THE latest plan to thwart Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy is a so-called government of national unity.
The idea is he’d be forced out in a vote of no confidence in September and replaced by a caretaker PM who would request an extension to our EU membership before resigning and calling a general election.
But this ain’t going to happen. There are two huge flaws with this plan.
First, it wouldn’t be a government of national unity as its sole purpose would be to extend our membership of the EU, which would make it one of the more divisive governments in living memory.
Second, Jeremy Corbyn won’t back anyone else for Number 10 while Tory rebels and the Lib Dems aren’t prepared to support him. This means that the numbers just don’t work.
There are three reasons why Corbyn won’t send his MPs through the lobbies to make anyone but him PM.
If he supported another Labour figure for the job, he’d be suggesting that they’d be a better leader than him: If they’re more able to win over the Commons, why not the country?
But if he backed a Tory, he’d be weakening his whole argument about “Tory austerity”. If Corbyn allowed in anyone else, he’d also be creating a precedent.
‘AIN’T GOING TO HAPPEN’
This is dangerous for him as there’s every chance that the next election returns a messy result and Labour’s only chance of governing would be as part of a multi-party coalition.
If he had stepped aside previously, it would be easier for other parties to demand that he did so again to allow a government to be formed.
So, if a government of national unity isn’t going to happen, what is? Much turns on what happens at the G7 Summit in Biarritz in a fortnight.
This will be the first time that Johnson has met Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel face to face since becoming Prime Minister.
Right now, it seems unlikely that much will come out of this summit. But it does give Boris and EU leaders a chance to talk without anyone having to back down before discussions can begin.
One of those close to Boris says, “There’ll be an opportunity for anyone in the EU who wants to get a conversation going”. But it’s clear that Boris isn’t budging from his position that the “undemocratic backstop” has to go.
The next general election is going to be the most important contest in a generation
If this summit doesn’t change the mood, then we might well be heading for a no confidence vote and an election. To stay in government, the Tories would need to win a majority — or come very close to doing so.
The only party likely to do a deal with them in another hung parliament is the DUP, who’ll have a maximum of ten MPs. By contrast, Labour has more potential coalition partners.
John McDonnell’s willingness to entertain a second Scottish independence referendum is a recognition that Corbyn is highly unlikely to win a majority and so will need Scottish Nationalist support to get into Downing Street.
In any election campaign, expect the Tories to take aim at Labour’s potential coalition partners. They’ll also seek to emphasise that the choice for Prime Minister is between Johnson and Corbyn.
They hope that this can help them fend off a Lib Dem challenge in their southern seats. As one of those being consulted on the Tory strategy puts it, that is “why you need to increase the cost of Corbyn in people’s minds”.
What is certain is that the next general election is going to be the most important and most unpredictable contest in a generation.
Control — the immigration keyword
IF you want to know what difference having a Brexiteer in Number 10 makes, look at Boris Johnson’s plan to make it easier for scientists from around the world to come to Britain.
What Boris Johnson gets is that those who voted to Leave want control over immigration rather than an end to it.
The public are relaxed about immigration that they see as being beneficial to the country and the economy. No one is going to get upset if UK universities and research labs turn into the premier league of science, with the best researchers from across the world coming here to work.
So, Theresa May’s numerical target for immigration – reducing it to the tens of thousands – is gone to be replaced by a more sensible approach which is happy to see high-skilled immigration increase but wants more control over immigration lower down the wage scale.
If that leads to companies having to pay staff more or firms investing in labour-saving technology then that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
Fine dining is a must for Boris
ON Monday, Boris Johnson will start holding a series of intimate dinners in Number 10.
These are hugely important. Johnson wants to use them to win round those Tory MPs worried about No Deal, who might join in parliamentary efforts to force an extension or even bring down the government.
I understand that at these dinners, Boris Johnson will emphasise that he wants a deal with the EU and that he thinks his approach is the best way to get one.
At the same time, he’ll also emphasise his domestic agenda and that the Tory party has to stick together if Jeremy Corbyn is to be defeated.
When the crunch votes come in September, we’ll find out whether this was enough to reassure these pivotal MPs.
Boris is a man with a mission
EXPECT to see more of Boris Johnson out in the country over the coming weeks.
I am told that Johnson keeps arguing for more time away from Number 10 and out and about with the public.
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“He is always pushing to do more people stuff in the week . . . it’s his comfort zone,” says one insider. There’s a logic to this too, given how likely an election in the next few months is.
There’s little point in cutting down on campaigning now when he could end up having to go to the country at any moment once parliament returns in September.
Withdraw the whip
EYEBROWS have been raised at a message sent to civil servants this week. I
It warns: “If you are an active user of any online dating, alternative lifestyle or fetish websites
“Then we very strongly recommend that you do not discuss the fact that you are a civil servant, or the work you are involved in as part of your online profile or presence.”
Oh dear, what would Sir Humphrey say?
Trump sends out his heavy hitters
DONALD TRUMP is not the easiest, or least complicated, ally to have.
But when the new Foreign Secretary met the US President in the Oval Office this week, Vice President Mike Pence and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were also in attendance alongside the US Ambassador to the UK.
The seniority of the cast list was meant to send a message about the Trump administration’s seriousness about building ties with the new government.
Trump and Boris Johnson will meet for the first since Johnson became PM at the G7 in France later this month. Expect much talk of a US/UK trade deal.
- James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator