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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Why the best course open to Johnson may be for him to resign as Prime Minister

It wasn’t the failure to deliver Brexit that did for Theresa May.  It was something even bigger: breaking her word.  She pledged over a hundred times that Britain would leave the EU on March 29, and it didn’t.  She then said that she was not prepared to delay Brexit later than the end of June, but did.  She declared that it would be “unacceptable” for European elections to take place, but they happened.  She denounced Jeremy Corbyn as a threat to the country, but then sough to deliver the Withdrawal Agreement by making a deal with him.

The most elemental trope about politicians, as Lord Ashcroft’s latest focus groups confirm, is that they are all liars.  So it came about that May dragged the Conservatives down to nine per cent and four MEPs in those Euro-elections.  Tory poll ratings slumped to 20 per cent.

It is Boris Johnson’s promises to take Britain out of the EU by October 31, “do or die”, that has dragged the Conservatives up the polls by their bootstraps.  If he backtracks on it, there can be no doubt that, once again, the Tory ratings will slide into the abyss, and drag him down with them.

By the time the Party crawls out, it would not only find a Marxist Labour Party in its place as the government but, in all likelihood, that the Brexit Party has supplanted it as the county’s main right-of-centre electoral force.  And the Conservative Party’s century-and-a-half run as the most enduring governing party in the world would end.

So it comes about this morning that the Prime Minister writhes amidst the grandmother of all pincer movements.  One the one hand, he cannot implement an extension.  On the other, he cannot (or rather, must not) break the law.  He must choose between the unspeakable and the unthinkable.

Now it may be that he can somehow slip out of the pinch.  Some ingenious means of doing so are being floated.  One is use of the Civil Contingencies Act.  The latest is that Johnson send a letter with the letter of extension contradicting the letter of extension.  Some are reduced to hoping that an EU state simply deploys a veto.

One suggestion put to this site by a reader, apparently in all seriousness, is that he send the first by carrier pigeon, so that it arrives after the deadline.  It may be that the Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings have a plan instead that will really fly.  But when matters reach this pass, you know that the game is up.

A Cabinet Minister this morning is reported quoting Sherlock Holmes: “how often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”  Quite so, though not perhaps in the context that the Minister intended.

If Johnson cannot deliver Brexit by October 31, and is barred from doing so by law, there is only one practicable course left open to him: to resign as Prime Minister.  “I won’t break the law,” he must tell the British people.  “But I won’t break my word either.  If Corbyn wants to sign this surrender document, so be it: I won’t.”

Johnson’s hope would be that the Labour leader requests and obtains an extension; that the Commons keeps him in place only for as long as it takes Corbyn to do so; and that it then brings him down in a no confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which Johnson marginalises the Brexit Party and sweeps the board.

There are problems with this course.  The first is that the plan might not work at all.  The anti-No Deal majority in the Commons might of course not let Corbyn become Prime Minister – even briefly, to request and obtain an extension.  It might settle on someone else instead (Ken Clarke?), with unforeseeable consequences.

The second is that it might work too well.  Corbyn indeed becomes Prime Minister, requests an extension and get it.  But the anti-No Deal majority in the Commons, fearing a Johnson victory at the polls, does not then no confidence Corbyn.  Instead, it props him up and keeps him in place, at least for the time being.

And as the weeks drag on, Johnson himself is subjected to a leadership challenge – in which the voluntary party, which backs him, would have no say.  It might well not be successful.  But even so, the consequences for the Party are necessarily unknowable.

It will also be asked: what’s the point of seeking to avoid a Corbyn Government by trying to put in a Corbyn Government?  The question is a good one.  But as so often in politics, we must find the least bad answer rather than search for the perfect one, which doesn’t exist in any case.

The choice may come down to the possibility of Johnson resigning as Prime Minister, Corbyn succeeding him briefly to agree an extension, and Johnson then sweeping a general election…or the certainty of Johnson, were he to agree an extension, consigning himself to the disposal dump of history, and perhaps the Conservative Party too.  Some will say that instead of disdaining the Brexit Party as a competitor, the Tories should embrace it as a colleague instead, and merge the two into an electoral alliance.

We will probe the matter later this week.  But one thing’s for sure: such a pact would have no bearing on the choice that now Johnson seems to face: request an extension, and you destroy yourself (and perhaps your Party too).  Don’t request it, and you break the law (and it doubtless happens anyway).   If there is an escape from this trap other than resignation, we would love to know what it is.

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Jonathan Clark: Brexit. Is democracy at risk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Jo Johnson resignation: not fratricide, but the most logical and honourable response to an intolerable conflict of interest

Jo Johnson supports his brother’s One Nation domestic agenda. He strongly approves of the new Prime Minister’s plan to recruit more police officers, teachers, doctors and nurses, while also promoting the dynamic economy needed to pay for them.

The new administration’s friendlier attitude to foreign students, and emphatic backing for science, likewise meet with his warm approval.

In 2016, when Boris Johnson announced at what was expected to be the launch of his leadership campaign that he would not after all be standing, there was Jo Johnson among the relatively small group of MPs who had turned out to support him.

And at this summer’s launch, there was Jo among the by now far larger number of MPs who had decided to back Boris, and who see him as a brilliant leader who will be a brilliant PM.

Why then is Jo standing down as a Conservative MP and minister? The answer for him as for a number of others is Europe. They are appalled by the risk of a no deal Brexit.

To them, the Conservatives ought not to be a party of ideological risk-takers.

Last November, Jo Johnson resigned in protest at Theresa May’s approach to Brexit. In his resignation statement, he said:

“Brexit has divided the country. It has divided political parties. And it has divided families too. Although I voted Remain, I have desperately wanted the Government, in which I have been proud to serve, to make a success of Brexit: to reunite our country, our party and, yes, my family too. At times, I believed this was possible. That’s why I voted to start the Article 50 process and for two years have backed the Prime Minister in her efforts to secure the best deal for the country. But it has become increasingly clear to me that the Withdrawal Agreement, which is being finalised in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write, will be a terrible mistake.

“Indeed, the choice being presented to the British people is no choice at all. The first option is the one the Government is proposing: an agreement that will leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business. The second option is a ‘no deal’ Brexit that I know as a Transport Minister will inflict untold damage on our nation. To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis. My constituents in Orpington deserve better than this from their Government.”

He went on to remark that he and his brother were “united in fraternal dismay”. But he also warned Boris that a “no deal” outcome simply would not do:

“A ‘no deal’ outcome of this sort may well be better than the never ending purgatory the Prime Minister is offering the country. But my message to my brother and to all Leave campaigners is that inflicting such serious economic and political harm on the country will leave an indelible impression of incompetence in the minds of the public. It cannot be what you wanted nor did the 2016 referendum provide any mandate for it.”

There is a striking strength of feeling in these words. Jo Johnson has spent most of his political career being singularly uncommunicative with the wider public, as I noted in a profile of him for ConservativeHome in 2013.

But that does not mean he lacks convictions. He has resigned because his profound loyalty to his brother cannot be reconciled with his profound opposition to a no deal Brexit.

The press interprets this as fratricide, betrayal, a Shakespearean tragedy. It is actually the most logical and honourable response to an intolerable conflict of interest.

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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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Daniel Hannan: How to keep our pledges to the EU nationals who live here

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

Amid all the angst and acrimony, let’s cling to one area of agreement. All sides concur that EU citizens already in the UK should be allowed to stay here with the right to work and claim benefits as now. Labour and Conservative, Leave and Remain, everyone signs up to the principle. During the referendum, both the official Leave campaign and Arron Banks’s spoiler operation declared that, whatever happened, nothing should prejudice the rights of EU nationals who had already made their lives in Britain.

Indeed, the only politicians who seemed to have a problem with the idea were Theresa May and, oddly enough, Philip Hammond, who insisted on seeing the issue as part of a bargaining process. Not until 2018 did May finally agree to grant settled status to EU nationals, and months more were to pass before she was prevailed on to waive the £65 processing fee.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, always saw the issue in terms of trust and decency. At no stage has he wavered in that view. So what is the problem?

Like other politicians, I have been hearing complaints from EU nationals in in my region who believe they have had their applications turned down, despite being resident in Britain – in some cases for many years.

In fact, what we are seeing is a degree of bureaucratic friction. No one has a claim “rejected”; but some are asked for further proof of residence. Typically, a National Insurance number will do but, in some cases, other evidence is required: a bank statement, a council tax bill or similar.

Rather as when you open a bank account, it can be a pain to get exactly the right documentation together. Sometimes, even when you think you have done everything correctly, you run up against a “computer says no” glitch. In normal times, you would simply grit your teeth and submit whatever else was being asked for. The Home Office, after all, is known to be useless at little things.

These, though, are not normal times. Many EU nationals are still upset about the referendum result, and can interpret a request for more paperwork as a “no”. Some campaigners have, unhelpfully, sought to weaponise the issue. False claims about Brexit being driven by anti-immigrant hostility, rising hate crimes and so forth, have created a febrile atmosphere.

For what it is worth, Britons are likelier than almost any other EU nationals to see immigration as a net good. The number of us who view immigration as largely positive has risen significantly since the 2016 referendum. And despite claims of a “Brexodus”, there are more EU nationals here than ever. The newcomers plainly don’t believe that they will face a hostile atmosphere; nor, indeed, that economic growth is in jeopardy.

Still, the fact that some European citizens feel rejected, or even believe that they might face repatriation, is intolerable. We must fix it. What should we do?

We need to give people a clear sense of legal reassurance. Europeans who haven’t submitted the relevant paperwork should not feel that they have thereby missed the boat, or are somehow in danger of deportation. Imagine, for the sake of argument, a child of French parents who came here in infancy, and is currently in primary school. We must not allow a situation where, through oversight, such a child, years from now, could face a Windrush-type debacle.

How? I am no lawyer, but my sense is that we should emphasise the distinction between having a legal entitlement and exercising your rights under it. Alberto Costa, the Conservative MP who has led the campaign to establish the rights of EU nationals more clearly, gives the example of applying for a passport. You are British by right, but when you apply for a passport, you still need to establish that you are who you claim. In the same way, EU nationals should have settled status by right, though they will similarly have to prove who they are when they wish to (say) acquire a National Insurance number.

It is not an exact parallel, but the Spanish government ruled in 2015 that Sephardic Jews with Hispanic connections were entitled to citizenship – belated restitution for the expulsion of 1492. Those wishing to avail themselves of that right – as several thousand have done – still needed to submit documentation to prove that they had Sephardic Jewish heritage. But the right itself was not in dispute.

Whether we need primary legislation, or whether there is a neater method, others can judge better than I can. If, as rumoured, Priti Patel is about to announce a softening of the abrupt cut-off for EU nationals on 1 November, so much the better: it gives us the time we need. A clear legal entitlement will, I hope, settle the minds of the EU nationals resident here. It is the least we can do.

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Johnson’s critics are confronted by the dreadful possibility that he will make a success of Brexit

It is dawning on Boris Johnson’s critics that they may have underestimated him. Until recently, many of them were content to think, or at least assume, “Boris Johnson disagrees with me, therefore he must be stupid.”

There are innumerable variants of this argument. A favourite version runs, “Boris Johnson wrote articles for and against EU membership, therefore he must be an opportunist.”

Often the holders of such views are people of some education. Richard J. Evans, until 2014 Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, states in a piece published yesterday in Prospect that “Conservatives know Johnson is lazy, chaotic and superficial”.

Do Conservatives know this? I have often quoted Charles Moore’s description of Johnson as “a lazy workaholic”, but that is not the same thing.

Moore coined that expression in The Spectator in April 2012, near the end of Johnson’s successful campaign for re-election as Mayor of London. The whole paragraph is worth quoting, for it gives a better insight than Evans has yet acquired into Johnson’s conservatism:

“Like everyone, especially his old friends and colleagues, I can think of unkind things to say about Boris Johnson. He is a lazy workaholic — too busy doing things to do them thoroughly. He can be exasperating. But as the mayoral election campaign reaches its climax, I must dispute the central current criticism of Boris — that he does not really stand for anything. He may not have yards of clear policies, but his essential message is important and genuine. He believes in freedom, and has a strong preference for letting people get on with their lives without official molestation. He is equally genuine in seeing his voters as Londoners, rather than blacks, whites, Muslims, gays etc. In all this he remains the opposite of Ken Livingstone, who sees politics wholly in terms of groups who can be made his clients with public money and then enlisted for his relentless assault on this country’s liberty, identity and tradition. It is actually more important now that Boris should win than it was four years ago.”

But what of the claim by Evans that Johnson is “chaotic”? At the start of his mayoralty in 2008, things certainly were rather chaotic: he did not have competent people lined up for the key jobs at City Hall.

It appears to me he has learned from that mistake, and from the disorganisation of his abortive leadership bid in 2016. This year’s leadership campaign was professional, and he had competent people lined up for the key jobs in Downing Street.

Mujtaba Rahman reported at the start of this week on Twitter that “it seems the PM did manage to impress his German & French counterparts last week”, and quoted a “senior official” who said of Johnson:

“In terms of substance, it is clear he has dived into the issue far more than people think. The Boris that visited us was serious; the Prime Minister of a big country with a political problem he needs to resolve, well briefed, talking like a statesman.”

Nick Gutteridge, a Brussels reporter, endorsed this view, also on Twitter:

“PM Johnson has made a (some would say surprisingly) positive impression on the EU side in early contacts. There is some relief in Brussels and capitals to be working with a real political operator compared to Theresa May.”

When Johnson was Foreign Secretary, the press searched with energy for gaffes, and found some. The then Prime Minister gave him little responsibility, which meant gaffes were pretty much all that could be hoped for.

The buck now stops with Johnson. He bears a heavy responsibility, and it seems to suit him. Interviewers ask me sometimes (as one of his biographers) whether he will succeed.

The answer is that I do not know, so I tend to reply that he has been underestimated by his critics. His chances are better than their scornful verdicts would lead one to think.

A hysterical note enters their denunciations – see Stephen Fry, Hugh Grant, Philip Pullman et al on Twitter after the prorogation story broke – because they are trying to suppress their own growing doubts. The Prime Minister has not lived down to their estimate of him.

They are confronted by the dreadful possibility that Johnson will make a success of Brexit.

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Is Patel’s pledge to “end freedom of movement” merely smoke and mirrors?

Priti Patel has stolen at least two days of headlines – far from all of them positive – with the announcement that she intends to end freedom of movement at the very moment of Brexit in the event of No Deal. What is not clear, however, is what exactly this means.

In theory, it means (or at least sounds to casual ears like it means) bringing EU nationals under the UK’s existing visa arrangements for people from the rest of the world. But even the positive write-ups can’t avoid alluding to the fact that such a policy seems impossible to reconcile with the Government’s commitment to giving EU nationals currently resident in Britain up until the end of 2020 to register for so-called ‘settled status’.

Were the Home Office to simultaneously honour this pledge and bring freedom of movement to an immediate end, there would be a period of more than a year when EU nationals eligible for settled status would be theoretically free to move in and out of the UK at will, but EU nationals ineligible for it would not – with no means of distinguishing between the two.

This is why Sajid Javid, Patel’s predecessor, went on the record as saying that an immediate end to freedom of movement was impractical, and called for “some kind of sensible transition period”.

Nowhere in the papers is an answer to this conundrum offered. Instead, there are reports that Home Office officials have been sent to Singapore to see how their ‘tough’ immigration computer system operates. But it isn’t obvious how ‘counting people in and out of the country’, the task the city state has apparently solved, addresses the core problem with an immediate end to freedom of movement outlined above.

It is also worth noting that, rigorous as it might be, Singapore’s system is geared towards admitting an exceptionally high number of foreign ‘workers’ and ‘talents’ – a policy in keeping with Boris Johnson’s decision to tear up Theresa May’s net migration target, but scarcely something voters might characterise as ‘tough’.

What detail we have suggests that Patel is employing smoke and mirrors: the Guardian reports a ‘senior Home Office source’ as claiming that “the only change that had so far been confirmed by the Home Office was additional criminal record checks on those entering the UK, while other potential changes were still being assessed.” The Daily Express also reports that Patel intends to introduce tough new criminality rules and at least implies that this will not affect those EU nationals eligible for settled status – although again, the question arises of how the new system will recognise these as such.

One can therefore see the germ of a strategy here: tough talk, and a high-profile crackdown on obvious abuses, providing cover for a general shift to a more liberal (but perhaps better-regulated and more rigorously policed) system. Alternatively, this is simply intended to sit alongside more police officers and a boost to NHS spending in a whirlwind of retail offers the Prime Minister means to bank sooner rather than later, and help him buy the political breathing room for a more considered alternative.

The danger is that by talking grandly of ‘ending free movement’ the Government ends up raising expectations it cannot meet – or sowing chaos and uncertainty in the attempt to meet them.

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A big question about Hong Kong – and even bigger ones about migration and China

We have been here before – at least, in a manner of speaking.  In 1989, the then Conservative Government granted British citizenship to some 250,000 people from Hong Kong.  There was a paradox to the decision: Ministers’ intention was not that they should enter Britain under the scheme.  Rather, this was that it would encourage them to stay in Hong Kong, by giving them certainty about their future, thus halting a mass exodus.

The gambit was sparked by doubts about whether China would honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, under which the two countries agreed terms for the transfer of Hong Kong, and which was due to come into effect in 1997.  It worked.  Tensions simmered down, and there was no mass take-up of UK passports.

But there has always been a giant questionmark against China’s honouring of the “one country, two systems” provisions within the declaration.  It is highly visible now.  Two years ago, the country’s Foreign Ministry described the declaration as an “historical document, [which] no longer has any practical significance, and does not have any binding effect on the Chinese central government’s management of the Hong Kong”.

It is unlikely that China will presently send troops into Hong Kong, and formally tear up the commitments enshrined in the join declaration.  But the possibility exists, now or in the future: it is currently showing videos of troops massing on Hong Kong’s borders.  This is part of its response to pro-democracy protests, which were concentrated originally on opposition to an extradition bill, under which suspects could be sent to China for trial.  But the aims of demonstrators spread wider: they demand the free election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and legislature.

In essence, the settlement left by the joint declaration is unstable. For example, Hong Kong has a legislature of which only half the seats are directly elected.  And although China has powerful incentives not to tear up the “one country, two systems provisions” – which would do its Belt and Road initiative abroad no good – the people of Hong Kong cannot be sure what the future will hold.

Hence the proposal by Tom Tugendhat and others to grant British citizenship to the 169,000 or so British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong.  Some want a bigger offer: the Adam Smith Institute also proposes to “open up the application process to the 4.5 million Hong Kong nationals”.  Some, a smaller one: the Sun wants Britain to admit “the best and brightest in the small territory”.  It might be that such a scheme would have the same effect as that of 1989: in other words, to encourage people to stay in Hong Kong rather than leave for the United Kingdom.

Then again, it might not – either now or, far more likely, in future.  And the context in Britain has changed since 1989.  Some, very largely but not exclusively on the left, support all migration, pretty much.  Others would welcome a big influx of hard-working, family-orientated, Hong Kongers: this has an appeal for parts of the right.  But even though public concern about immigration seems to have eased off recently, there is reason for caution.

As the Migration Observatory puts it in one of its headline findings: “British views are not favourable towards immigration and a substantial majority would like immigration to be reduced”.  Furthermore, Government policy is in flux.

Boris Johnson wants to scrap Theresa May’s unmet pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, and promises Dominic Cummings’s fabled Australian-style points system instead.  But it is far from clear what numbers this plan would produce – and numbers, though not everything in immigration debate, are much.  And the system faces a daunting challenge in any event.

The Government now says that in the event of a No Deal Brexit – arguably now the most likely outcome – free movement will end immediately, which would certainly be popular with many voters.  However, it isn’t apparent what system will be used to distinguish between EU nationals who have applied for the new settlement scheme and those who haven’t, to name only the most obvious of the problems bound up with immediate change.

In 1989, Norman Tebbit led a backbench revolt against the passport plan for Hong Kongers. It was less successful than advance publicity suggested.  But there is no guarantee that the outcome would be similar this time round, were the more ambitious of the Hong Kong schemes to be tried.

Ultimately, the problem of how to respond to China over Hong Kong is a sub-set of the problem of how to respond to it more broadly – which points to the wider debate over Huawei, China, our infrastructure and national security.  We could and should, as in 1989, offer some passports to Hong Kongers.  But, as then, the should and must be strictly limited.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered at the United Nations.  Which means that third parties have an interest in upholding it, however distant.  In the case of Donald Trump, this might not be remote at all, given his stance on China.

Boris Johnson is due to see Trump soon – and frequently, given the mutual interest in a trade deal.  The former ought to put Hong Kong on the agenda.  Admittedly, the President is no fan of more migration to America.  But it just might be that there is an Anglosphere offer to be made to Hong Kongers on a bigger scale than Britain could make alone.

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A UK-US trade deal. Never mind the economics (at least for a moment). Feel the politics.

“While trade deals have taken on an important political and symbolic value in the context of Brexit,” Dominic Walsh of Open Europe wrote recently on this site, “their economic benefits are typically smaller and slower to materialise than many realise.” This is the place to start when considering a possible UK-US agreement on trade.  Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for one is as much political as economic: a successful deal would show Britain, as it moves a bit further from the EU, also moving a bit closer to America.

Such a rebalancing is a strategic consequence of Brexit, at least in the eyes of many backers of leaving the EU.  Future trade deals were a Vote Leave EU referendum priority – though it may be significant that the United States was not one of the headline countries named.  Perhaps the reason was a wariness of anti-American sentiment among a section of the voting public.  None the less, the prospect of a trade agreement with the United States was mooted during the 2016 campaign: hence Barack Obama’s line, written for him by Team Cameron, of Britain being “at the back of the queue” for such a deal.

The obstacles to one are formidable.  For while the Prime Minister is bound to view it through the lens of politics, Donald Trump is more likely to do through that of economics – though the one admittedly tends to blur into the other.  America’s approach to such matters as food safety and animal welfare, environmental protection and intellectual property rights is different from ours in any event.  Never mind the red herring of chlorinated chickens – so to speak – or autopilot claims from Corbynistas about NHS selloffs. The real action is elsewhere.  The United States has long had a protectionist streak, and is resistant to opening up its financial services markets, for example.

The conventional view is that Trump is the biggest America Firster of all; that he would drive a hard bargain, that he has the muscle to do so – and that he wouldn’t be in control of an agreement anyway.  Congress could block one if it wished, and might well do so in the event of No Deal, since the Irish-American lobby is as well-entrenched as ever.  It has been a headache for British governments over Ireland-linked matters before: remember the McBride principles.  A different take is that politics may win out in the end, because both Trump and Congress will want a UK trade deal in order to put economic and political pressure on the EU: we will publish more about that later this week.

John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, is visiting Britain.  He said yesterday that the UK will be “first in line” for a trade agreement post-Brexit – a deliberate counter to Obama’s line.  Bolton will be dangling the prospect as an inducement.  He will want Johnson to take a more resistant line to Huawei than Theresa May did, and for the UK to move closer to America’s position on Iran.  But the possibility of early sector deals – or at least the exclusion of Britain from new pro-protection moves – seems to be real enough.  As with the NHS, policing, immigration and stop and search, so with trade.  Johnson wants progress towards a quick win as a possible election looms.

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