Here we go… Boris has told a dinner of Conservative Way Forward donors that Brexit is in danger of being sold out and that the government may not manage to get a deal palatable to Leave voters. In his strongest warning about the direction on Brexit yet, the Foreign Secretary said he fears that we could still end up effectively in a customs union with the EU and closely aligned to their rules and regulations. He blasted Philip Hammond and the Treasury as Remoaners who are not making the best of Brexit. He again demanded Number 10 abandon their failed hybrid model and overwhelmingly back Max Fac. Every Brexiter will agree with every word of this. At last a Cabinet minister stands up for Brexit…
100 Tory MPs have tonight formed the new parliamentary council of the Thatcherite group Conservative Way Forward. Eight Cabinet ministers – Sajid Javid, Chris Grayling, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Esther McVey, Jeremy Hunt, David Davis and David Gauke – are among them. This is a much needed push from the sounder wing of the Tories to fight back against the ever wetter direction of the party. And the increasing prevalence of Corbyn-friendly views among some voters.
At a reception at the IoD this evening, new CWF chairman Conor Burns made the case for freedom and talked up CWF’s nine principles of democracy, capitalism, deregulation, freedom, community, enterprise, nationhood, security and choice. Some good words on Brexit too:
The British people voted to again be and independent self-governing country. We – unlike the establishment – believe not that this is some disaster that needs to be mitigated but rather an opportunity to be embraced. We want to build a modern, outward looking, liberal country that trades with the world. As we approach the second anniversary of that historic vote we hear the quiet but strong instruction of the people. Insistent they tell us clearly: get on with it. We are not renegotiating our membership of the EU. We are leaving. The public knew exactly what they were voting for – indeed the Government used millions of their money to tell them.
We are leaving the Customs Union. Leaving the Single Market. The Supreme Court in London will now be THE supreme court of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister could not have been clearer on Britain’s Brexit red lines. And she will have the support of Conservative Way Forward as she delivers them. Every one of CWF’s new Parliamentary Council will be in the lobby next week supporting the Prime Minister and upholding the democratic decision of the British people.
Boris was the keynote speaker, calling for his colleagues to back leaving the customs union and remake the case for free trade. He branded Corbyn a Chavez apologist and vest-wearing Marxist condoner of anti-Semitism.
About time this wing of the Tory party stood up to Theresa May’s joyless statism of sugar taxes, energy caps and price controls, and the Ruth Davidson / Philip Hammond view that they need to tax more, spend more and regulate more. 100 MPs and eight Cabinet ministers is an impressive and encouraging reminder that there are some friends of freedom left in the Tory party…
“The prime minister is the custodian of the plan, which is to come out of the customs union, out of the single market and to get on with it, to get on with that project with all convenient speed. Outward, free-trading countries — what they want to hear from us is that we are getting on with it with confidence and brio and zap and dynamism.”
684 days have passed since Britain voted for Brexit. Theresa May has been Prime Minister for 664 days. There are just 325 days – ten months – until we are supposed to be leaving the EU. Still, the UK government does not have a policy on customs.
Boris has given an interview to the Mail today in which he brands Number 10’s customs partnership proposal “crazy”. Guido has outlined the problems with it here. The customs partnership is dead in its current form, but the papers are full of speculation Downing Street is going to plough ahead with a rehashed version of the model rejected by the Brexit sub-committee last week.
Just as worryingly, Number 10 is putting off the decision yet again. Customs won’t be discussed at Cabinet today, we are told, nor at the next meeting of the sub-committee on Thursday. There are reports that the Commons vote on customs may even be delayed until the autumn, as May desperately tries to fudge what is already a fudge. Continually delaying the decision on customs is becoming a dereliction of duty. The uncertainty is harming the economy. The vague UK position is encouraging Brussels to wind down the clock and keep us in a full customs union. If Number 10 delay any further, the choice will be between a customs union and no deal, outcomes no one wants. Get on with it…
“If you have the new customs partnership, you have a crazy system whereby you end up collecting the tariffs on behalf of the EU at the U.K. frontier. If the EU decides to impose punitive tariffs on something the U.K. wants to bring in cheaply, there’s nothing you can do. That’s not taking back control of your trade policy, it’s not taking back control of your laws, it’s not taking back control of your borders and it’s actually not taking back control of your money either, because tariffs would get paid centrally back to Brussels.”
Two pieces today express the unhappiness of Brexiters with Theresa May’s version of Brexit. Boris tells the Telegraph leaving will be “pointless” if we cannot diverge from the EU and strike trade deals with other countries, and makes the case for a “liberal” immigration policy that allows us to take “software people from Hyderabad” and “Australian paramedics” as well as skilled migrants from the EU. Fraser Nelson blasts May for pursuing “the wrong Brexit” in the Spectator, warning:
“Many Remainers genuinely believed they were engaged in a battle of ‘open’ vs ‘closed’ — and that ‘closed’ won. So as democrats, they ought to obey what they believe to be the demand of Brexit voters: clamping down on migration, sounding more tough and less liberal. This is a tragic misreading not only of the referendum result, but of public opinion today. Seeking to control immigration is not the same thing as being anti-immigrant…
Limits should be placed on unskilled labour, as is common in most countries, but skilled workers should be welcomed with open arms. There should be no more treating Australians or Indians as second class immigrants, and no more violinists deported to Massachusetts because they don’t earn enough.”
This is essentially the problem with two Remainers, May and Rudd, being in charge of the post-Brexit approach to immigration. In an effort to win the support of Brexiters, May and Rudd have overcompensated and tried to be more Brexit than Brexit, playing up to their caricature of what they think Leave voters want. A Leave Prime Minister would not have used EU citizens as bargaining chips as May did for so long. A Leave Prime Minister would not continue to favour EU migrants over non-EU migrants post-Brexit, as Brexiters fear May and Rudd will do to get a better deal. Polling by Open Europe found 56% supported continuing immigration “as long as there are controls to make sure they will contribute to our society, economy and way of life”. It is about control and fairness, not the cold approach exemplified by the Windrush scandal…
Patrick Stewart tells Marr his Star Trek and X-Men characters Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier would have voted Remain. Boris dismisses him as “something to do with Star Wars” and says:
We’ve already had ‘The People’s Vote’, says @BorisJohnson. “We’re now trying to deliver on that mandate from the people,” he says in response to calls for a second EU referendum. pic.twitter.com/0TUiib4Ary
“We actually have evidence, within the last ten years, that not only has Russia been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok itself.”
The Foreign Secretary @BorisJohnson has suggested England’s World Cup participation could be affected if Russia was found to be involved in the poisoning of a double agent in Salisbury pic.twitter.com/4OyW4AOdwy
Various news outlets have reported that Boris threatened to pull England out of the World Cup during the Urgent Question on the spy poisoning today. If you look at what he actually said, he mentioned nothing about the England team and was clearly referring to “UK representation”. I.e. officials and diplomats from the UK government, not the England team:
“If things turn out to be as many members suspect that they are, I think we will have to have a serious conversation about our engagement with Russia, and for my own part I think it will be very difficult to see, thinking ahead to the World Cup this summer, I think it will be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way.”
Yet another example of certain media organisations hostile to Boris using a very serious story to make a cheap shot at the Foreign Secretary. Whether or not the government’s commitment to bring Russia “to heel” is an empty threat is surely a more pressing question…
Boris Johnson was just spotted using what appeared to be some unparliamentary language in #PMQs in response to Jeremy Corbyn suggesting the Foreign Secretary briefed the media that the Working Time Directive would be scrapped after Brexit pic.twitter.com/kyuNwJXU0d
Boris gives a speech reaching out to Remainers. How do some Remainers respond? With a torrent of personal abuse and conspiracy theories, refusing to engage with anything in the speech having already made up their minds beforehand, and calling him “mendacious” and “evil”, among other pleasantries:
Ludicrous situation at @BorisJohnson speech today when the Foreign Sec called @Channel4News Europe Editor @mattfrei to ask a question only for the @Policy_Exchange to veto in favour of throw away question on giving up cake for lent. Just what are they scared of?
“Brexit need not be nationalist but can be internationalist; not an economic threat but a considerable opportunity; not unBritish but a manifestation of this country’s historic national genius,” says @BorisJohnsonpic.twitter.com/xydWBvFbr4
“Brexit need not be nationalist but can be internationalist, not an economic threat but a considerable opportunity, not un-British but a manifestation of this country’s historic national genius.”
A Cabinet minister actually gives an optimistic vision of the opportunities of Brexit, rather than glumly talking about how to make the best of it. Why hasn’t this been the message from the government over the last 19 months?
“This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust,” he told the PM, concluding: “I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election… I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom. I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit…”