Update on UK political situation

Hold the leadership race – we’re back to Parliamentary experimentation. Labour, with cross-party support, is using an opposition day motion to attempt to forestall a no-deal Brexit, prevent the proroguing of Parliament and take the wind out of Tory leadership sails.

– Parliamentary spanner in the works –

Just a couple of hours after Boris Johnson launches his campaign, when he will insist that Britain must leave the EU on October 31, MPs will vote on whether to take control of the order paper on June 25.

If, as expected, they do so, the plan is then to use that time to block no deal, possibly through legislation.

The plans are still vague and could change, but a repeat of attempts in March to force the Prime Minister to request an extension to Article 50 might be one option.

– Long way to go –

It’s worth emphasising that this is only the first step. MPs will have to decide by June 25 what exactly they want to do to stop no deal, and they can’t change the legal default, which is no deal on October 31.

Any plan that doesn’t involve revoking Article 50 – which would probably be too controversial to pass – would rest on EU willingness to delay. But support on the Continent for another delay just for the sake of it is limited. Some countries are in favour, but others, notably France, are likely to take a tougher stance.

If Europe demands a general election or second referendum as the price for a referendum, can and will MPs force the PM to accept? Until we find out the full plans, it’s hard to predict anything.

– Carry on regardless –

Still, the leadership election carries on. Of yesterday’s launches, Rory Stewart’s in a circus tent caused the biggest stir. Michael Deacon was more than impressed, but Stewart’s chances – alongside those of Esther Mcvey, Mark Harper, Matt Hancock and Andrea Leadsom – are next to non-existent.

The real focus is on the other five, and here Boris is still streets ahead. He has beaten Dominic Raab to the support of most of the European Research Group of Brexit hardliners, leaving Raab without his natural constituency, while also convincing plenty of Remainers to back him.

The promises Johnson has made to both sides are contradictory and they could yet come back to bite him. But, if Parliament has its way, choosing between the sets of promises might be taken out of his hands, saving him the blame.

– Can’t touch this –

Johnson’s opponents spent another day laying into him, with Tuesday’s focus being on his suitability to govern. Stewart went so far as to ask if Britain really wanted Boris to be in charge of the nuclear submarines.

However, MPs aren’t choosing Johnson because they think he is a serious politician, but because they think he can win.

Opponents turned supporters find plenty of ways to justify it, such as believing that he will surround himself with good advisers and ministers, but ultimately they want to keep their seats and see Johnson as the way to do that.

– The only way is Boris – 

New polling from ComRes for The Telegraph backs up that argument. It finds that Johnson is far ahead of his rivals on the question of whether he would make a good prime minister, with 27 per cent saying he would. His closest rival is Jeremy Hunt on 14 per cent. The polling also found that Johnson as leader would boost the party to 37 per cent in the polls, 15 ahead of Labour.

Using the ComRes data, Electoral Calculus found that at an election Johnson would walk away with a 140-seat majority, while no other candidate would win a majority at all.

Looking at the data, it is in some ways a return to the Cameron era. Johnson is predicted to win around 5 per cent fewer votes than May did in 2022, but gain a thumping majority thanks to hoovering up the Brexit Party vote and divisions on the Left.

– Caveats aplenty – 

Of course, one poll does not a summer make. Last week Lord Hayward warned that Johnson couldn’t win swing voters, and, as I’ve written previously, Johnson also gains from name recognition which his opponents don’t have.

Still, Boris the Election Winner is a powerful narrative and it’s allowing him to power ahead in the endorsements race. With even more MPs signing up to support him today, Johnson is now on 78 MPs. He only needs to reach 105 to be guaranteed a spot in the final two.

No wonder questions at the hustings last night turned to whether other candidates would stay the course if they made it to the final two.

Front Bench


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