BACK home after a week of summit junkets, Boris Johnson lost his Chancellor and his Health Secretary within ten minutes of each other on Tuesday. Today, all afternoon and evening damaging resignations have been following in quick succession. So, tonight may see him forced out. Equally, Ahab like, it may see him fighting on for his job, perhaps still in the hope of another vote of confidence he might scrape through. At the time of writing apparently he still has the support of senior cabinet members Liz Truss, Priti Patel, Ben Wallace and Dominic Raab, and others.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer meanwhile says he has undergone a Pauline conversion. Reconciled to Brexit, he will not try to take the UK back into Europe if he forms a government after the next election.
Should we take either of them seriously?
Johnson’s leadership is most likely doomed by the resignations of Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid. They recall Geoffrey Howe’s resignation from Margaret Thatcher’s government – from which she never recovered – and the desertion of much of Gordon Brown’s chaotic cabinet in 2010.
The odds are that the Conservatives will lose the next election – due by 2025 – if Johnson remains their leader. The size of their 80-seat majority is something of an illusion created by the number of probably temporary Tory victories in Labour’s famous Red Wall.
These voters wanted Brexit and saw Johnson as the means of achieving it. Now that they have it, there is no reason to vote again for a Tory government led by a discredited prime minister whose policies including green zealotry they blame for inflation and sky-high energy prices.
The likelihood is that after the election, Starmer will form a coalition government with the LibDems and the SNP. Labour and the LibDems are packed with Remainers. The SNP is still seething that Britain left the EU in the first place and is committed to trying to rejoin after independence.
Starmer, formerly an advocate of a second referendum to overturn the vote for Brexit, told the Centre for European Reform that Labour’s policy when next in power would be to ‘make Brexit work’. There would be no return to either the single market, the pet project of London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, or to freedom of movement (by legal migrants; illegals will still be welcome).
‘With Labour, Britain will not go back into the EU,’ Starmer pledged. ‘We will not be joining the single market. We will not be joining a customs union. We will not return to freedom of movement to create short-term fixes.’
Khan on the other hand told the BBC that ‘it’s possible to be outside the EU but be members of the EU’. This is nonsense. The single market is the backbone of the EU and to be part of it is to be subject to Brussels’s rules and control of trade negotiations with the rest of the world and to the European Court of Justice which serves as a rubber stamp for the unelected EU Commission.
Khan echoed Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who urged a return to the single market last month as a way of getting back under Brussels control via the back door. Starmer will need to withstand pressure from a significant part of his own parliamentary party, as well as the LibDems and the SNP, if he becomes prime minister with an ostensibly pro-Brexit agenda despite his own Remainer past.
The parliamentary Labour Movement for Europe campaigns for the party to ‘negotiate the closest possible relationship with the EU’ with a view to rejoining one day.
Just as David Cameron could have invoked the withdrawal clause, which enables a country to leave the EU, without calling the 2016 referendum, a future government composed of pro-EU parties could try to take us back in without a popular vote.
Opinion polls, if you have faith in them, claim that the numbers for pro- and anti-EU positions are unchanged since the referendum which means that the country is equally divided while voters are disillusion by Johnson’s behaviour and the failings of the Northern Ireland Protocol – the EU’s special poison pill – are never long out of the headlines.
Our departure from the EU was fractious and damaged the bloc’s credibility. Eurocrats have gone out of their way to punish the British for their apostasy. President Macron has turned a vindictive blind eye to the surge of illegal cross-Channel immigration, knowing that it creates huge problems for Johnson.
A question even Remainers must ponder is whether Brussels even wants us back after their experience of almost five decades of serial troublemaking by us when we seemed to be constantly out of step with the ambitions of EU leaders for ever more integration, leading ultimately to the creation of a European superstate.
The answer is probably yes. It’s been assumed that the EU would let us back in only under strict conditions including adherence to all the objectives which prompted us to be the constant odd man out and finally to leave. This is not an inevitable scenario.
Getting Britain to realise its ‘mistake’ in leaving would be a triumph for everything Brussels stands for and send a message round Europe – there is no life outside the EU, even for a country with the world’s fifth-biggest economy.
For a PR triumph like that, Brussels might be prepared to offer enticements which would appeal to that majority of the British establishment whose hearts lie in Brussels. Maybe they’d let us keep the pound, for example, and the NI Protocol would be consigned to history.
Starmer cannot be trusted to deliver. The convulsions of Johnson’s efforts to cling to his job and the prospect of the Tories being defeated after 15 years in power by pro-EU parties mean that Brexit is not yet safe. Brexit happened mainly because of Johnson. By clinging to power now, he endangers his achievement.
Update at 23.58pm 6th July
Boris Johnson has sacked Michael Gove and continues to cling to power. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel is reported to have told him ‘his time is up’. Nadhim Zahawi despite, reportedly, being part of a delegation earlier today telling the PM to go also agreed to become Chancellor of the Exchequer.