Brexit weekly briefing: Tories back Johnson despite mistakes | Politics

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Welcome to the Guardian’s weekly Brexit briefing. If you would like to receive this as a weekly email, sign up here. You can catch our monthly Brexit Means … podcast here. And for daily updates, head to Andrew Sparrow’s politics live blog.

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Boris Johnson belatedly admitted to mishandling the leak of diplomatic cables that led to the resignation of Britain’s ambassador to the US, but Tory voters still back him over Jeremy Hunt to become party leader and prime minister by almost two to one.

With the apparent PM-in-waiting continuing to insist he will take the UK out of the EU on 31 October “deal or no deal”, warnings about the impact of leaving without an agreement came thick and fast.

The business secretary, Greg Clarke, said a no-deal Brexit would lead to the loss of “many thousands” of jobs, the Bank of England warned it could trigger a “material shock” to the UK economy, and the Revolution Foundation said Britain now faced its highest risk of a recession since the financial crisis.

In the cables allegedly leaked to the Mail on Sunday, the UK’s outgoing ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch told his bosses in London that:

  • He did not believe the Trump administration would “become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept”.
  • Trump may have been indebted to “dodgy Russians”.
  • There were bitter divisions within the Trump White House, saying euphemistically that administration officials would get into “knife fights”.
  • The Trump presidency could “crash and burn” and that “we could be at the beginning of a downward spiral … that leads to disgrace and downfall”.
  • The US president’s approach to global trade could wreck the system on which it depends.
  • Trump could attack Iran, and that he abandoned the Iran nuclear deal as an act of ‘diplomatic vandalism’ to spite Barack Obama.
  • The White House was split over the withdrawal, and lacked a “day-after” plan for what might come next.

However the Commons speaker, John Bercow, did not select a key amendment designed to scupper attempts by a future government to force no deal by proroguing parliament, despite the backbench Tory MP Dominic Grieve declaring that suspension would mean “the end of parliamentary democracy” in the UK.

Not surprisingly, campaigners are beginning to seek other routes to stop parliament being shut down to facilitate no deal. The former Conservative prime minister, John Major, said he would seek a judicial review, while businesswoman Gina Miller warned she would launch immediate legal action.

The government also faces a high court judicial review over an alleged “large-scale breach” of the rights of EU citizens denied a vote in May’s European elections.

Meanwhile, the woman chosen by EU leaders to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said – to nobody’s surprise – that she would not be reopening Brexit talks.

Yet in their final debate, both Johnson and Hunt significantly hardened their Brexit positions, declaring the Northern Ireland backstop “dead” and promising that even if it was tweaked it could not feature in any exit deal with the EU. Something will have to give …

What next

According to the usually well-informed analyst Mujtaba Rahman of Eurasia Group, the incoming government will do “everything it can” to deny no-deal opponents parliamentary space, denying opposition day debates and trying to avoid no-deal legislation to prevent it being amended.

At least two bills will, however, have to be rushed through before 31 October, on trade and financial services. No-deal opponents could also try a number of other tactics leading to a no-confidence vote – without forcing a general election, but possibly with a new prime minister emerging.

Rahman expects “manoeuvres to begin” in September and the revolt – likely to be joined by several current cabinet and junior ministers – to peak as the UK gets closer to the 31 October cliff edge, most likely after the 17-18 October European summit. “One thing is clear: things are going to get very messy indeed,” he says.

Meanwhile Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform says the EU will not blink on renegotiation. It could, however, offer a new political declaration on the future relationship, confirm it does not want the backstop to be permanent, and offer a longer transition – though none of those are sure to make a difference in Westminster.

A further lengthy article 50 extension may well only be offered if the UK held an election or referendum, Grant says. And when talks on the future relationship finally start, the EU27 will be every bit as tough on coordinating the process, ensuring EU unity and keeping member states and MEPs on board as it was during phase one.

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In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley asks where are the politicians with principles they would stand down for:


A moral dilemma will face Tory MPs in the highly likely event of a Boris Johnson premiership. He has said he is prepared to crash Britain out of the EU on Halloween without a deal, a prospect that a significant cohort of Conservative MPs regard as grotesquely irresponsible. This autumn, these Tory MPs may have to choose between permitting a calamity Brexit or voting with the opposition to stop it, even if that means collapsing their own government. How far can their principles be stretched? In some cases, Tory consciences have a lot of elastic in their knickers. Matt Hancock and Amber Rudd, who have previously been eloquently vocal about what a catastrophe a no-deal Brexit would be, are now sounding like people reconciled to the idea, a conversion that may not be entirely unconnected to the expectation that Mr Johnson will be picking the next cabinet. Others have been more consistent. Ken Clarke, the former chancellor, said he would rather vote on a confidence motion to terminate his own government than allow a crash-out Brexit. Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, says the same. If it comes to the crunch, they will put conscience and country first. Other Tories have yet to finish wrestling with their principles. When do they say to themselves that enough is enough?

Top tweet:

Ah, what blissful relief from Brexit was that weekend of sport:

David Allen Green
(@davidallengreen)

Glance at Twitter to see the great British public banging each other over the heads with cricket bats and tennis racquets in a spirited battle over which is the better sport, Brexit completely forgotten.

Oh wonderful day.


July 14, 2019



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