THE new Prime Minister isn’t even in No10 yet. But the effort to hobble him has already begun.
On Tuesday, Dominic Grieve, a Tory second referendum advocate, and Margaret Beckett, the former Foreign Secretary, will attempt to take the budgets of various government departments hostage.
They want no money to go to four departments if the UK leaves the EU on October 31, unless Parliament has explicitly approved that.
If they succeeded and a new Prime Minister took the UK out without a deal anyway, the elderly would not get their pensions or the unemployed their benefits. The scheme is extreme. It is an attempt to import into British politics the American tactic of shutting down the government.
The good news is that it probably won’t work. The bad news is that it won’t be the last effort to tie the new Prime Minister’s hands.
What is so frustrating about this is that at a time when European governments are trying to find back channels to Boris Johnson to discuss what possible changes might make a deal acceptable to him, there are Parliamentarians trying to remove a key part of his negotiating leverage: The ability to walk away.
Those most opposed to No Deal think they will get the numbers in the end to block the Prime Minister.
They believe Boris Johnson’s rule that to serve in his government you’ll have to be signed up to leaving the EU on October 31, come what may, will swell their numbers.
“You’re going to have dumped on to the back benches a whole bunch of opponents of No Deal,” says one of those consulted on tactics.
VOTE COULD REBOUND
Some of those advising Boris, though, think there is little that opponents of No Deal can do unless they are prepared to bring down the Government in a confidence vote. They point out the Government is not obliged to give Labour any more opposition day debates between now and October 31 and there is no vehicle to pass a law compelling the Prime Minister to seek an extension.
This analysis does not, however, take into account what John Bercow might do. Bercow is an activist Speaker and it isn’t hard to imagine him turning the rules of the House on their head to give MPs a chance to block No Deal.
What those seeking to block No Deal should remember is they might cause the very outcome they are so keen to avoid. The Commons won’t pass Theresa May’s Brexit deal. It’s already rejected it three times.
So, if you want a withdrawal agreement to pass, you need the EU to make some concessions which make the deal more palatable.
But the UK is never going to get those concessions unless it is prepared to walk away.
Many of those trying to stop No Deal really just want to stop Brexit altogether.
They should remember there’s no majority for a second referendum in the Commons and setting up a No Deal versus Revoke vote could rebound on them. The reality is that if you want a deal that can pass Parliament, then No Deal needs to be an option.
Frost a hot tip for new Euro fixer
ONE of the biggest decisions Boris Johnson will have to make is who will be his go-between with Europe – who will scurry round Brussels and European capitals seeing what kind of deal can be done?
I understand the front runner for this role is David Frost. No, not the David Frost. The David Frost who was a Johnson special adviser when he was Foreign Secretary and knows both Whitehall and Europe well – having been a civil servant for decades, including a stint as Europe director at the Foreign Office.
One of the things preoccupying the Boris team is just how much they will have to get done in their first 100 days in office.
This is why a premium is being placed on knowledge of Whitehall, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden – who played vital roles preparing David Cameron for power – working closely with Boris Johnson’s old City Hall chief of staff, Eddie Lister, on the transition.
Cameron The Party Leader
DAVID Cameron held a big party for his old political friends this week.
The bash at Dartmouth House in Mayfair, where summer parties start at £99 per guest, was peppered with conversations about the Tory leadership race.
Sir Patrick McLoughlin, chairman of Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign, was there and I’m told the room was “pretty split between Boris and Jeremy”.
Guests included George Osborne – who got ribbing for his support for Boris Johnson in the leadership race – as well as William Hague, and most of Cameron’s political and civil service teams from his time in No10.
Paying the price
THE last Cabinet photo of Theresa May’s premiership was an odd affair.
There was a normal photo taken and then those on the back row were told to leave a gap so the absent Scottish Secretary David Mundell could be Photoshopped in.
Ministers were told they could choose a photo with Mundell in it, or one without.
They were puzzled as to why the photo wasn’t taken after the Cabinet meeting, by which time Mundell would have been there.
Ministers were left wondering whether Mundell was paying the price for being one of the first Cabinet members to make clear his displeasure with May’s willingness to allow a vote on a second referendum.
Have-a-go Hunt’s big-job gamble
“WE’RE not going to let up on attacking Boris because we know it is cutting through,” declares one of Jeremy Hunt’s campaign confidants.
The Hunt camp point to polling in the last few days showing he has a bigger advantage over Jeremy Corbyn than Boris Johnson and that the public prefer Hunt to Johnson as Prime Minister.
This may be, and Hunt – who is far less well known than Boris – may be benefiting from some kind of novelty factor. But it is Tory members who pick the next party leader, not the general public.
The savvier of Hunt’s MP supporters admit he still trails badly with this group.
I understand from one of those crucial to Boris Johnson’s victory in the parliamentary stages that the campaign’s own polling tallies with public surveys suggesting he is ahead by a close to two- to-one margin with Tory members.
One of Johnson’s leading backers tells me 60 per cent is the benchmark for success; that a victory by a 20-point margin would give him momentum going into No10 and help establish his authority with the parliamentary party.
Boris’s backers have been infuriated by how hard Hunt has gone in this contest. They concede that party unity dictates they’ll have to offer him a Cabinet job. But one tells me that Hunt is currently in “Leader of the House territory”. This source asks: “Can you have a Foreign Secretary who has called the Prime Minister a coward?”
MOST READ IN OPINION
Hunt won’t let up in the next few weeks. There is, though, a risk for him that his attacks alienate the very people whose votes he needs in this contest: Tory members.
There are signs many of them are unhappy at just how blue-on-blue Hunt is going.
Hunt’s decision to go negative means he’ll need a strong showing in this contest to guarantee himself a big job in any Boris government.
- James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator
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