and campaigning to Remain.

New Lib Dem MP, Luciana Berger, said she “wholeheartedly support[s]” the policy and Chuka Umunna, another former Labour MP who joined the party, said the Lib Dems “make no apologies for seeking to stop Brexit”.

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Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Johnson makes Corbyn look weak

The Prime Minister looked in ebullient good humour as he entered the Chamber at 10.34 p.m. to Tory cheers. He shared a joke with the Brexit Secretary, read over a few lines of his speech, leaped to his feet the moment the Speaker called him at 10.48, and set about ridiculing his opponent as “the first Leader of the Opposition to show his confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”.

What Boris Johnson said was less important than the sovereign way he said it. He conducted himself as a man who holds the initiative, because he knows what he wants, whereas the Opposition parties are reduced to the absurd contention that they are desperately impatient to hold a general election, but also to defer any contest.

So Johnson quoted Labour leaflets put out this weekend, “We need a general election now,” accused the party of “preposterous cowardice” for avoiding one, and observed: “The only possible explanation is they fear we will win it.”

At an early stage, Johnson demonstrated his boldness by moving the microphone onto the Despatch Box so the House could hear him better – the sort of thing a well-brought-up Englishman would not dream of doing, for it would seem both risky and rude.

With Johnson, it demonstrated his sense of freedom, his “why not?” approach to things, his fearlessness in the face of whichever authorities run the Commons sound system.

“I will not vote for another delay,” Johnson declared, and sounded as if he meant it.

If Jeremy Corbyn had wished to make the Conservatives laugh at himself, his speech could have been counted a success.

When he announced, “The Prime Minister is running away,” he provoked huge amusement.

Corbyn was soon reduced to accusing the Prime Minister of making “very poor quality posts on social media”. The Prime Minister chuckled. He was at ease, even though his microphone was by now back in its conventional place.

“The Prime Minister is talking up no deal to one wing of his party,” Corbyn said, and offered one of his over-long pauses.

“Chicken wing,” some Tory wag shouted – not a witty intervention, but enough to make Corbyn look a fool for giving the opportunity.

By the end of these exchanges, one could not help feeling Johnson might have done better to keep Parliament sitting continuously, though it is true that allowing more time would make the exchanges less dramatic.

Jo Swinson, the new Liberal Democrat leader, accused Johnson of treating the whole thing “like a game”, and told him sternly, “this is not a student debating society”.

A lot of people will agree with her. She was better than Corbyn, because she sounded as if she believed what she was saying. The Liberal Democrat vote will be swollen by Remainers who wish to vote for the genuine article rather than for a fake.

But on her point that Johnson treats the thing as a game – an accusation made by many people – it should be said that while it is true that a certain playfulness can usually be detected in his utterances, he is serious about winning any game he plays.

He won last night by 293 to 46 votes, which sounds decisive but was insufficient to meet the exacting requirements of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

More important, he won the debate, made Corbyn looked weak, and reminded everyone that he likes nothing better than to go out in rough weather.

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Lord Ashcroft: What my latest focus groups say about the twists and turns of the Brexit drama

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

As last week’s Parliamentary drama unfolded, I decided to find out how things seemed to the people on whose behalf it was supposedly being enacted – namely the voters, in the shape of focus groups in Barnet and St Ives.

It was no surprise that people were sharply divided over their new Prime Minister. For many Labour voters, he was “dangerous”, a “charlatan”, “bullying”, “running the country into the ground” and “trying to baffle people with poshness;” “he’d be an amazing character if he was fictional.”

But Conservative remain voters also had mixed views: while some thought he was divisive, dictatorial and untrustworthy (“I don’t think he’s as proper as some MPs – he can probably go rogue”), for others he was colourful, “flavoursome” and “quite statesmanlike compared to the rest. If you think about how Britain is presenting itself on the international stage, who else would have the personality and persona to stand up and be heard?” “His inauguration speech was actually quite rousing. I thought, we are where we are, but he’s got the right attitude, he wants to try and fix some things.”

A few were less positive than they had once been: “initially, I felt it was a good thing, but after what’s happened in the past 24 hours I don’t know. He’s playing a very dangerous game and I’m concerned the game he’s playing could hand the keys to Jeremy Corbyn, which is my worst nightmare;” “There is a sinister side underneath the foppish hair that I didn’t think was there.”

The notable thing about that view, though, was that it was rare: most seemed to feel much as they as they had previously done, only more strongly. For Leave voters he was “realistic,” “robust,” “a doer,” “more proactive,” “bombastic” in a good way and “kind of like Trump – he’s going to make some changes and make things happen.”

On issues other than Brexit, people had heard the new Government promise money for the NHS, schools, universities, the police and social care. It is fair to say that this agenda had been taken with a very considerable pinch of salt on all sides. “If he came though it would be fabulous” but “he’s promising the moon on a stick”; “He will say anything we want to hear. Where’s it coming from, the money? Who knows. All we hear is that the pot is running dry. Is he banking on not paying the £39 billion divorce bill, is he playing that card?” “I worry because the Tory government has cut a lot of things, so is this a new Conservative policy? I’m a bit confused about the policy of his party.”

On Brexit, the policy was completely clear, for good or ill: “He wants to get it done;” “I don’t like him, but I like that he’s pretty stern and wants to do what the country voted for.” Johnson’s determination to leave on October 31 come what may was well known, but most thought he would much rather do so with a deal than without, if only to show he could succeed where Theresa May had not: “I’m sure Boris would rather have the security of some sort of trade deal, and also for his own ego and press. He wants to be able to say where Theresa May failed, he’s on the front pages shaking Macron’s hand. He wants to be the hero, the one who came in and fixed it all.”

Most participants on all sides were sceptical that a no-deal Brexit would be as bad as the worst predictions had suggested – “I can’t believe Europe won’t want our spending power” – and a good deal of scaremongering was in the air (although for no discernible purpose: “you can scaremonger us all you like, we’re not the ones making the decisions”). Ultimately, nobody knew what would happen and “so much nonsense has been spoken that the truth gets lost. It’s very difficult to know what to believe and what sources to trust.”

For many Leavers, the bigger fear was that despite the PM’s do-or-die attitude, Brexit still would not happen by the Halloween deadline: “My concern is, will he go through with it? I’m a bit sceptical. They say they will do this and then something else will change;” “I like the idea of us pulling out on 31 October, but the chances of it happening are minute.” This had ominous implications for the Conservatives: “If we don’t leave by 31 October, I’ll have no confidence on anything else. They haven’t done what they promised us;” “He’s made such a song and dance about this deadline, he’s hanging himself out to dry.”

Asked who was responsible for the Parliamentary impasse, neither Remainers nor Leavers distinguished between the parties or factions: “It’s all of them. The politicians should have dealt with it in a more professional and grown-up way.” After all, “Parliament came to the country. MPs were voted into Parliament and they should work together to get us out”. “All the parties are so split. Even half the Cabinet don’t agree with what he says;” “Both sides lied in the referendum. It’s led to the public not knowing who they can trust.” Touchingly, some thought they should still be able to expect better from their elected representatives: “They might all be lying cheating thieving bastards, but they should set an example.”

Even among Remain voters, there were mixed views about the prospect, since realised, of a law to take a No Deal Brexit off the table. Undesirable though No Deal might be, people wondered what the point of another extension would turn out to be: “We’re only going go drag everything out with zero result. Nothing’s changed since March, nothing’s changed since June. End it!” “I don’t have any faith that saying 31 January will mean we leave on 31 January.”

Despite their exasperation with Parliament, one thing that united all our participants was that none of them wanted to see an early general election. Going to the country again would be a waste of time, money and energy when what was needed was for the current Parliament to do its job: “the country’s already voted! We’ve made our decision, we’ve made our choice.”

Most also doubted that an election would change the situation, or at least not for the better: “The two main parties will lose, the smaller parties will gain, and chaos will rule;” “We’ll have lots of strange parties doing strange deals. I would rather get it done with.” Labour-voting remainers tended to come to the same conclusion from a different angle: “I would love another election to remove Boris from power, but I don’t want it used in a way to barter against Brexit.”

More poignantly, it was also clear that many – mostly among those who had voted Leave, but certainly not exclusively – had become so demoralised as to wonder whether voting was worth bothering with. “What’s the point? We’ve done the big thing, the referendum, and it was totally ignored;” “People had a chance to vote, and it’s as though that didn’t count for anything. Public opinion is going down the drain. It is a mockery – three years later, we’re still debating if it’s happening or not. It’s embarrassing, really;” “I’m not sure anyone’s going to vote because faith has gone. When they give you the right to vote and you don’t get listened to…”

Though they had a firm grasp of the bigger picture, most had better things to do than follow the relentless stream of breathlessly breaking news. Jo Johnson was a case in point. Had anyone heard of him? “It rings a bell. Is he a singer?” “You might be thinking of Jack.” “Is he Boris’s brother?” Was that a guess? “It was actually.” Those who had noticed the brotherly resignation tended to see it as a dignified and even compassionate move (“and there’s not much of that about”) to avoid a public dispute between the pair, in striking contrast to the Milibands. Still, “Christmas is going to be awkward.”

There was some sympathy for the Conservative MPs removed from the Parliamentary party for voting against the whip on Tuesday (not least because “they’re doing to Boris what he did to the previous PM”): “It’s not very ethical – what an awful position to be in, losing your job or compromising your morals;” “They should be allowed to say what they want and not be outed.”

If anything, though, the balance of opinion was that the rebels knew what they were letting themselves in for given the Prime Minister’s resolve: “He’s trying to get things done. They were warned;” “I don’t think he had a choice, because very early in his time as Prime Minister he couldn’t be seen as being soft on them. I don’t like him but we need someone strong.”

In this respect, there was a chasm between Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, whose position on Brexit remained opaque to say the least: “This week it’s stay in and last week it was come out;” “Haven’t a clue;” “He’s so indecisive he keeps changing his mind;” “He’s been tactical for too long. Everyone at one point was mad for him, but now he’s lost all that.” Even among our 2017 Labour-voting participants, there was very little support: “He was elected on a wave and that wave is no longer there;” “I’m a Labour person, but Corbyn does scare me a bit. I don’t think he’s got what it takes to run the country.”

For uncommitted Remainers, if it came to a choice between a No Deal Brexit and a Corbyn-led government there would be no contest: “A Corbyn government would be worse. I would actually be scared;” “My fear is the rise of the trade unions from the 1970s, which we know he’s a darling of;” “His views are so extreme. I still remember him standing on the stage with Sinn Fein after they blew up the pub in Birmingham, and I can’t get past that;” “I can’t think of one statesmanlike quality he has that a leader should have.”

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, had installed a new leader since some of our Cornish participants had voted for the party in 2017. Could they identify the individual? “I think they’re male.” No. “Has she got short hair?” No. It’s Jo Swinson. Blank faces. “Well, she hasn’t made much of an impact if she’s new. I’ve never bloody heard of her.”

Another thing our St Ives Lib Dem voters had in common was that they had also voted Leave in 2016. Didn’t this seem like a contradiction, voting for a party that wanted to stop Brexit, which they supported? “I’d never thought of it like that. We’re a funny breed down here. If there’s someone good in the constituency that you’ve heard of… If David Penhaligon was still alive, he’d probably still be an MP today.”

Moreover, as Theresa May learned to her cost, elections are never about only one issue, however much politicians might want them to be: “It boils down to all the things that affect the public – families, the future, kids growing up…” Still, “I’m not sure that any of that will matter this time. Brexit is such a big monster, everything else pales into insignificance. It’s all anyone talks about.”

The LibDem position on Brexit was at least clear: “They want to remain. At least they have been honest. But it’s not a very good start, is it – ‘however you vote, we want to stay in’.” Most said they would probably switch away from the party in an early election: “The only way the Liberals are going to get into power is if there’s a hung parliament, and that’s not really working.”

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Chuka Umunna to stand as Lib Dem candidate in Cities of London and Westminster to fight Tories in general election

Chuka Umunna will attempt to fight the Conservatives at the next general election by standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Cities of London and Westminster constituency.

The area is currently represented by Tory MP Mark Field but Mr Umunna suggested he was a better option for the constituency because of his “liberal values” and opposition to Brexit.

“I relish the prospect of ensuring the constituency – which is a global symbol for open, liberal values – is represented by a party and an MP who will be true to those values,” he tweeted.

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‘I’ll vote for whoever the Labour candidate is’: Chuka Umunna’s constituents react after he quits for Independent Group

Streatham up for the taking

The announcement means the constituency of Streatham, a Labour stronghold which Mr Umunna won in 2010, is up for the taking at the next election. There is already a Lib Dem candidate for Streatham.

More than 70 per cent of constituents in the Cities of London and Westminster voted for Remain in the EU referendum but it is considered an important seat for the Tories in the capital.

Mr Field held on to it with 46.6 per cent of the vote at the 2017 election – a majority of around 3,000. Labour received 38 per cent of the vote while the Lib Dems trailed behind with 11 per cent.

The former Foreign Office minister was embroiled in controversy earlier this year when footage emerged of him pushing a female climate change protester against a column before physically removing her from a dinner event.

The then prime minister Theresa May suspended him from the ministerial post and he referred himself for investigation. In July it was announced new Prime Minister Boris Johnson had ended the enquiry.

Conservative MP Mark Field tackled a Greenpeace climate protester at a dinner at Mansion House
Conservative MP Mark Field tackled a Greenpeace climate protester at a dinner at Mansion House (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

‘Fight tooth and nail’

Mr Umunna, who is foreign affairs spokesman for the Lib Dems, told the Evening Standard: “I worked as a solicitor in the City and West End and I know they are the last places that should be represented by one of Mr Johnson’s MPs who has just voted to enable a no-deal Brexit.

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“The City is the centre of international values, while the West End is home to our greatest creative industries. These centres are telling us that Brexit will be bad for them.”

He told the Standard it was important to win seats from the Tories.

“I will fight tooth and nail to take this battle to Mr Johnson and his ‘Vote Leave’ government and ensure it is represented by a Remainer committed to stopping Brexit.

“I resigned from Labour primarily because of the party’s failure to oppose Brexit. Whilst it is important to win seats from Labour, it is also vital we win seats from Mr Johnson’s populist nationalist Tory party in order to stop Brexit and build a more liberal and inclusive Britain.”

Mr Umunna defected from Labour earlier this year to become an independent MP over the party’s handling of Brexit. He later joined the Independent Group, which then became known as Change UK, a centrist party.

But following a disappointing showing at the EU elections, Mr Umunna parted ways with Change UK to become an independent again. In June, he announced he was joining the Liberal Democrats because it was “at the forefront” of “a progressive and internationalist movement”.

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Iain Dale: Bracknell, Broadland, Tunbridge Wells, Conservative candidacies and my future. A statement.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

I have to admit to feeling very torn over the whip being withdrawn from 21 Conservative MPs over their rebellion this week.

On the one hand, they all knew the consequences of what they were doing. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t had due warning that the vote was considered a vote of confidence. So the Prime Minister and Chief Whip were quite within their rights to withdraw the whip from them, thereby preventing all of the 21 from standing as a Conservative candidate in any immediate election.

And yet, and yet.  I feel a profound sense unease at this move, just as I did in 1992 when John Major did the same thing to the Maastricht rebels. They were seen by many, albeit unfairly – and especially in the media – as the mad, the bad and the sad.

The current rebels are people of immense stature and, although they differ from me on our views of Brexit, I regard each and every one of them as a proper Conservative. Whatever the proprieties are of withdrawing the whip, sometimes in politics you have to be pragmatic. You need to think how ordinary voters will view these things. It’s a long-established political fact that the electorate hates divided parties.

Part of the problem here is that some people seem to have drunk their own kool-aid. I’ve said before that I think the first month of Boris Johnson’s premiership was a success. He picked the Conservative Party up off the floor, provided a clear direction of travel and exuded some much needed positivity and optimism.

But with success comes the danger of hubris. No politician or adviser is without fallibility and I’m afraid there are one or two people in Downing Street who seem to think they are beyond questioning. The events this week have shown how wrong they are.

– – – – – – – – – – –

A lot has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to accede to the Prime Minister’s request for a general election, so I won’t add to it much here except to say this: surely the best way to avoid a No Deal Brexit, if that is really his aim, would be for him to become Prime Minister – and the only way that can happen is for him to win a general election? Then he can make sure it doesn’t happen. But there’s the rub. Labour knows it’s very unlikely that he could win it. Democracy, eh?

– – – – – – – – – –

Back in 2009 I was in the final of the Bracknell selection. There were seven of us taking part – an unusually large number. I really felt I had a good chance, although I knew that the local GP, Phillip Lee, was always going to be the favourite.

On the day of the open primary, one by one those seven candidates fell by the wayside. It was a bit like X Factor. I got down to the final three, against Lee and Stewart. At that point, I realised the game was probably up. If they wanted to play safe, they’d go for Philip. If they wanted to take a risk, they’d go for Rory – and I fell somewhere between the two.

My rationale was that they wouldn’t want a compromise candidate; they’d want the real thing. I was right. I won’t pretend I wasn’t gutted, because I was. Bracknell was the perfect constituency for me, I thought, and I felt a connection.

Scroll forward ten years and Bracknell are about to select a new candidate. On Tuesday I interviewed the Chairman of Bracknell Conservatives to get his reaction to Lee’s defection. He was very gentlemanly, and resisted the opportunity to stick the knife in, but it’s clear that this move has been coming for some time. Lee’s done quite a bit of public agonising over the last year so the reaction, rather than surprise, was a bit of shoulder-shrugging.

The point is: Lee is no more a Liberal Democrat than I am. His views on Brexit may partially coincide with theirs, but on virtually everything else he’s a true blue Tory. I wonder how comfortable he will feel with them. No more comfortable than Chuka Ummuna, I imagine.

– – – – – – – – – –

So far this week, I’ve been linked with standing in Bracknell, Broadland and Tunbridge Wells – given that in addition to Philip Lee’s defection, my good friend Keith Simpson has announced he’s standing down in Broadland, where I have a house, and Greg Clark in Tunbridge Wells (where I live) has had the whip removed.

Were I 47, I might be tempted, but I’m not. I’m 57, and I very much enjoy my current life. Yes, there’s a part of me that thinks in this dire situation that all good (wo)men and true should come to the aid of the country, but in the end, self-knowledge is a wonderful thing. And I am far better equipped to resist temptation at 57 than I was when I was younger.

– – – – – – – – – –

I can only imagine the agonies that Jo Johnson has been through in making his decision to resign as a minister and quit as an MP. There will be obvious comparisons with the Miliband brothers, I suppose. It is rumoured that Jo didn’t inform his brother what he was intending to do. On the face of it, you’d have to say that appears incredibly ruthless, if correct. Families, eh?

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Ex-Labour MP Luciana Berger joins Liberal Democrats seven months after quitting Jeremy Corbyn’s party

Former Labour MP Luciana Berger has joined the Liberal Democrats in the latest boost for the pro-EU party.

The Liverpool Wavertree MP said she had signed up to Jo Swinson’s outfit in order to join the fight to stop Brexit altogether.

It comes seven months after Ms Berger, 38, resigned from Labour in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and helped form the new Independent Group. She later quit the party, renamed Change UK.

The Lib Dems now have 16 MPs – four more than after the 2017 general election – following the defection of Ms Berger and ex-Conservative Phillip Lee this week.

‘National crisis’

Ms Berger said today: “This is a moment of national crisis. The Liberal Democrats are unequivocal in wanting to stop Brexit and are committed to securing Britain’s future as a tolerant, open and inclusive society.

“I am joining Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats today, in the national interest, to offer a vital, positive alternative to Johnson and Corbyn and help build a future that our country deserves.”

Party leader Ms Swinson added: “Luciana becomes the fourth MP in three months to cross the floor and join the Liberal Democrats. We’re thrilled to add her perspective, expertise and skills to our ever-growing parliamentary team.

“The Liberal Democrats are growing in strength as we lead the fight to Stop Brexit altogether. We are fully behind a People’s Vote, and we are the rallying point for Remainers and the liberal centre ground.”

Luciana Berger with her new party leader Jo Swinson (Photo: PA)

Chuka Umunna, another ex-Labour MP who was part of Change UK, recently joined the Lib Dems, followed by former Tory Sarah Wollaston. And they won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election last month, taking the sear from the Conservatives.

Ms Berger, who is Jewish, said earlier this year she could no longer stay in the Labour party because of Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the party’s anti-Semitism crisis.

She has spent much of 2019 on maternity lead and said she bonded with Ms Swinson over the difficulties of juggling motherhood and politics.

The MP could seek another more winnable seat to stand in ahead of the expected autumn general election.

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LGBT Lib Dems abandon the party in protest at ‘illiberal’ former Tory Phillip Lee being allowed to join

Prominent LGBT+ Liberal Democrats are quitting the party after former Conservative MP Phillip Lee was accepted into the fold yesterday.

The MP for Bracknell, who once branded Brexit a “turd” during a heated discussion on Politics Live, dramatically crossed the floor on Tuesday night, making Boris Johnson’s Conservatives the first governing party to rule without a working majority since John Major lost his in December 1996.

While the move struck a blow to the Tories amid wrangling over no-deal Brexit, it has also sparked a strong backlash in the Lib Dems’ own ranks, leading the chair of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, Jennie Rigg, to quit the party.

Another member of the executive, Sarah Brown, also left the party.

Dr Lee, who voted against same-sex marriage and campaigned to bar people with HIV from being able to come to the UK, also became known for stating that the NHS should not fund medication for “lifestyle-related” diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

‘You can work with people without admitting them to the party’

Ms Rigg grew concerned when she heard rumours Dr Lee was joining the party earlier on in the year, she told i.

Ms Rigg, who has been a member of the party for 11 years, said: “I first heard the rumours that Phillip Lee was thinking of defecting to us a couple of months ago. At that point I started telling anyone who would listen that if the party accepted him, I would leave.
Dr Phillip Lee crossed the floor on Tuesday
Dr Phillip Lee crossed the floor on Tuesday (Photo: UK Parliament)
“If the party is a home for someone whose views are so diametrically opposed to mine, then it can’t be for me.

“You can work with people without admitting them to the party. I would not have objected to working with him in a ‘remain alliance’; admitting him to the party is not so much making a broad church as blowing the church’s walls out and hoping that somehow the roof stays on.

Sarah Brown, a former Cambridge city councillor and trans rights campaigner who was part of the LGBT executive in the party, announced her own departure in a Facebook post, stating: “This is a man who, in 2014, tabled an amendment that would have refused entry to the country to any migrants who could not prove they were clear of HIV and Hepatitis B.

“I regarded, and still regard this as homophobic dog whistling. When Nigel Farage proposed something similar, Nick Clegg specifically called him out on it.”

She cited Ms Rigg’s struggle with Dr Lee’s adoption, adding: “Rather than react to Jennie’s concerns, the parliamentary party doubled down, telling us that we had it wrong, that Lee’s amendment was all about public health and not about keeping people out.”

“I will still be voting Liberal Democrat, and I would urge you to do the same,” she said. “The Liberal Democrats represent the best hope for progressive, tolerant politics in this country, despite their flaws in communication and a parliamentary party that sometimes acts as if it’s a law unto itself. I’m not out to nuke my bridges here, but I felt I had to do this, and I needed to explain why.”

‘Widely condemned views’

Dr Lee’s voting record on LGBT rights and immigration has been a cause for concern for many of the party, Ms Rigg told i.

Several other members of the party have quit in protest of his appointment, such as Luke Graham, who has been a member of the Lib Dems since 2010.

Mr Graham said: “I supported Jo [Swinson]’s leadership bid in part because I thought she’d be absolutely solid on LGBT+ issues. As a bi person, this is not the first time I’ve been let down by leadership of the party.”

Another member, Alisdair McGregor added: “I am not going to welcome Philip Lee to the Liberal Democrats; his statement is entirely about Brexit, and fails to address the deeply illiberal policies on LGBT+ issues and immigration he has championed in the past.”

Party member James Baillie said the move “cuts out actual liberals”.

Ms Rigg told i: “Given the repeated concerns expressed about this to the powers that be within the party, not just by me, I think this shows that the Lib Dems commitment to LGBT+ rights and anti-xenophobia is far too easily discarded for a quick headline.”

Phillip Lee branded Brexit a 'turd' during the BBC Politics Live show. (Image: BBC)
Phillip Lee branded Brexit a ‘turd’ during the BBC Politics Live show. (Image: BBC)

Following Ms Rigg’s departure, Cambridge city councillor Zoë O’Connell has taken up the post as LGBT+ chair. 

Ms O’Connell said she has requested an urgent meeting with leader Jo Swinson and chief whip Alistair Carmichael to discuss the MP’s “widely condemned views.”

Zoë O’Connell told i: Unfortunately, LGBT+ Liberal Democrats were not informed of Phillip Lee’s defection before it had happened.

“Given our party both welcomes immigrants and supports making PrEP available on the NHS throughout the UK, we are very troubled by his previous public voting record and views on same-sex marriage, HIV and providing drugs for conditions he views as lifestyle choices.

“Lee’s comments made on the BBC just hours after his defection that he stands by his widely condemned views from 2014 on HIV testing immigrants have done nothing to allay the fears of our members.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said: “We are always sorry to see members leaving the party and wish them all the best.”

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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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Lee’s defection surprises nobody

In a time of exciting news and surprising events, Dr Philip Lee’s defection to the Liberal Democrats was strikingly expected. None of his colleagues looked shocked when he crossed the floor, and there was no call like the heartfelt “Oh Nick, don’t go…” which rang out in the hope of keeping Nick Boles on board.

Everybody knew the defection was coming for the good reason that Lee told everybody earlier in the year that he felt “politically homeless” and that he would “spend the summer” thinking about defecting to the Liberal Democrats.

It wasn’t an exercise in subtlety – and the Government got the message. Effectively at that point he wrote himself out of the role of unhappy backbencher who might rebel, and into the status of a defection press release in search of a date. Once it’s clear you’re just seeking the optimum time for disruption and/or fame, people discount it and move on.

The last couple of years have been visibly uncomfortable for the Bracknell MP. Like the majority of Conservative MPs, he voted Remain, but during the referendum campaign itself he was at least outwardly unequivocal that “if the country votes to leave, I will represent the public’s view and vote accordingly”.

But unlike most of his Remain-supporting colleagues (and indeed many other Remain voters) who managed to reconcile themselves to the outcome, however, he struggled to fulfil that pledge, and appeared genuinely conflicted about how to reflect his dislike of the new reality. After resigning from the Government in order to oppose it in a vote, he ended up abstaining. He kept up an increasingly vocal and increasingly anti-Brexit campaign from the backbenches, and lost a confidence vote in his local association in June.

Evidently he felt – and feels – extremely strongly about EU membership, to the extent that while his resignation letter speaks of concerns about the manner of leaving the EU, he has opted to defect to the party which most strongly opposes leaving under any circumstances. By defecting to the banner of “bollocks to Brexit”, it seems that his objection is less that the Conservative Party in 2019 is no longer “the party I joined in 1992”, and more that it has turned out to still be the party it said it would be when he stood for election as one of its candidates in 2017.

Aside from the principle of the issue, I’d also guess that it’s not insignificant that not long ago he made little secret of the fact that he thought of himself as a future Conservative Prime Minister (Mark Reckless, among others recalls being lobbied to this effect). While I don’t share Lee’s views on the EU, I can imagine it must have been agonising for someone with such an ambition to realise that their opinions were become more in conflict with the Party they hoped to lead and millions of its voters.

So while the Government is down an MP, and therefore sees its theoretical sort-of majority eliminated, in practice what’s happened is the official Commons arithmetic has changed to reflect what it was generally assumed to be anyway.

As for the people of Bracknell, who voted 53 per cent Leave in 2016 and 58.8 per cent for a ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ Conservative Party in 2017, the next question is whether they will get to vote on their MP’s change of Party and opinion at the next election.

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Nicola Sturgeon says Shetland a ‘top target’ for SNP after Lib Dem hold

The Liberal Democrats have held on to their seat in Shetland after a hard fought Holyrood by-election, but the party saw its majority reduced significantly at the hands of the SNP.

The result means that the island constituency is no longer Scotland’s safest seat, with Nicola Sturgeon claiming it is now a “top target” for her party at the next election in 2021.

Lib Dem candidate Beatrice Wishart won 5,659 votes after a strong turnout of 66.5 per cent, making history in the process by becoming the first female parliamentarian elected to represent the area.

However, the SNP mounted a strong campaign in the build up the vote and secured a 14.4 per cent swing away from the Lib Dems. The party’s candidate Tom Wills finishing second with 3,822 votes.

Majority cut

The result means that the Lib Dem majority has been more than halved from 4,895 in 2016 to only 1,837. Turnout was also higher that then 62 per cent recorded at the last election.

The by-election was sparked by the resignation of long standing MSP Tavish Scott, the former Scottish Lib Dem leader who had represented the constituency since 1999.

Ms Wishart said she was honoured to become Shetland’s first female MSP after the “roller coaster” campaign and said the constituency had “once again rejected Scottish nationalism”.

Nicola Sturgeon visited Shetland three times in the build up to the by-election (Photo: Getty)
Nicola Sturgeon visited Shetland three times in the build up to the by-election (Photo: Getty)

“My work will start on Monday to get the Scottish Government to take action on its empty promises for fair ferry funding, to improve nursery provision, mental health care and broadband.”

Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, claimed the result would be a “bitter disappointment” for the SNP.

“Just last week Nicola Sturgeon was here for her third visit in a month, telling us it was going to be neck and neck. If that was neck and neck, all I can say is that’s some neck,” he added.

Sturgeon ‘proud’

However, the First Minister said she was “proud” of the campaign her party had fought and said the result meant the seat was now easily winnable at the next election.

“The Lib Dem majority has been slashed, with a 14 per cent swing to SNP. What was the safest seat in Scotland is now a top SNP target for 2021. The tide is turning,” she added.

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Ruth Davidson’s resignation leaves Tories adrift in Scotland

The result also contained more bad electoral news for Scottish Labour, which fell from third place in 2016 to sixth, with candidate Johan Adamson winning just 152 votes.

Independent candidate Ryan Thomson came in third with 1,286 votes, ahead of Conservative Brydon Goodlad on 425 and Green candidate Debra Nicolson on 189.

Scotland’s safest seat is now Orkney, where Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur has a majority of 43.1 per cent over the SNP.

Full results:

  • Beatrice Wishart (Scottish Lib Dems) 5,659 (47.86%, -19.52%)
  • Tom Wills (SNP) 3,822 (32.32%, +9.27%)
  • Ryan Thomson (Independent) 1,286 (10.88%)
  • Brydon Goodlad (Scottish Conservative) 425 (3.59%, -0.07%)
  • Debra Nicolson (Green) 189 (1.60%)
  • Johan Adamson (Scottish Labour) 152 (1.29%, -4.61%)
  • Michael Stout (Independent) 134 (1.13%)
  • Ian Scott (Independent) 66 (0.56%)
  • Stuart Martin (UKIP) 60 (0.51%)
  • Peter Tait (Independent) 31 (0.26%)

14.40% swing Lib Dem to SNP

Electorate 17,810 – Turnout 11,824 (66.39%, up by 4.31%)

More on Scotland

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Lib-Dem leader Jo Swinson says anti-no deal Brexit rebels are ‘looking to act as soon as possible’

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has said Parliament will be able to write new laws preventing Boris Johnson from forcing through a no-deal Brexit after opposition parties joined forces on Tuesday.

A cross-party group of around 160 MPs have signed a declaration to support doing “whatever is necessary” to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Ms Swinson claimed the Commons will now have the power to tie Mr Johnson’s hands over the issue, with the help of a group of pro-EU Tory MPs who have promised to back legislation blocking a no-deal if an emergency debate is held under a rule known as Standing Order Number 24.

But the Government appeared to counter the MPs’ move on Wednesday by asking the Queen to suspend parliament just six days after it returns on 3 September, restricting the time MPs will have to vote on the laws to block a no-deal.

‘The legislative route’

New Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson waves on stage (Photo: Getty Images)

Jo Swinson told the BBC’s World At One programme on Tuesday: “The legislative route is the one where there is real agreement that that is the strongest and the best way for us to pursue avoiding a no-deal exit.

“There are various scenarios that we are looking at in terms of how to do that, and there are further meetings and discussions happening between members of the group in the next 48 hours to flesh out exactly what the strategy will be.

“But what is clear is there is a real sense of urgency, we don’t have time to lose, and so we are very much looking to act as soon as possible.”

Cross-party declaration

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts sign the cross-party declaratio. (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Meeting at Church House in Westminster on Tuesday, a meeting place for the House of Commons during the Second World War, the cross-party group of MPs signed what they are calling the Church House Declaration, backed by the Labour, the Liberal Democrats, The SNP, Plaid Cymru, and independent MPs.

Former Conservative ministers Guto Bebb, Dominic Grieve, Sam Gyimah and Phillip Lee are among those who signed the document.

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What is prorogation?

Ms Swinson argued that more Tory MPs are planning to come onside, a significant threat to Mr Johnson who governs with a majority of just one in the Commons.

She said: “I know that there are several, indeed, I would say more than several Conservative colleagues who are very troubled by the idea of the government crashing us out of the EU without a deal.”

She added that some of those MPs “have already acted and voted against the Government to try to prevent that. And while parliament has been in recess, there have nonetheless been a lot of cross-party discussions taking place, both face to face and on the telephone and online”.

No majority for no-deal

Prime Minister Boris Johnson issues a statement to the House of Commons (Photo: PA)

Former minister and ex-Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart has said he will vote against a no-deal Brexit, branding it “unnecessary and damaging” but said he was “hesitant” about the plans.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday: “I would definitely vote against a no-deal Brexit and I think it’s important to understand there’s never been a majority in Parliament for a no-deal Brexit, this is one of the fundamental facts that’s been true for months, but the second question is then what? And that’s where I think I probably disagree with some of these opposition MPs.”

Read more:

Boris Johnson asks Queen to suspend Parliament from mid-September – leading to no-deal Brexit fears

Independent MP Luciana Berger who co-convened the Church House meeting told PA news agency she would back MPs meeting at an alternative location – such as Church House – if Parliament was prorogued in order to push through a no-deal Brexit.

She said: “There are lots of things that MPs collectively can do together and we will have to make that decision if and when that moment definitively presents itself.

“The challenge at the moment is the hint of prorogation. The Prime Minister has failed to rule it out.”

She added: “I wouldn’t purport to be an expert on (parliamentary rule book) Erskine May, but the fact that we come together in this place, where MPs have in the past come together, and it has been officially recognised, is indicative of the fact that it could take place again in the future.

“Ours is a people’s parliament. We live in a parliamentary democracy and I hope that parliamentary democracy will be respected and will continue into the decades and centuries ahead.”

Additional reporting by Press Association.

More on Brexit

 

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Norman Lamb to stand down as a Lib Dem MP at the next general election

Former health minister Sir Norman Lamb is to stand down as an MP at the next general election. The 61-year-old said he believes he has more opportunity to work on the issues he cares about outside of parliament.

Speaking to his local newspaper, Eastern Daily Press, he said he had notified his party that he will not contest another election.

He added that it felt like the “end of an era”, having been first elected in 2001.

Mr Lamb stood for his party’s leadership in 2015, but lost to Tim Farron, who went on to fight the 2017 general election.

Working outside politics

Norman Lamb will step down as Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk
Sir Norman Lamb will step down as Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk (Photo: UK Parliament)

He was honoured with a knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours in June.

Explaining his decision to step down, Mr Lamb said he “absolutely” did not want to finish work upon leaving the Commons.

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Norman Lamb: We cannot let mental health slide down the agenda because of Brexit

He said: “I absolutely don’t want to stop working. but the things I’m passionate about are the things I can best promote outside parliament.

“And so everything built up through my work as a minister in mental health and learning disabilities and autism, I’ve got very strong views about how the system tramples over people’s human rights.”

‘Disturbing time’

The committed Remainer said he felt politics had changed since the EU referendum.

He continued: “I think we are in a very sad and disturbing place in our politics. It feels like there are two camps.

“But I think the public expects politicians to rise above the fray and be willing to bring the country together again.”

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Justin Welby condemned by Iain Duncan-Smith for ‘deeply inappropriate’ plan to prevent no-deal

The Liberal Democrats have 14 MPs at present with 12 of them in frontbench jobs.

Changes were announced after Jo Swinson was elected as the party’s leader last month.

The two Lib Dem MPs without frontbench roles are Mr Lamb and Sarah Wollaston, formerly of the Conservatives and Change UK and chairwoman of the Health Select Committee.

More Politics

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WATCH: Gardiner – Liberal Democrats ‘petulant’ for not making Corbyn caretaker Prime Minister

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Iain Dale: Were the Prime Minister to pull the plug on HS2, would he call time on Heathrow expansion too?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

I have very mixed feelings about HS2. I am usually all in favour of visionary transport infrastructure projects. I rather liked the idea of the Boris Island Airport, and still regret that he didn’t make it part of his leadership campaign. I also think high speed rail is a good thing.

However, I still don’t think the business case for HS2 has really ever been properly made.  Capacity is clearly an issue on parts of the West Coast main line, but it seems to be the Manchester trains which suffer, rather than the Birmingham ones.

The Prime Minister is clearly minded to cancel the whole project, and hopes that the review announced this week will give him political cover. Quite how he will explain the waste of upwards of £7.2 billion I don’t know, but presumably the saving of a further £80 billion will be used to show how other parts of our transport system could be improved.

Of course, if HS2 is cancelled, one would quite reasonably wonder whether the third runway at Heathrow might be next on the list for a prime ministerial cull.

– – – – – – – – – – –

A new Kantar poll puts the Conservatives on 42 per cent, with Labour trailing on 28 per cent and the Brexit Party on only five per cent. The Liberal Democrats were constant on 15 per cent.

So, a 14 per cent lead for Johnson. Is this a “Boris bounce”? None of the other polls have shown a lead anything like this big, so everyone should treat with a huge degree of scepticism. But since it is widely believed that there will be a general election by the end of November, this is not a bad place to start from.

But as ever, a Conservative election success surely relies on us leaving the EU on October 31st. If we don’t, quite a few of those per centage points will be shaved off by Nigel Farage.

– – – – – – – – – –

Talking of Farage, he has made clear that, if the Prime Minister signs up to any form of deal with the EU, the Brexit Party will stand candidates against every Conservative candidate up and down the country. The only way to avoid that would be for us to leave on 31 October with no deal.

That outcome seems ever more likely as each day and each exchange of letters with Donald Tusk takes place. But as with Farage, I have a feeling in my water that the prospect of a last-minute deal hasn’t entirely disappeared. Yet.

The purists may hate it, but in the end, we have surely to remain of the view that a good deal is better than no deal. The trouble is that few can see what would actually constitute a good deal from the UK viewpoint. We can all see what a bad deal looks like, of course. But how we get from that to a good deal is anyone’s guess. –

– – – – – – – – –

 

The ‘N’ key to my laptop has come ustuck. Makes me thik a ew computer may be i order. I could stick it o agai , I suppose. But where’s the fu i that?

– – – – – – – – – –

This is my first and only week’s holiday of the year. I’m spending it in Norfolk doing nothing at all – apart from writing this, and two other columns.

And watching box sets. I’ve finished Designated Survivor on Netflix and have now started the Korean version. I’m quite used to watching programmes with subtitles, but normally I can pick up a few words of the language. Not Korean. It’s almost impossible to follow.

I’m also reading Andrew Roberts’ brilliant thousand page biography of Winston Churchill. I always find these doorstops of books incredibly intimidating, mainly because I normally only read before I go to sleep, and therefore only manage three pages a night. So I’m pleased I’m already on page 200. Right, time for another chapter…

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The real winners of this abortive ’emergency government’ could be the SNP

At the time of writing, it looks as if efforts to put together a ‘letter-writing government’ – formed with the sole intention of extending Article 50 and then calling an election – are hitting the buffers.

For all the controversy around the handful of Conservative and ex-Conservative MPs who appear willing to discuss putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street for that purpose, there aren’t nearly enough of them to offset the ten ex-Labour MPs who won’t countenance installing their former leader.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Stephen Bush estimates that a Corbyn-led ’emergency government’ (the phrasing varies from advocate to advocate) would require 14 Tory rebels just to offset those hold-outs. He then reveals that they can’t even get Dominic Grieve.

As the Labour leadership are extremely unlikely to stand aside to allow a less divisive figure to do the job, the plan looks as if it might be dead in the water. Oddly, the biggest winners of this abortive effort might be the SNP.

Whilst they may no longer hold nearly every seat in Scotland, the parliamentary arithmetic is such that Nicola Sturgeon’s phalanx of Nationalist MPs would be absolutely crucial to any administration capable of outvoting the Conservative/Democratic Unionist alliance in the Commons. Unlike the hole she has dug for herself over independence, the First Minister seems to have used this leverage fairly well.

Unlike the other potential members of the rainbow coalition, the SNP have not ruled out making Jeremy Corbyn the next Prime Minister if that’s what it takes to halt Article 50. This has had several benefits.

First, they have been able to tempt both John McDonnell and, today, Jeremy Corbyn into undermining Labour’s agreed position on the Union and talking up the prospect of a second independence referendum. This has plunged an already-weakened Scottish Labour into civil war, and will likely see its vote squeezed even further as the SNP corral pro-independence voters and unionists consolidate behind Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives.

Second, this stance has allowed Sturgeon to put pressure on Jo Swinson. As the Scottish leader of a left-liberal, pro-EU party, SNP strategists might have worried that a Liberal Democrat revival might further chip away at their post-2014 coalition.

But Swinson’s room for manoeuvre is hindered by the fact that her Party’s main targets are mostly Tory-Lib Dem marginals where Corbyn is toxic. Putting a spotlight on Swinson’s swithering allows Sturgeon to paint the SNP as the best advocates for Scottish Europhiles, at very little cost to herself.

And of course, actually installing Corbyn in Number Ten would allow the Tories to re-run their successful campaign against the spectre of a ‘Lab-Nat Pact’ at the next election, not unhelpful if you think that a government led by Boris Johnson is a booster for independence.

The only possible danger seems to lie in the plan somehow working, and Corbyn entering the election legitimised as Prime Minister and as the hero who thwarted Johnson and his dastardly no-deal plans. But that prospect is probably not keeping the First Minister up at night.

It has now been two years since we first highlighted how the machinations of parliamentary remainers were bolstering those who want to break up the Union. It’s time this truth sank in.

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Jo Swinson says Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have the numbers to stop no-deal Brexit – but what is the Lib Dem alternative?

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has backtracked after initially dismissing Jeremy Corbyn’s interim Government plan as “nonsense” and said she would be happy to meet with him – but said she still doesn’t believe he has the numbers to oust Boris Johnson.

Mr Corbyn wrote to opposition leaders on Thursday, urging them to help him force out the Prime Minister and install the Labour leader as head of an emergency caretaker government designed to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Ms Swinson said she would not support the plan but, after pressure from other opposition parties, wrote to Mr Corbyn and said that she would meet with him to discuss whether they could work together.

But she maintained that she believed his plan “has no chance of success” because he will not have enough support in the House of Commons to be able to win a majority.

‘No chance of success’

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme Ms Swinson said she had “always” wanted to reach out to Mr Corbyn about discussing stopping a no deal but MPs “need to be focused on what could actually work” against Mr Johnson’s Government.

“In order to stop a no-deal Brexit you have to win votes in parliament and, at the end of the day, politics comes down to ‘can you work out where those votes are coming from?'” she said.

“We have already had seven or eight MPs on the opposition benches saying that they couldn’t support [Mr Corbyn’s] leadership of a caretaker government – the Change UK MPs have made that clear, Ian Austin, Heidi Allen.

Commons arithmetic

“I recognise that what we need to do with immediate urgency is stop a no-deal Brexit, but people in number 10 – Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson – they will be rubbing their hands at the fact that we are talking about a plan here that has no chance of success.”

Read more:

Jeremy Corbyn’s government of national unity plan is ridiculous – but Jo Swinson has fallen into the trap

She insisted that, even with the full support of the Lib Dems, “the numbers don’t stack up” for Mr Corbyn because there are too many opposition MPs who have ruled out supporting him.

“For every one of those he needs to get a Conservative MP to back him […] those conservative MPs are very clear they are not about to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10,2 she said.

“I put in my letter to him if he has had commitments from Conservative MPs that they will back him in that way they please let us know but who are these eight Tory MPs going to be?”

She said that she would be prepared to meet with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Photo: Getty Images)

Lib Dem alternative?

Ms Swinson has committed to blocking Brexit all-together and supports the plant to stop Mr Johnson’s pursuit of a no deal.

She, in fact, urged Mr Corbyn to call a vote of no confidence in the Government immediately after Mr Johnson became Prime Minister. But Labour dismissed this as “childish” tactics, arguing that the Lib Dems knew a confidence vote called to early would only fail.

The Lib Dems would support Labour in a vote of no confidence but, even if Mr Johnson loses, a new government would still need to be formed to take over from the ousted administration.

She suggested that there would be more chance of uniting enough MPs to overthrow Mr Johnson if the proposed new leader was a “long-serving” MP with “great experience” and “respect from both sides of the house”.

Different leader

She said someone like Tory Ken Clarke or Labour’s Harriet Harman – the Father and Mother of the House – would be a better choice than Mr Corbyn because they are not such divisive characters.

Labour Party MP Harriet Harman has been suggested as a possible interim leader if Mr Corbyn cannot command a majority (Getty Images)

Ms Swinson said that she had reached out to both and said they are both prepared to take on the role if necessary.

“They put public duty first, and they don’t want to see a no-deal Brexit, and if the House of Commons asks them to lead an emergency government to get our country out of this Brexit mess and to stop us driving off that cliff to a no-deal, then yes, they are prepared to do that, and I think that is to their credit,” she said.

“It doesn’t need to be them. If Jeremy Corbyn has got another suggestion of an experienced MP who has that respect across the House, let’s talk about it.”

Could this happen?

As leader of the opposition, Mr Corbyn has the support of more MPs than any other party leader other than the Prime Minister.

This means he is the natural, and conventional, choice to be the first leader to try and form an interim Government in the event that the current administration falls.

It would be a very public rebuttal of the elected Labour leader for Ms Harman to outwardly say that she will take over as interim PM in an emergency government.

And she is understood to have confirmed she believes Mr Corbyn should the first to attempt to form a unity government and extend Article 50 to avoid leaving without a deal.

Boris Johnson could face a vote of no confidence in September – but that does not mean he would lost it (Photo: Getty)

If he fails to so, however, then the job would be open to whoever can command a majority in the House.

It is also worth nothing that all of this speculation is based on the hypothetical situation that Mr Johnson loses a confidence vote if and when it is called by Mr Corbyn.

Despite many Tory MPs being against a no deal there may not be enough prepared to destroy their own party’s Government in order to block it – which would mean Mr Johnson would remain in power.

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Iain Dale: Don’t mention the war, please. Why Johnson was wrong to suggest Hammond and company are collaborators.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.

Last week at the Edinburgh Festival, John McDonnell told me that Labour would insist on Jeremy Corbyn leading any interim government of national unity, following any successful vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s administration.

I told him that this idea was delusional, since the Labour leader wouldn’t be able to command a majority in Parliament in such circumstance.  Yesterday, Corbyn confirmed that this is exactly his intention.  But since there are plenty even of his own MPs who don’t have confidence in him, one wonders how he thinks he could persuade those of other parties to row in behind him.

Jo Swinson has made it clear she wouldn’t. Anna Soubry is p**sed off that she wasn’t even cc’d on his letter. I have never thought a national unity government is a runner, and I think it’s even less likely now. Jeremy Corbyn really believes that defeating No Deal is the be all and end all, he wouldn’t be taking such an uncompromising stance. I wonder if his public aversion to it is as deep as he is making out.

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Corbyn says that he will call a Vote of Confidence when he thinks he can win it. Well, obviously.  But his rhetoric at the moment leads me to believe that he’s in danger of boxing himself in. The more he talks about it, the more pressure there will be on him to deliver it. And if he doesn’t, he’ll be painted as ‘frit’.

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The defection of Sarah Wollaston to the Liberal Democrats was among the least surprising news of the week. She will surely not be the last of the original Independent Group of MPs to travel that particular journey. I’d have thought there will be at least a couple more before their conference takes place.

And then, of course, there could well be one or two defections directly from the Conservative benches. Guto Bebb and Phillip Lee are the candidates most often mentioned. Both seem to be going through a bit of public agonising. I suspect if either of them, or indeed anyone else does the dirty deed, it will be at a moment of maximum impact. August is probably not that time.

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The Prime Minister was unwise to use the word ‘collaboration’ on his Facebook Live session earlier this week. He was rightly complaining that the actions and words of some Conservative MPs – and he clearly had Philip Hammond in mind – were persuading the EU to stick by its guns while they wait and see what havoc Parliament can wreak when it returns in early September.

His sentiment was right – but you can’t go throwing around words which have World War Two connotations and effectively accuse some of your Parliamentary colleagues of being quislings (another word with the same suggestion).

To so so debases the debate. I don’t know if it was a deliberate use of the word, or whether it just slipped out. If the latter, fine; but if it was a deliberate attempt to feed into the ‘People v Parliament’ narrative, well, there are better ways of doing it.

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On Monday, I returned from my two weeks appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe. In 24 shows, I interviewed Sir Nicholas Soames, Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles (together), and Johnny Mercer, among many others. We’re releasing all the interviews on a new podcast, Iain Dale All Talk, which you can now subscribe to on whichever platform you get your podcasts from.

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Today is the first day of my first and only holiday of the year. It will last ten days and I intend to spend it in Norfolk doing precisely nothing. Apart from play golf. And binge-watch box sets. And write next week’s ConHome Diary, of course.

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Ex-Tory MP Sarah Wollaston joins the Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have claimed another MP, as ex-Tory Sarah Wollaston joins the pro-EU party. She quit the Conservative Party in February over its “disastrous handling of Brexit”. She joined what was then The Independent Group, and later became Change UK. She left in June after the party failed to make any significant inroads in the European Parliament elections, and before it split into The Independents and The Independent Group for Change.

Dr Wollaston now becomes the latest politician to join the resurgent Remain-supporting Lib Dems, following Chuka Umunna’s similar pathway from Labour, and taking the Liberal Democrats to 14 MPs in total.

She announced the move late on Wednesday, and said joining the Lib Dems is the best way for her to fight to remain in the EU. She was first elected in Totnes in 2010 and is expected to join Ms Swinson in London on Thursday, as she makes her first major speech as party leader.

‘We will lead the fight to stop Brexit.’

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said she was “delighted” to welcome Dr Wollaston.

“We have worked together for many months to fight to stop Brexit and, as one of the most respected Members of Parliament, she brings real expertise to our team,” Ms Swinson added.

“As the strongest party for Remainers, we will lead the fight to stop Brexit.”

Dr Wollaston said: “I believe the best way for me to represent my constituents in Totnes is to be working as part of a fantastic team of Liberal Democrat MPs who are unequivocally making the case for us to remain at the heart of Europe, as well as campaigning for social justice, the environment and our public services.”

Latest Lib Dem coup

The coup for the Lib Dems follows the party’s success in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on August 1, in which Jane Dodds forced out the Tory candidate.

Dr Wollaston struck a blow against Theresa May when she left the Conservatives alongside Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry in February, as the trio helped form the new group of independents.

They criticised the Tories’ “shift to the right” of politics, adding: “The final straw for us has been this Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.”

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Lord Ashcroft: My new Scotland poll. Yes to Independence takes the lead.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

In the wake of Boris Johnson’s visit to Edinburgh last week, I polled Scots to measure support for a second independence referendum and to gauge opinion on independence itself. I found a small majority in favour of a new vote – and the first lead for an independent Scotland for more than two years.

I found 47 per cent agreeing that there should be another referendum on Scottish independence within the next two years (Nicola Sturgeon has demanded a new vote by 2021), with 45 per cent disagreeing.

While more than nine in ten Conservatives oppose a referendum, a return to the polls is favoured by more than one third of 2017 Labour voters, more than half of EU Remain voters, and by more than one in five of those who voted No to independence in 2014.

Asked how they would vote in such a contest, 46 per cent said they would vote Yes to independence, and 43 per cent No. Excluding those who say they don’t know or wouldn’t vote, this amounts to a lead of 52 per cent to 48 per cent for an independent Scotland. This is the first lead for independence in a published poll since an Ipsos MORI survey in March 2017, and the biggest lead since a spate of polls in June 2016, shortly after the UK voted to leave the EU.

One third of Labour voters, a majority of EU Remain voters and 18 per cent of those who voted No to independence last time round said they would vote Yes. Again, more than nine in ten Tories said they would vote No, as did just over one in ten of those who backed independence in 2014. A majority of voters up to the age of 49 said they would vote Yes, including 62 per cent of those aged 18 to 24.

Overall, a majority of Scots thought that if a second referendum were to be held, the result this time would be an independent Scotland. Only three in ten – including just two thirds of Conservatives and fewer than half of 2014 No voters – thought Scotland would vote to remain part of the UK. A further 18 per cent said they didn’t know.

More than six in ten Scots – including 38 per cent of 2017 Conservatives and two thirds of Labour voters – said they think Brexit makes it more likely that Scotland will become independent in the foreseeable future. Indeed, more than half of 2014 No voters think this is the case, with 32 per cent of them saying it makes independence much more likely.

Just over half – including a majority of Labour voters, nearly one in five Tories and two thirds of EU remain voters – say Brexit strengthens the case for Scotland to become independent.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of all Scots agree with Sturgeon’s claim that a No Deal Brexit would be disastrous for Scotland, including half of Labour voters and nearly one in five Tories. A further three in ten (including most Conservatives) think the risks have been exaggerated but there would be some difficulties.

Asked what their preferred Brexit outcome would be, most 2017 Conservative voters backed Boris Johnson’s position that the UK should leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal – though one in five said they would be prepared to wait longer than October for a better deal, and nearly a quarter said they wanted to remain in the EU. Remaining is the most popular outcome, though favoured by only half of all Scots.

Scottish voters are closely divided as to whether – if it were not possible to do both – it would be more important for Scotland to remain part of the UK, or to remain in the EU. While 43 per cent would prioritise the Union, 45 per cent would prioritise the EU. While Conservatives and SNP voters were leaned heavily as one would expect, Labour voters were split: 46 per cent would choose the UK, 40 per cent would choose the EU, and 14 per cent say they don’t know.

More than half of Scots said there should be a second referendum on EU membership, including 69 per cent of SNP voters, more than half of Labour voters and one in five Conservatives. Should this take place, 67 per cent of those giving an opinion said they would vote to remain.

As for Boris Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister, while nearly half of Scots said they expected him to do badly, a quarter of those said he had done better than they had anticipated.

While only just over one third of 2017 Conservatives they expected him to do well and he had, a further one in four said they had had low expectations but been pleasantly surprised.

Compared to other politicians, Boris Johnson ranks relatively low among Scottish voters – though still above Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. He scores well below Ruth Davidson, both among Scots as a whole and, to a lesser degree, 2017 Conservatives.

Asked which of the two most likely candidate would make the better Prime Minister, 29 per vent of Scots named Johnson, 23 per cent said Corbyn, and nearly half said they didn’t know. Fewer than four in ten 2017 Labour voters said they thought Corbyn would make the best Prime Minister.

Despite this, when forced to choose, Scots said they would prefer a Labour government with Corbyn as Prime Minister to a Johnson-led Conservative government by 57 per cent to 43 per cent. A quarter of Labour voters said they would prefer the latter, as did the same proportion of SNP voters – perhaps calculating that this circumstance held out the best prospect of independence for Scotland.

3Those who voted SNP in 2017 are the most likely to say they will stick with their party in a new general election. They put their mean likelihood of turning out for the party at 88/100, compared to Conservatives’ 71/100 chance of voting Tory again; 2017 Labour voters put their chance of voting the same way in a new election at just 56/100. Some Tories were tempted by the Brexit Party (their mean likelihood of voting this way being 35/100), and some by the Lib Dems (26/100). The SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all held some appeal for Labour voters. In terms of overall mean likelihood to vote for the party, both Labour and the Tories ranked behind the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens, whose score was boosted by an average likelihood of 55/100 among 18-24 year-olds.

Full data tables for the survey are available at LordAshcroftPolls.com.

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Is Johnson aiming for a snap election?

Version one is that, as soon as Parliament returns in September, Boris Johnson will seek, and obtain, a general election.  He will thereby seize the initiative, commit again to leaving the EU by October 31, squeeze the Brexit Party’s vote, and exploit an opposition vote divided elsewhere, in England and Wales, between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.  Although the Conservatives will lose seats in London and Scotland these will perhaps be offset by gains in the Midlands and North.  The sum of this case is that the new Prime Minister must move early before Parliament proves him powerless, now that he has next to no working majority.

Version two is that Johnson hasn’t the credibility, under such a scenario, to squeeze the Brexit Party as much as he needs to.  Instead, he must prove his commitment to that October 31 date.  And he can only do that by going for it, deal or no deal.  Which he must do until or unless the Commons votes that it has no confidence in his Government, or the Philip Hammond/Oliver Letwin/Dominic Grieve/Yvette Cooper continuum, aided and abetted by the Speaker, finds a means of preventing Brexit by the end of October.  At which point, the Prime Minister seeks and obtains an election, as above, and tries to utilise the differences between his opponents.

Which version you believe may depend on, inter alia: how quickly CCHQ can get election-ready; whether you think voters would treat any poll as a referendum on Brexit (as in 2016) or a vote on wider domestic policy (as in the snap election of 2017); what the EU does next; what any Johnson manifesto might say – would it unambiguously commit to scrapping the Withdrawal Agreement? – and, above all, whether it would be too late for an election to stop Britain leaving the EU by October 31 in any event.  A poll by which date Brexit had already happened would obviously be different from one by which it had not – especially if squeezing Nigel Farage’s party is the name of the game.

The political story of this August, unexpected foreign affairs or other crises aside, will be about these alternatives – an election that Johnson either forces himself or is forced on him.  There will be a mass of conjecture and a shortage of facts.  This will be intensified by claims about what Dominic Cummings does and doesn’t think, and he is a man who likes to throw his opponents off balance.  So for what it’s worth, our advice is to stay cool, hang loose, enjoy the summer – and rule almost nothing out.  If you do the last, you may well be imitating Johnson and Cummings themselves, hunkered down as they will be with policy wonks and constitutional lawyers.

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