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Will Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt be able to unravel Brexit’s ‘Gordian Knot’?

Amy Fisher

Without wishing to evoke the spirit of Baldrick as being the leitmotif for the Government under its new leader, one can only hope that someone, somewhere, has A Cunning Plan.

It’s a perfectly fair question to ask.  What on earth is going on in politics?

As a former Conservative colleague put it to me recently: ‘it’s like we’re just dragging ourselves ever closer to oblivion’.  What was striking was the slight uptick (of – wait – was it, hope?) that I heard in their voice as they said the word ‘oblivion’ – almost as though the sweet relief of political death couldn’t come soon enough.

It is of course indeed now end times for Mrs May’s administration.  By Thursday there will be a new leader of the Conservative Party, and new Prime Minister.  The two candidates dipped for the line at Wednesday’s hustings.  The majority of Party Members have already cast their postal vote, to meet the deadline of Monday, when votes are to be counted.  We’ll know on Tuesday who the winner is.  Mrs May will do her last Prime Minster’s Question – heck, why not – on Wednesday.  And then the new leader – almost undoubtedly Boris -will have a single day, Thursday, before the House rises to go on its summer hols.

The last couple of weeks have seen Boris pushing forward with his planning for his first hundred days.  The majority of the ‘backroom boys’ who will make up the Number Ten team are in place, led by Eddie Lister who was Boris’ chief of staff when he was in City Hall.  Reputedly Boris is finalising his Cabinet by the end of this weekend.  There’s an irony about the fact that actually it was the Mr-Safe-Pair-Of-Hands candidate, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who doesn’t seem to have done much thinking about life might look like after next Tuesday, were he going to be the one to win.

But will whoever does win find himself thinking that he should have been more careful about what he wished for?  The Brexit Gordian Knot has not unravelled not at all, and at some point Boris’ sunny uplands rhetoric or Jeremy Hunt’s more recent conversion to ‘Leave’ is going to run into the chilly reality of the numbers in the Commons.

If we thought our politicians had lost their proverbial back in the spring when Mrs May tried desperately and failed three times to get her deal on the Withdrawal Agreement through a riven Commons, they now seem to have gone entirely rogue.  Yesterday’s Parliamentary high jinks are simply the latest, and will most definitely not be the last, manifestation of that.   Government ministers failed to vote with the Government.  Chancellor Philip Hammond and Justice Secretary David Gauke seem to have openly left the reservation.  These are not good things.

On the face of it, what happened with yesterday’s amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill have nothing at all to do with Brexit.  But they have required the Commons to sit on certain days in September and October.  This runs a coach and horse through any suggestion –  controversial though it may be – of the next PM being able to suspend or ‘prorogue’ Parliament in order to force through a No Deal Brexit on or before 31st October.  For the Kremlinologists, the rumour doing the rounds is that this was all part of a plot by Mrs May to scupper her successor’s attempt to do a No Deal Brexit; she had apparently been warned of the danger of the amendments going down and being passed as they have done.  And she was insistent the Bill was laid nonetheless.

So, what is the way out of this mad, mad mess?  How does Boris/Jeremy get a Withdrawal Agreement through?   That backstop (that no one even knew existed before the end of last year) hasn’t gone away.  The Democratic ‘we’d rather slice off our eyelids than blink’ Unionist Party aren’t likely to suddenly come on side.  And frankly, who knows where Labour is at – the one certain thing being that sufficient numbers are not going to be lining up to help out another version of a Conservative administration.

Without wishing to evoke the spirit of Baldrick as being the leitmotif for the Government under its new leader, one can only hope that someone, somewhere, has A Cunning Plan.

Prior to joining MHP, Amy Fisher was a Conservative Party Adviser – as a Special Adviser at the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and as Director of External Affairs, Outreach and Special Projects at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.