UK government yet to commission Australian migration system review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.

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

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Nearly half of UK voters back no-deal Brexit and no PM Corbyn, poll finds

Almost half of British voters would prefer the country to leave the European Union without a Brexit deal and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn not to become prime minister, according to a YouGov poll.

When asked to choose between that scenario and one in which Corbyn becomes the country’s next leader and holds a second referendum on Brexit, just over a third backed the option that could see Britain remain in the EU.

Nearly one in five people said they remain undecided.

The poll represents a setback for Corbyn’s plan to create a cross-party coalition to fight the government’s plan to leave the EU with or without a deal on October 31.

The Labour leader is trying to convince others to call a no-confidence vote in Boris Johnson, the country’s current prime minister, and install Corbyn as the U.K.’s interim leader until a new general election can be called.

Corbyn on Saturday reiterated his intention to lead a caretaker government if Johnson is ousted. “I am the leader of the Labour Party, Labour is the largest opposition party by far. That is the process that must be followed,” he told ITV News.

“We will do everything we can to stop a no-deal Brexit,” Corbyn added, stating: “What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don’t have a crash-out on the 31st [October].”

According to the YouGov poll, Brits are still against a no-deal Brexit, with 49 percent agreeing that would be an unacceptable final outcome, versus 38 percent of respondents that found it acceptable.

More people polled were in favor of accepting the deal negotiated with the EU than were against.

The YouGov poll also suggested Brexit-supporting voters were more united than those who would prefer the U.K. to remain in the 28-country bloc.

Four out of five Brexit supporters told the polling company they would support a no-deal Brexit with Corbyn not becoming the next prime minister, while only 64 percent of voters who wanted to remain in the EU want the Labour leader to take over as prime minister and call a second Brexit referendum.

Almost a quarter of voters who voted to remain in the EU during the 2016 referendum would prefer to see the U.K. leave the bloc instead of Corbyn taking over as the country’s next leader, according to YouGov.

The poll of 1,968 people was conducted on Thursday and Friday.

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Backbench UK MPs balk at plans to stop Brexit

Up to 15 Labour and independent British politicians may block attempts to delay or stop Brexit, making it tough to stop London from pushing ahead with leaving the European Union on October 31, according to analysis by The Sun.

The British newspaper said a number of Brexit-leaning lawmakers, including Labour MP Kate Hoey, would not support cross-party plans to take a no-deal Brexit off the table.

That could make it difficult for efforts by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, to create a coalition of like-minded politicians to topple the current government and call for a general election to postpone Brexit.

“Like all other Labour MP’s I fought on a manifesto in 2017 to respect the referendum vote,” Hoey wrote on Twitter. “Any action taken now to stop us Leaving on October 31st by Labour is a knife in the back of the majority of Labour constituencies who voted to Leave.”

The growing political uncertainty comes as Sadiq Khan, the London mayor and a senior Labour official, called on Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, to back Corbyn’s plan to halt a no-deal Brexit. Swinson had said she would not support a Corbyn-led plan to call a no-confidence vote in Boris Johnson, the U.K.’s prime minister, and install the Labour leader as interim prime minister until a new election could be called.

“The Liberal Democrats’ continued insistence that Jeremy Corbyn could not lead this potential unity government is now the single biggest obstacle to stopping no deal,” Khan wrote in a letter to Swinson, according to the Guardian.

As expectations mount that British voters will be called upon to resolve the political impasse through a general election, Sajid Javid, the country’s chancellor of the exchequer, said he would likely simplify the U.K.’s tax system when he announces his budget later this year.

Johnson, the U.K. leader, promised to lower people’s taxes during his prime ministerial campaign, and Javid reiterated that changes to the country’s tax system were likely on the cards.

“It wouldn’t be any surprise that I think taxes should be efficient,” the U.K. lawmaker told The Times. “We want to set them at a rate where we are trying to maximise revenue, and that doesn’t always mean that you have the highest tax rate possible.”

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Former Tory MP Sarah Wollaston joins Lib Dems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jeremy Corbyn seeks help to block no-deal Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Former UK chancellor: There’s no mandate for no-deal Brexit

Pulling the U.K. out of the EU without a trade deal would be as much of a betrayal of British voters as not delivering Brexit at all, according to former U.K. Chancellor Philip Hammond.

“There is no mandate for leaving with no deal,” given the British public was told a divorce agreement with the EU “would be the easiest deal ever done,” Hammond told the BBC’s Today program.

“Leaving the EU without a deal would be just as much a betrayal of the referendum result as not leaving at all,” Hammond said. “It’s absurd to suggest the 52 percent who voted to leave the EU all voted to leave with no deal.”

The former chancellor, who resigned from the British government in protest at Boris Johnson’s stance on Brexit last month, said the PM had both privately and publicly said he could get a Brexit deal, “but I fear there are other people around him whose agenda is different.” The comments echoed an op-ed Hammond wrote for Wednesday’s Times, in which he lashed out at the “unelected people who pull the strings of this government.”

In the Today interview, Hammond took aim at the Johnson government’s decision to say the Irish backstop had to be cut from the Brexit deal.

“Pivoting to say that the backstop has to go in its entirety — a huge chunk of the Withdrawal Agreement, just scrapped — is effectively a wrecking tactic,” he said. “The people behind this know this means there will be no deal.”

Hammond reaffirmed his commitment to preventing no deal from being pushed through against the will of the parliament and warned against any move to suspend the House of Commons.

“Any idea of trying to bypass parliament by dissolving it for example and holing an election over the exit date would provoke a constitutional crisis,” Hammond said. Johnson has vowed to lead Britain out of the EU by October 31st, “do or die,” and refused to rule out suspending parliament in order to ram through a no-deal Brexit against the will of MPs.

Hammond also said the government’s no-deal preparation wouldn’t provide long-term solutions.

“Preparing doesn’t solve the longer term problems,” he said. Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal preparations, “is talking about an intervention fund to buy lamb and dispose of it … now that’s probably a perfectly sensible thing to do in the first few months … but you can’t do it five years later, 10 years later.”

Gove is reportedly planning to buy up surplus lambs from farmers in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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There is a world of support out there for Brexit Britain as you embrace self-governance

From my office in Los Angeles, nearly 5,500 miles from London, I watched with interest the Brexit vote in 2016. I listened to the media and the political elites and heard the polling numbers, but secretly held out one little glimmer of hope that perhaps those who spoke the loudest weren’t right. Was it possible that the people of the UK who were dismissed and underestimated, mocked and looked down upon, shamed and scared, could quietly pull off the impossible? Without well-funded coordination, but with collective faith in their fellow countrymen, they went to the ballot box and shocked their nation – and the world!

World For Brexit has now been established to support the 17.4 million people in the UK who voted to Leave the EU in a free and fair referendum. There was a two-year plan in place to facilitate that yet, three years later, they are no closer to exiting than they were then. It is a terrible betrayal of democracy and should not be allowed to happen – especially there. The appetite for Leaving is only increasing, not decreasing, and many who weren’t in favour of Leaving originally are now at the point where they just want to “get on with it” and implement a full exit. It seems like a reasonable expectation. The voters want what they voted for. Still. And who can blame them?

The Leavers won a fair democratic process. The loser’s consent is not required in order to move forward with the winning side’s ideas. And furthermore, contrary to the opinion of some on the Remain side, just because the vote was 52% to 48%, it doesn’t mean that consensus – or even compromise – is required. That’s not how the democratic process works.

The talking points of those in the Remain camp are primarily based on fear and negativity. They highlight all that is perceived to be wrong with Brexit and generate anxiety along every step of the process. Their narrative is so toxic – as if Leave was a vote against something.

In truth, Leave was a vote for something. Actually a vote for everything. Brexit was a vote of confidence. It was an expression of strength. A belief that the UK could – and should – stand alone as a strong, successful, independent and sovereign nation capable of ruling itself. A vote for a country that is ready to lead, not follow.

The UK is one of the longest-standing democracies in the world and has championed democracy all over the globe. The vote to Leave the European Union was the largest democratic mandate there has ever been in British history. How can the vote of the people be so ignored? The world shows outrage when other countries like Venezuela, Cuba or Iran face political suppression, yet are ignoring it now with the UK vote.

Of course, the UK has not been part of the EU for hundreds of years – only since the mid-1970s. Most UK voters still have first-hand knowledge of being an independent, sovereign nation. Implementing Brexit is not a deviation from democracy, it’s an affirmation of democracy and a return to it. What is a deviation from normalcy is the surrender of allegiance to an unelected body of commissioners over which the governed have no power. Why would anyone subject themselves to people who are appointed, not elected – and to people who can’t be voted out if those they represent are unhappy with their leadership?

Some say that the EU provides stability. The news I hear out of Europe involves rioting on the streets of France and an approval rating of 27% for Macron. Merkel is barely holding her own government together in Germany, a previous powerhouse, and Portugal and Greece and other EU member nations constantly need financial bailouts. It seems to me that the UK is the stabilising force for the EU – not the other way around.

The doom-mongers say Leaving will create economic ruin. If you look at a map of the world, you will see that the EU comprises a relatively small section of land. Once the UK breaks free from the EU chokehold on their economy, the world becomes open to trade with, negotiate with and establish bilateral relationships with. And with no more need to ask permission from Big Brother Brussels to do so. The thought of that should be freeing, not frightening.

Like the Leavers, I believe that a country which is free and prosperous and proud and industrious should not be limited or constrained by its European neighbours, but should embrace the limitless potential that will come globally once again from independence and self-governance.

Thank you, brave Brexiteers, for inspiring us with your boldness in 2016. We hope the support of World For Brexit will embolden you now.

The post There is a world of support out there for Brexit Britain as you embrace self-governance appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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Darren Grimes’ total exoneration leaves the Electoral Commission with huge questions to answer

The Electoral Commission finally confirmed last Friday that it will not be appealing the judgment against it in July that cleared Brexit campaigner – and former BrexitCentral Deputy Editor – Darren Grimes of electoral offences. Despite his complete exoneration, Darren’s successful appeal against the findings of the Commission has been widely (and in some quarters perhaps wilfully) misunderstood. There have been widespread comments on social media to the effect that the judge decided to “let him off” because the Commission’s forms were complicated. In fact, Darren won comprehensively and the Electoral Commission was shown to be entirely at fault in its flawed findings against him.

The Commission’s decisions in respect of Vote Leave have also been subject to further comment in the light of the prominence of a number of its personnel in the new Government, not least the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Regrettably, financial considerations (it could have resulted in a seven-figure bill) meant that Vote Leave did not pursue its appeal against the Commission’s fine, but there are many elements of the judgment in Darren’s case which indicate that, had it gone forward, Vote Leave would also have succeeded in clearing its name.

Regarding Darren, His Honour Judge Dight did not “let him off” on grounds of youth, confusion or anything else. In a comprehensive judgment taking more than two hours to deliver, he found that the Commission had been wrong in fact and law when it determined that Darren had not notified his campaign group BeLeave as a permitted participant in the 2016 referendum, and had therefore submitted an incorrect spending return. The Commission’s case was that in March 2016 Darren had filled in the Commission’s form as an individual because he ticked the box for that option, and that in any event BeLeave did not, they claimed, exist as an unincorporated association at the relevant time, so couldn’t have been notified. In making its determination (after its third investigation of the matter, having found no violation in its first two investigations) the Commission:

  • relied on (the judge found) an incorrect interpretation of the common law definition of an unincorporated association
  • reversed the burden of proof that it should have applied in its investigation (by requiring Darren to prove facts rather than itself disproving those facts beyond reasonable doubt)
  • incorrectly interpreted the relevant statutes
  • relied on assertions from certain individuals (the self-styled ‘whistleblowers’) that were both self-contradictory and clearly inconsistent with proven facts

The judge found that BeLeave did exist, was capable of being a permitted participant in the referendum, was duly notified as such and that no breach of the spending rules in the referendum had been committed by Darren. In its investigation, the Commission alleged that it had not noticed BeLeave was named on the form and admitted that the form ‘on the face of it’ had actually notified it of BeLeave. The fact that the wrong box was ticked did not mean that Darren had not notified the Commission of BeLeave – it had been – and the ambiguous nature of that particular question, and the clear information elsewhere on the form, meant that the box-ticking error was not material to the effectiveness of the notification.

So for Darren, this was conclusive: the spending by BeLeave had been duly reported and no offence committed. This meant that in his case there was no need for the judge to consider whether the spending in question was incurred as part of a common plan with Vote Leave. The Commission had found that it was, and that it should have also counted as Vote Leave’s spending, which would have taken it over the statutory limit on campaigning during the referendum period. This was the reason for the fine imposed on Vote Leave. 

Yet the Commission’s finding that there was a common plan between Vote Leave and BeLeave suffered from the same evidential and legal flaws that were exposed by Darren’s appeal: it was wholly reliant on the same ‘whistleblower’ evidence that the judge had found was the sole basis for the findings of fact made against Darren. The judge found that the Commission had failed to consider the considerable material provided by Darren and Vote Leave; and this material was just as much concerned with the joint spending allegations as it was with those affecting only Darren. This evidence cast doubt on the credibility of the ‘whistleblowers’, tended to show that the BeLeave expenditure was under its sole control and included minutes of meetings of Vote Leave in which steps were taken to ensure spending was kept separate. In an important piece of evidence, the Commission was directed to documentation from Facebook and Alternative IQ that none of the data from Vote Leave’s ‘target’ individuals was actually used by BeLeave.

While the judge made no specific findings regarding common plan expenditure, he did find that the Commission had reversed the burden of proof; it took evidence against Darren at face value; failed to consider evidence doubting the self-styled whistleblower’s credibility; and failed to consider evidence contradicting their accounts. The judge’s findings surely apply just as much to the Vote Leave issue as it does to whether BeLeave was an unincorporated association.

One critical finding the judge did make was that BeLeave did exist independently as an unincorporated association and had not just been established for Vote Leave to make a donation to it. This was a key plank of the ‘whistleblower’s’ – and the Commission’s – case against Vote Leave: that there was a joint plan with Darren to establish BeLeave, in order to divert funding that Vote Leave could not spend itself. Yet BeLeave, the judge found, had already existed for several months at the time of the donation from Vote Leave and was operating a campaign that both needed funding and was capable of making decisions as to how to use such funding.

It is unfortunate that Vote Leave ultimately could not raise the money to cover the financial risks involved in pursuing its appeal; their case was more complex than Darren’s, the court had refused to cap the costs that the Commission could have claimed from Vote Leave had the Commission won and the judge had refused Vote Leave permission to put the Electoral Commission’s key figures on the stand to be cross-examined. In the event, to the extent that the judgment in respect of Darren would have been relevant to Vote Leave (in particular the inconsistencies in the whistleblower evidence, the misapplication of the burden of proof and above all the Commission’s failure to consider relevant evidence provided by Vote Leave), the signs are that Vote Leave would very likely have succeeded in its own appeal.

Vote Leave is nonetheless still pursuing its Judicial Review of the Electoral Commission’s actions, which it has been fighting for the past year. In addition to the material it has already created for that Judicial Review, Vote Leave will now be able to highlight the new material that has resulted from Darren’s action, including the comments of the judge that undermine the claims of Vote Leave’s detractors. 

So I trust that all BrexitCentral readers will share in my delight that Darren won his brave fight; indeed, all democrats should rejoice at the brave and tenacious way in which he took on the burden of challenging and exposing the Electoral Commission – a body which has now been shown to have made serious errors and misjudgments in discharging its functions.

A Schedule of the findings of the Electoral Commission and the evidence available to them but not considered was adduced in open court in Darren Grimes’ appeal and is available here

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Remember the ever-changing nature of the EU in which the anti-Brexit crowd would have us Remain

In the past two months, the European Union has begun to set out its stall for how, as an organisation, it will move on for the next 10 years after Brexit. What is clear from these decisions is that the EU is on a path towards federalisation in the form of a singular economic, foreign and security policy. Yet many Remainers seem to be blind to these simple facts – which the EU itself has confirmed as its goals. They do not seem to acknowledge how this would change our United Kingdom if we had to Remain inside the EU. Instead, Remainers seem to have their heads in the sand, insisting we should stay in the EU and that nothing would change from what we have now – and going forward – forever.

The EU, in any case, will not be content with a two-speed Europe in the long term, and Euro membership – along with homogenisation of the whole European Union – would be an inevitable price to pay if we were to continue as a Member State of the European Union. Are these Remainers duplicitous, simply naive beyond belief or do they have some vested interests in our membership of the EU perhaps?

The horizon is clear for the EU as shown by Brussels’ own press statements following the June 2019 European Council. They specifically mentioned numerous goals – including the EU aiming to create the mechanisms required to act together on matters of ‘foreign policy’ with a united front, with decisions taken on the supranational level. This is not simply on foreign policy, however. Singular economic policy in terms of taxation is also listed as a goal of the EU within the next 10 years. This would be a means to stop disparity between Member States, effectively giving the unelected European Central Bank the power to make taxation and spending policy for every single Member State.

These are not the words of an economic union which has goals of simply helping countries trade and work together. Instead this is the beginning of the path towards the total federalisation of decision-making, taking powers away from domestic governments and the people who elected them.

But despite the clear evidence of this being a desire of the EU, many Remainers call it ‘hogwash’, or the Brexiteers own version of ‘Project Fear’. ‘It’s nothing to worry about,’ we are told, ‘we can just cancel the result of the EU referendum by revoking Article 50 and everything will go back to normal and stay the same’. Yes, revoking Article 50 would stop Brexit, but simply remaining in the EU would not mean everything staying the same, or going back to normal. No doubt the EU, the vindictive organisation that it is, would attempt to place further restrictions upon Article 50 to ensure this situation did not happen again.

And meanwhile, don’t forget the 17.4 million of the Great British Public who voted Leave in the EU referendum, and the many people who have changed their minds who now want to Leave, who would rightly feel betrayed by the politicians. It would result in a huge democratic deficit and complete mistrust in the British political system, should Brexit simply be cancelled.

If, for some inescapable reason, the UK crawled back to the EU and asked to stay inside their corrupt organisation, the UK would be told to sit down and shut up, no longer the noisy neighbour blocking the EU’s federalist ambitions, and we would be forced to accept whatever is thrown at us in the future, whatever the repercussions for our nation. We would have had our chance to Leave and prosper outside the EU. But should we attempt to return to the EU’s fold in the future, the hard-won rebate former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher fought for would be out of the window; and the exemption from Schengen and other preferential treatments we have received would be put at risk.

After October 31st, when the UK should be out of the EU (hopefully with a new drastically improved deal), the new European Commission will take office. This will be a Commission which is fundamentally in favour of increased federalisation and measures such as reinforcing a European Army. Ursula von der Leyen, the new President of the European Commission, has explicitly stated she believes this would be the best course of action to take. These are the organisations and policies which, if we Remain – or passed Theresa May’s dreadful Withdrawal Agreement – we would be exposed to as a nation.

Fundamentally, Remainers seem to be so obsessed with the EU, they refuse to accept its failings and the inevitable future of the supranational organisation.

However, what is unclear is whether or not Remainers are actually aware of these potential consequences of cancelling Brexit and staying within the EU. I suspect it is far more likely that many of those people who are obsessed with cancelling Brexit know full well the path the EU is on, but have no problem with the damage it could do to the UK. They see themselves more as European than British, and deem traditional ideas of the Nation State as obsolete or damaging.

While they have every right to hold these opinions, they are not the views of the United Kingdom as a whole. This is exactly the reason why we need to Get Britain Out of the EU on October 31st, and ensure we steer clear of the dastardly Withdrawal Agreement as negotiated by Theresa May.

The post Remember the ever-changing nature of the EU in which the anti-Brexit crowd would have us Remain appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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Inside the mind of Boris Johnson’s right-hand man

LONDON — Want to know which direction the U.K. under Boris Johnson is headed? Then read the blog posts of the most powerful official on his team.

Dominic Cummings’ writings are a window into the world of the special adviser now shaping Johnson’s premiership, Brexit and the U.K.’s future.

They shed light on Cummings’ motivations for backing Brexit, his obsessions (Otto von Bismarck, the science of probability, chess), and his grudges (against David Cameron, George Osborne, most political pundits). They also point to a revolution in store for the civil service and a political system that, in Cummings’ view, has for too long let process and tradition stand in the way of clear goals, big and small — from fixing the office lifts (or elevators, if you will) to leaving the EU.

Fixing the lifts? Yes. “The [Department for Education’s] lifts were knackered from the start and still are,” Cummings wrote in 2014, reflecting on his first stint in government, from 2010 to 2014, as the right-hand man to then-Education Secretary Michael Gove.

“There were dozens of attempts to have them fixed. All failed. At one point the permanent secretary himself took on the task of fixing the lifts, so infuriated had he become. He retired licking his wounds.”

“I found him very impressive. But also slightly scary. He’s quite intimidating” — Government official on Dominic Cummings

The tale is one of many to be found on the blog. And it wasn’t really about the lifts.

“The insuperable problem of the lifts … gives a clue to what is really happening in Whitehall,” Cummings wrote. “Most of everybody’s day is spent just battling entropy — it is not pursuing priorities and building valuable things.”

Impressive and scary

As campaign director of Vote Leave, Cummings was the back-office mastermind to Johnson’s front-of-house showman during the EU referendum campaign.

Together they were instrumental in delivering the vote in favor of Brexit. Appointed as a senior adviser on Johnson’s first day at 10 Downing Street, the two men have now tasked Whitehall with delivering Brexit — by October 31, deal or no deal, “do or die.”

Together, Cummings and Boris Johnson were instrumental in delivering the vote in favor of Brexit | Pool photo by Ben Stansall/Getty Images

After three years away from frontline politics, during which the blog was his primary means of broadcasting to the world, Cummings has suddenly found himself with more power than ever.

He has taken the office next door to the prime minister’s, and officials say that despite the presence of Johnson’s former London City Hall chief of staff Eddie Lister in No. 10, Cummings is “the most powerful man in Downing Street” and “the one who gives the direction.”

“I found him very impressive. But also slightly scary. He’s quite intimidating,” said one government official.

Cummings himself claims on the blog — not all that convincingly — that his fearsome reputation is over-hyped.

“Contrary to the media story, I dislike confrontation and rows like most people but I am very strongly motivated by doing things in a certain way and am not motivated by people in [Westminster’s London postcode] SW1 liking me,” he wrote in 2017.

He has already won over some inside Downing Street. “I have had no issues with him whatsoever and it’s good to have that focus and determination at the top,” said a government figure who has seen Cummings at work.

His first days in government bear out some of the recurring themes of his copious online writings. He is a believer in the military principle of Auftragstaktik — the idea that leadership means giving subordinates a crystal-clear strategic goal. And the obsessive focus on the October 31 exit date has all the hallmarks of a Cummings campaign. He’s even had a countdown to Brexit clock installed in Downing Street.

Why Cummings wants Brexit

The blog gives some clues about Cummings’ animus toward the EU.

He is not a Brexit ideologue. In a May 2018 post, he said it is “unknowable to anybody” whether the U.K. could “make the most” of Brexit over a “10/20/30 year timescale.”

He describes himself as “not a Tory, libertarian, ‘populist’ or anything else” and in a January 2017 essay outlined his reasoning for joining the Brexit campaign. “I thought very strongly that 1) a return to 1930s protectionism would be disastrous, 2) the fastest route to this is continuing with no democratic control over immigration or human rights policies for terrorists and other serious criminals, therefore 3) the best practical policy is to reduce (for a while) unskilled immigration and increase high skills immigration … 4) this requires getting out of the EU, 5) hopefully it will prod the rest of Europe to limit immigration and therefore limit the extremist forces that otherwise will try to rip down free trade.”

On the day Johnson received the keys to Downing Street, Cummings was photographed inside the most important building in the country, wearing a T-shirt advertising the Elon Musk firm Open AI.

The quote suggests that far from the “dangerous” radical some of his critics see, Cummings sees himself as a counterextremist, seeking to restore public trust in the political system.

War and the historical errors that lead to it haunt his writings (“few realize how lucky we were to avoid nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis”). Another preoccupation is the idea of “branching histories” — the many possible paths that events can take at any given moment. If Bismarck had been assassinated in 1866, would World War I have happened, and therefore would Lenin have come to power, or Hitler?

The principle of branching histories, he wrote, “ought to, but does not, make us apply extreme intelligent focus to those areas that can go catastrophically wrong, like accidental nuclear war, to try to narrow the range of possible histories.”

Instead, “most people in politics spend almost all their time on trivia.”

The science of government

After freeing the U.K. from the EU at the end of October — easier said than done — the blog posts suggest that Cummings’ next target will be the Whitehall machine.

On the day Johnson received the keys to Downing Street, Cummings was photographed inside the most important building in the country, wearing a T-shirt advertising the Elon Musk firm Open AI. It may not have been a throwaway choice of garment.

On the blog, he never misses an opportunity to apply the lessons of science to political decision-making.

In a December 2014 post titled “The Hollow Men ii,” he complained that government institutions “operate to exclude from power scientists, mathematicians, and people from the start-up world — the Creators, in [American physicist Steve] Hsu’s term.”

If he and his boss can navigate the choppy Brexit waters ahead, Cummings now has the chance to make that all-or-nothing gamble | Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images

In the thousands and thousands of words he devotes to the ills of the Whitehall machine, he laments its inability to respond quickly to errors; the “slow, confused” and usually nonexistent feedback; the “priority movers” system that sees incompetent staff members (“dead souls”) moved into jobs elsewhere in the civil service rather than sacked; and the “flexi-time” working regimes that end up with key personnel missing in action when big announcements need to be planned.

All in all, Cummings decries that Whitehall views failure as “normal, not something to strive to avoid.”

And he suggests having parts of Whitehall “amputated” as one necessary measure, including “firing thousands of unnecessary people.”

To Cummings, quitting the EU will sweep away another roadblock on the path to his vision of the U.K.

While working with Gove, “we cut the department’s headcount by more than a third and halved running costs,” he wrote. “We more than halved the press office, and cut 95 percent of the communication budget. Performance improved rapidly. It would improve further if the [department] were halved again.

In a 2014 blog post, he laments that Margaret Thatcher did not go “for all-out civil service reform with a proper PM’s department,” adding: “If she had been much more revolutionary — then much more could have been done (though such a move would obviously be an all-or-nothing gamble for any prime minister who really tried it and one can see why she shied away).”

If he and his boss can navigate the choppy Brexit waters ahead, Cummings now has the chance to make that all-or-nothing gamble.

Cummings arrives at No. 10 carrying a Vote Leave tote bag | Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images

He’s floated the idea of bringing in Cabinet ministers from outside parliament. He’s also suggested setting up government agencies in the mold of DARPA, the U.S. Department of Defense’s tech development arm, originally founded in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik; working on a new international lunar base to help world diplomacy; and revamping the Cabinet room and emergency COBRA committee room to look more like the NASA control center.

“Some old colleagues have said ‘don’t put this stuff on the internet, we don’t want the second referendum mob looking at it,’” he wrote in June. “Don’t worry! Ideas like this have to be forced down people’s throats practically at gunpoint.”

But one government figure said: “He knows he cannot do anything like that this side of a general election. Big Whitehall reforms require a strong majority and you cannot get one until you have delivered on Brexit.”

A new UK

Some of the viewpoints aired in the blog posts give clues as to the immediate direction of Johnson’s government. Anyone wondering whether the PM will enter into a pact with the Brexit Party and Nigel Farage will be asking themselves if Cummings still thinks Farage “put off millions of (middle class in particular) voters” during the referendum.

And those trying to guess whether Downing Street is war-gaming for a no-deal Brexit in October, a general election, or both, might look at the lessons Cummings takes from computer chess, and from his hero Bismarck.

“The very best computers seem to make moves [in chess] that preserve the widest possible choices in the future, just as the most effective person in politics for whom we have good sources, Bismarck, operated always on the principle of ‘keep two irons in the fire.’”

But the blog posts are also a blueprint for a wider outlook.

Cummings was not complimentary of Brexit Party chief Nigel Farage’s role in the referendum campaign | Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

In Cummings’ grand vision, the U.K. would take on “a central role in tackling humanity’s biggest problems and shaping the new institutions, displacing the EU and UN, that will emerge as the world makes painful transitions in coming decades.”

But first he must solve Brexit; a Gordian knot that has led to the demise of two prime ministers and may yet claim another, along with his right-hand man.

To Cummings, quitting the EU will sweep away another roadblock on the path to his vision of the U.K.

Whitehall’s failure to achieve it — just like fixing the “bloody lifts” in the Department for Education — highlights the inefficiencies he wants to remove, seemingly by any means necessary.

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

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Scotland would vote for independence from UK, poll finds

Voters in Scotland would vote for independence from the United Kingdom, a new poll has suggested.

The survey by Michael Ashcroft for Holyrood magazine is the first since March 2017 showing support among Scots for breaking up the union.

Of the 1,019 voters polled, 46 percent said they would vote for independence and 43 percent said they would vote against. When those who said they did not know or would not vote are excluded, the result swings to 52 percent versus 48 percent in favour of secession.

The results serve a major boost to Scottish First Minister and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, but are a blow for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Scotland last week, and Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson.

Sturgeon hailed the “phenomenal” poll, adding: “A broken Westminster system means Scotland is being dragged towards a no deal Brexit, regardless of the heavy price we’ll pay for lost jobs and lower living standards.

“That project is being led by Boris Johnson — a prime minister Scotland didn’t elect and who has no mandate to tear Scotland out of Europe with all the damage that will entail.”

She added: “It would be a democratic outrage for any Tory government to deny that, and this poll shows such an anti-democratic position is completely unsustainable.”

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU at the 2016 referendum on Brexit, while a POLITICO-Hanbury poll last month found Johnson is toxic among Scottish voters.

Ashcroft, a former Conservative Party chairman who did not support Johnson for the leadership, said on the ConservativeHome website: “In the wake of [Prime Minister] 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.”

He added: “I found a small majority in favor of a new vote — and the first lead for an independent Scotland for more than two years.”

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UK plans no-deal Brexit media blitz in Europe

LONDON — Boris Johnson’s government is planning a Europe-wide media blitz to convince EU governments and citizens that the U.K. is serious about leaving, deal or no deal, on October 31.

On top of a widely reported domestic public information campaign, officials are looking at taking out pages in major European newspapers and targeting online adverts at European citizens, directing them to U.K. government information on Brexit.

Part of the European public information campaign will target and be tailored to U.K. citizens living on the Continent. But there is a wider aim to ram home the message to EU capitals that the U.K. is not bluffing when it says it will leave at the end of October.

The campaign may yet be accompanied by diplomatic overtures to European capitals, laying the ground for Johnson to meet the German, French and Italian leaders at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France at the end of August.

Although Johnson himself will not negotiate with EU leaders as long as they refuse to reopen Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, a plan for Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay to visit EU capitals in advance of the Biarritz summit is being mooted, a U.K government official said.

“It feels like we’re in campaign mode. There’s been more activity in the past three days of government than in the previous three months” — U.K. government official

On Wednesday evening, U.K Chancellor Sajid Javid announced an additional £2.1 billion in Brexit funding for government departments to prepare for a no-deal departure. Half the sum will be allocated immediately for priorities including travel infrastructure around ports, recruitment of border officers, and transport and storage for vital medicines. The other half will be held by the Treasury and can be applied for by departments and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales should they seek extra cash.

“With 92 days until the U.K. leaves the European Union, it’s vital that we intensify our planning to ensure we are ready,” Javid said. “We want to get a good deal that abolishes the anti-democratic backstop. But if we can’t get a good deal, we’ll have to leave without one.”

The largest area of additional spending will be on ensuring continuity of medicines supply, with £434 million additional funding. Plus, £344 million will go toward new customs and border operations; £108 million will support business readiness; and £138 million will be available for the public information campaign, which will include an increase in consular support and information for British expatriates.

The public information drive at home and abroad is currently set to launch in the second half of August, said a second U.K. official familiar with early planning.

Mike Gove is said to be attacking his new role overseeing no-deal preparations with gusto | Leon Neal/Getty Images

A government spokesperson said: “It is paramount that organizations, communities and citizens have the right information and support as the U.K. leaves the EU on the 31st October. That’s why we will launch a large-scale public information campaign setting out what business and the public need to know as we prepare to leave the EU.”

A leaflet drop to every household in the U.K. has not been ruled out, the official said, in a move that would mirror David Cameron’s decision to send every household a government leaflet urging a vote for Remain in the 2016 referendum.

‘Blockbuster’ budget

The campaign has been approved by the government’s powerful new exit strategy Cabinet sub-committee — which is meeting for a second time on Thursday — and is being spearheaded by the new Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who is said to have thrown himself into his new role with vigor.

“He is commissioning briefing after briefing after briefing,” one official said. “It feels like we’re in campaign mode. There’s been more activity in the past three days of government than in the previous three months. Decisions are being made.”

Dominic Cummings, the former director of the Vote Leave campaign whom Johnson appointed as a senior adviser, will play a key role in determining the slogan of the campaign, the official said. Cummings is credited with coining the highly successful “Take back control” slogan.

This time the overarching message will be that the U.K. is on its way out, “and that it will be OK,” the official added.

The overall cost of the campaign, if the £138 million budget is spent, would be comparable to the global marketing spend of a major blockbuster film, according to marketing expert Eugenio Triana, of Birmingham City University.

Boris Johnson wants to strip out the backstop plan for avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as a pre-requisite for a new deal.

Since Johnson took office last week with a promise to “turbocharge” preparations for Brexit, deal or no deal, the machinery of government has been rewired, with the formation of the new six-person exit strategy Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by Johnson, and a daily operations Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by Gove.

Gove, the former environment secretary who brought a reforming zeal to his job at that department, is now the key political figure co-ordinating the U.K.’s Brexit plan. He has been given authority to instruct officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union, where many of the senior civil servants preparing for no-deal Brexit are based.

Downing Street has said Johnson will not hold negotiations with EU leaders on Brexit until they drop the condition that the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement struck with Theresa May last year cannot be reopened. Johnson wants to strip out the backstop plan for avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as a pre-requisite for a new deal. If he does not get it, he has vowed to leave without a deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Northern Ireland’s battle for Brexit attention

LONDON — Northern Ireland’s political parties hope they can be the ones to shout loudest when Boris Johnson flies in.

Britain’s new prime minister, who has embarked on a high-stakes no-deal showdown with the European Union since taking office, will meet political leaders of the five main Northern Irish parties on Wednesday.

Johnson, who dubbed himself “minister for the union” upon taking office, used his first call with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar on Tuesday to double down on his insistence that he would not hold further negotiations if Brussels did not agree to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. And Johnson has insisted he will take the U.K. out of the European Union on October 31, deal or no deal.

But he remains locked in a stalemate with Varadkar, who point blank refused a request to reopen the draft deal struck between Brussels and Theresa May.

The pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party, which props up the Conservatives in a so-called confidence-and-supply agreement, welcomed Johnson’s hard-line stance.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson | Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

“[Johnson] has made it clear to the EU there is a new regime in place and that we are not going to be pushed around the way the last regime was,” Sammy Wilson, the party’s Brexit spokesman, told POLITICO.

No-deal Brexit opponents in Northern Ireland (which voted to Remain in the 2016 referendum), however, are urging the new prime minister to heed the economic and political warnings about a disorderly crash out of the bloc.

“So far he has shown limited capacity to take advice into account, and has been far happier to adopt simplistic solutions to advance his political career,” warned Stephen Farry, deputy leader of the centrist Alliance Party, who will be among those meeting Johnson.

“He is now prime minister and within just over 90 days, reality is going to bite in one form or another, so the current policy that he is pursuing is not sustainable, it is not valid,” Farry said. The Alliance Party supports a fresh referendum on Brexit, but has backed the agreement negotiated by May.

‘We don’t have to trust him’

There are few indications that Johnson will listen to the warnings. In a sign of just how seriously Johnson is taking the DUP, he appointed former Chief Whip Julian Smith as Northern Ireland secretary last week.

Smith has had almost daily contact with the DUP’s 10 MPs over the last three years and has a “good personal relationship” with DUP Chief Whip Jeffrey Donaldson and Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, according to Wilson.

The Northern Ireland secretary is required to be scrupulously impartial, and Smith has pledged to act impartially in his new role, but if Johnson is to remain in power, he needs to keep the DUP on side.

While Johnson’s support for the Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish backstop during May’s third attempt to get it through the House of Commons did not go unnoticed by the DUP, the party still believes Johnson won’t be in a position to betray them.

“We don’t have to trust any of them, we trust the parliamentary arithmetic,” said a senior DUP figure, who declined to speak on the record.

Wilson added: “We have already seen on one occasion where Boris Johnson, although he said it was a toxic deal, voted for it on the third occasion … All I can say is that he relies on our votes, he also relies on a lot of votes within his own party. I suspect if he were to deviate from the plan he said he was going to follow, he will have bigger problems in his own party than he will with us. That is probably what will keep him honest.”

But for all the hard-line rhetoric, there are figures in the DUP who are keen to stress they want to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

“It is not our preference and we would want to emphasize this very strongly,” said a second senior DUP figure, who did not want to speak on the record. “We still hope the EU will offer a compromise on the backstop that will enable parliament to approve the Withdrawal Agreement. That is by far our preferred outcome.”

Reality strikes

For those hoping to avoid no deal, there is still hope that the message they delivered to May, about the consequences of crashing out of the EU, could yet get through to the new prime minister, although they admit time is running out.

Farry said the “grave implications for the future of the union” had been made clear to May, and he believed the warnings from a broad range of voices had led her to back the Withdrawal Agreement and to commit to the backstop.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson | Peter Summers/Getty Images

In a valedictory interview on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program on July 24, May’s former chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, said every time May had visited Northern Ireland, she had the “sense that the combination of Brexit and what it could mean to the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and the lack of devolved government in Northern Ireland … was a real threat.”

Johnson, who visited Scotland on Monday and Wales on Tuesday, has pledged to “hold out the hand” and “go the extra thousand miles” to strike a new Brexit deal.

Direct rule

One of Smith’s first jobs, and the focus of Johnson’s discussions in Northern Ireland on Wednesday, will be to get the devolved Northern Irish government up and running again.

The executive collapsed in January 2017 amid disagreements between the DUP and the nationalist Sinn Féin. All attempts to restore power-sharing — a key provision of the Good Friday Agreement — have since failed.

According to reports, Johnson has been advised by Mark Sedwill, his top civil servant, that direct rule would have to be introduced to cope with a no-deal Brexit, with the Northern Ireland secretary in charge, if the parliament at Stormont is not restored.

“The people of Northern Ireland have now been without an executive and assembly for two years and six months. Put simply this is much, much too long,” the prime minister said in quotes released by Downing Street ahead of the visit.

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

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Anti-Brexit parties test alliance in Welsh by-election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Prepared to lose my seat’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time-limited option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the grip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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