ERG Splits On Latest Brexit Vote Overblown

Last night’s Brexit votes were notable less for what they were than the way Tory MPs voted on them. The Government ultimately accepted the new Cooper Amendment F which recommitted them to the timetable for a vote on delaying Brexit that May first offered on Tuesday, imposing a poorly organised three-line whip in favour of the amendment which led to chaos in the voting lobbies. Chris Grayling was spotted in the wrong lobby and the Prime Minister reportedly even had to ask a whip which way to vote…

Despite the confusion, over 100 Tory MPs directly defied the three-line whip to abstain or even vote against the amendment, not a remotely trivial number in itself. However the most interesting subplot that emerged was the split between the 88 MPs who abstained, and the 20 MPs who directly voted against it, including Esther McVey and Bill Cash. Could this be the start of the split between the hard core who will never vote for May’s deal under any circumstances and the group who could come round to it if enough concessions are secured by Geoffrey Cox? Even more significantly, does this signify the minimum number of Tory MPs who would vote for May’s removal in a vote of no confidence if she were to extend Article 50?

ERG sources have played down the significance of the split, the ERG were naturally opposed to the amendment but beyond that were not particularly fussed about whether to vote against it or simply to abstain, given its ultimate lack of significance. Guido also understands that reports of splits emerging between Boris and Rees-Mogg on the one hand and Steve Baker on the other have been much overblown – while Jacob did hint at a slight softening of his position on full-on treaty change to the backstop yesterday, sources close to the three have categorically dismissed reports of any splits emerging between them. Everything still hinges on what, if anything, Cox can bring back from Brussels…

The 20 MPs who voted against the Cooper amendment outright were:

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Boris Licked on Camera

Boris Johnson has had an interesting weekend, spending part of it getting licked on camera by a large cheetah. A friendlier reception than he is getting from some of his fellow Tory MPs at the moment…

Boris Still Miles Ahead of Tory Leadership Rivals

The latest ConHome Tory leadership survey results are out, with Boris Johnson maintaining his commanding lead at the head of the pack. Boris sits comfortably on 26%, more than double his closest rival in Dominic Raab with 12%. Gove comes back in from the cold into third place after his barnstorming anti-Corbyn speech in Parliament last month.

The biggest surprise is much-vaunted contender Sajid Javid sliding down to fifth with only 7%. Outspoken Tory Remainers are even further behind, with Amber Rudd the highest ranked in 8th with just 4%. May is safe from a formal Tory challenge until December, but pressure for a more pro-Brexit leader will inevitably mount once the Article 50 process is finally over…

Rent Boris Johnson’s Home For £2,000 a Week: Picture Special

Guido brings you an extra-special edition of Through the Keyhole – taking you inside the former home of Boris Johnson where he fought and won the EU referendum. The historic £3 million end-of-terrace perched next to Regent’s Canal in Islington can be yours to rent for just £2,000 a week. Less than half the eye-watering £4,500 a week Remainers are stumping up for Stop Brexit Man’s Westminster palace…

Plenty of space to entertain your friends in this elegant living room, there’s even a piano if you fancy giving a little rendition. Just don’t play Ode to Joy…

Cook your meals in the open plan kitchen where Michael Gove reportedly convinced Boris to back Brexit. A little taste of history…

The spacious master bedroom has a nice oriental tinge as well as its own private roof terrace and adjoining dressing room. That sofa might come in handy for when you’ve fallen out with your other half…

Take your pick from the three stylishly decorated bathrooms spread over the house’s five floors. Very nice…

The large garden out the back is perfect for having friends round for a barbeque on those hot summer weekends. Just don’t forget to organise your leadership bid too…

How Top Tories Responded to Brady’s Victory

Top Tories gave their reaction to last night’s votes on Newsnight – Graham Brady insisted that it was the Commons that had given May a mandate, not himself. A forceful Steve Baker told people to “wake up to the reality” that “that backstop is not getting through the House of Commons, not ever.” Boris reiterated that his support for May’s deal was conditional on the backstop being removed and replaced with alternative arrangements.

Liz Truss added that yesterday’s results were a “significant way forward” that showed that “there is a majority for the PM’s deal plus some changes to the backstop.” The EU have already launched a media blitz to insist it’s not possible but behind the scenes they have no choice but to digest the significance of the result…

Meanwhile on Planet Anna Soubry, it was all “deeply concerning” as she saw her party “drifting over to the right”. Cheer up…

Rees-Mogg Hints at Brexit Compromise if Backstop Goes

Jacob Rees-Mogg has dropped some strong hints that he may be prepared to soften his stance on Theresa May’s Brexit deal if the backstop is taken out. The ERG Chairman told a packed Bruges Group event that “as long as the backstop is there, I will not vote for the deal,” but added that “there is hope that there could be reformation of this deal to make it more acceptable.” The Moggster added that he felt things were “going our way” with EU splits beginning to open up with Poland and, significantly, Ireland, while insisting that he was not going soft:

“I like reading the papers that I’ve become a soft touch. I do whatever my children tell me. And they’re all staunch Eurosceptics.”

This could prove to be a smart move from the ERG, by flat-out opposing any form of the deal they risked condemning themselves to irrelevance, particularly if Yvette Cooper succeeds in ramming a juggernaut through the constitution next week. By focusing their demands on the more realistic target of the backstop they could see momentum swing back their way – even if the backstop is not removed altogether, legally binding changes are looking more feasible than before. As Rees-Mogg wrote himself on Sunday, “Even Mrs May’s deal would be better than not leaving at all”…

UPDATE: Boris has also hinted at a possible compromise if the deal changes, saying on the way past out of Number 10 that “if we negotiate with conviction… we can secure the changes that we need”…

May Ducks Boris and Nigel’s Questions

Theresa May ducked the opportunity to respond to both Boris Johnson and Nigel Dodds’ questions, as to whether there will be changes to the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement. May’s responses are typically non-committal… 

“There are a number of options”

If there are no legal changes, May can expect a similar result second time round…

Boris: We Need to Escape the Backstop Trap

Boris was at the JCB factory in Staffordshire this morning to deliver a big set-piece speech on Brexit. His fundamental message was for British politicians to “stop fighting each other” and turn around to “face the real obstacle” – the trap of the backstop:

“We need to escape the trap of the Irish backstop and it’s frankly more than disappointing that in the five weeks since the deal was whisked off the table before Parliament could vote it down, we haven’t even tried to get rid of it. We haven’t even asked!”

This sums up many Brexiteers’ frustrations about Theresa May’s apparent refusal to even ask the EU to make significant changes to what is manifestly the single greatest obstacle to a deal being done. The perception of Downing Street is that they are scared to even suggest serious alterations for fear of offending the EU, on the advice of their so-called EU “sherpas”. The only place the “sherpas” have led the UK is to this pitiful deal…

Meanwhile Guido hears that one senior Remainer has even been receiving calls from his EU buddies in a panic about the backstop derailing the deal altogether. If May wants to get her own MPs and the DUP back on board, her best chance is by finally showing some backbone on the backstop…

Boris: Let Us Not Continue to Flog this Dead Horse

When this deal is voted down, let us not continue to flog this dead horse. Instead we must get Brexit right and seize the opportunities before us…

BurkaGate: Boris Unanimously Cleared by Tory Party

An independent expert panel chaired by Naomi Ellenbogen QC have unanimously cleared Boris Johnson of any wrongdoing for his Telegraph column which infamously criticised Denmark’s Burka ban over the summer. An extraordinary row ensued, egged on by the left of the Conservative party who called for Boris to be disciplined as a result of his resoundingly liberal column, which argued that the Burka can be criticised without the need for the sort of government ban that many continental European countries have imposed.

The expert panel found him “respectful and tolerant” and defended his writing style saying he had a right to use satire to make his point. It firther stated that censorship was “unwise” and that It said that the Conservative Party’s Code of Conduct did not “override an individual’s right to freedom of expression”. Polls at the time show the public agree, with a clear majority saying Boris should not be disciplined…

A friend of the former two term Mayor of London told Guido that it is “welcome news that Boris has rightly been cleared” and the panel’s ruling completely supported what Boris said from the very beginning” that “his article did foster respect and tolerance for the wearing of the burka.” The friend added that Party Chairman Brandon Lewis should “do the honourable thing and apologise to Boris with the same zeal he shamelessly used to smear his name during the summer.” Punchy…

Sajid is the Top Choice of Tory Councillors

Survation have done something interesting, they have polled 862 Tory councillors on their preference for the next Tory leader. Using a run-off single transferable vote method they looked into who would win. First preferences gave a close lead for Sajid Javid of 150 to 142.

After transferring votes Sajid sucks up the majority of third-placed Hunt’s votes and wins decisively. This is an interesting exercise that doesn’t exactly mirror the actual Tory election process which has MPs select two candidates to put before the wider Tory membership. What it does show is that in an open field the race would likely be between Johnson & Javid. The survey reinforces the findings of the ConservativeHome surveys that it should be a two-horse race. Whether Tory MPs agree is another matter…

Watch Survation’s explainer video here.

Steve Baker Sets Out Tory Leadership Shortlist

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker has renewed his call for MPs to submit letters of no confidence in the PM, telling Today that Conservative MPs need to realise that we “cannot go staggering forward any longer like this” and that it is Theresa May’s “duty now to go”. More letters have reportedly gone in since yesterday’s debacle but somehow they’re always around “5 letters short” of 48…

When pressed on who should replace her, Baker gave a shortlist of four Brexiteers – Esther McVey, Dominic Raab, David Davis and Boris Johnson – and called on them to decide between themselves who would be the chosen candidate. Good luck with that…

“There are four people who have resigned from the Cabinet – Esther McVey, Dominic Raab, David Davis and Boris Johnson – the four of them need to work out between them which one of them is going to be our candidate to unite the country, unite the party, and take us out of the EU successfully.”

Boris is certainly back in the frame after his weighty appearance setting out a clear plan for how to proceed on Marr on Sunday, while Tory MPs are the one constituency he has consistently struggled to win over, his enduring popularity with Tory members and the country as a whole is not something MPs can ignore. Raab is Boris’s most likely challenger – he has burnished his credentials with his principled resignation although he does not have the public recognition factor of Boris or DD. DD has been out of the spotlight of late, while McVey’s support may end up being crucial to one of the other candidates if she does not go for leader herself.

Baker is right that Brexiteers should unite around a candidate when the inevitable leadership contest comes – Remainer Cabinet ministers including Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt are also on manoeuvres and the risk is real that Brexiteer infighting could lead to a repeat of the situation where a Remainer PM simply wins the race by default. Whether politicians are willing to put their egos to one side and back one of their main rivals is another matter…

Rich’s Monday Morning View

Boris: Do Not Underestimate the Deep Sense of Personal Responsibility I Feel for Brexit

Punchy stuff…

Boris: Britain Must Bin The Backstop

Boris’s Leadership Guarantee

“Can you give me an absolute categorical promise here and now that you will not stand against Theresa May?”

“I will give you an absolute categorical promise that I will continue to advocate what I think is the most sensible plan to get out of this mess.”

Boris’s Big Brexit Pitch

Boris Johnson has given a very lengthy interview to ConservativeHome this morning, setting out what looks suspiciously like an alternative manifesto for leadership after May loses the meaningful vote next week. While he insists that May needn’t resign, he sets out a clear alternative path for the country to follow:

  • May must throw out the Withdrawal Agreement, even if she only loses by one vote
  • Boris adds that it would be a “very, very serious mistake” if the Government contrived to pull the meaningful vote now
  • He won’t comment on whether he’s sent in a letter of no confidence himself
  • The UK must go back to Brussels and renegotiate in a “generous, optimistic energetic way” that goes back to the Lancaster House Principles
  • Reinstate a “big free trade agreement at the heart” of the deal, using the implementation period to negotiate it
  • Ditch the backstop – Boris says the Cabinet was “misled” by May and Gavin Barwell over the backstop and sold the December deal in “total bad faith”, adding that the UK has “collaborated in our own incarceration” by helping to “co-forge” the manacles of the backstop
  • Not hand over £39 billion of taxpayers’ money in advance of the final deal
  • Boris rejects the EEA option, saying Norway plus the backstop is “worse” than the deal
  • Proponents of ‘Norway to Canada’ “don’t really want to go forward to the Canada solution”
  • Being prepared to leave on WTO terms is “absolutely crucial” – Boris won’t “pretend there would be no challenges at all. But what people I think want to see is a bit of gumption from this country… and a bit of leadership”
  • He calls the Government’s failure to prepare to come out on WTO terms is an “S&M approach to Government. What perversion is it where you want to be locked up in chains?”

Whether or not you believe that Boris’s approach is any better, the fact is that May’s approach to the negotiations simply has not delivered. May cannot just carry on like it’s business as usual if she loses the vote next week, whatever her margin of defeat…

The Boris Paradox: Hated by the Elite, Loved by Voters

Boris has again topped the ConservativeHome reader survey, taking 1 in 4 votes (24.25%). Sajid Javid (11.6%), Dominic Raab (11%) and David Davis (10.5%) trail far behind. All the other hopefuls are also rans, not even making it into double figures. The ConservativeHome survey is of course not a representative weighted survey of members, it has however in the past been reasonably accurate and there is little doubt that with more than double the support of anyone else Boris is the clear front runner. Except with Tory MPs, who if May should fall next week would in all likelihood prefer a boring, steady-as-she-goes leader. That didn’t work out so well last time…

Boris is detested by his former colleagues in the political media. The overwhelmingly remain-backing political class will never forgive him for leading the Leave campaign to success. The broadsheets traduce him every day. The political editors of the tabloids look for any excuse to give him a kicking. Yet only last month he was once again found to be the most popular leading politician in England

So that is the paradox of Boris; loved by the Tory membership, detested by Tory MPs, popular in the country despite the daily drubbing in the national media. Proven to be able to win votes against the odds in London (twice) and during the referendum. His appeal to voters is strong, and rational Tory MPs who want to beat off the threat from Corbyn will need to focus on who can win votes. Keeping Corbyn out of Downing Street is in the national interest, Boris is the most likely person to do that…

Boris Johnson’s Speech to the DUP

Boris: Backstop “Makes A Complete Nonsense of Brexit”

Brexit big beats are hitting out against the Northern Irish backstop. Boris’ intervention comes as the number of Tory MPs committed to voting against the withdrawal agreement reaches 88. That’s more than half of backbench Tory MPs…[…] Read the rest “Boris: Backstop “Makes A Complete Nonsense of Brexit””

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