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The result of the Conservative Party’s leadership election will be announced just before noon today, following the close of voting last night. Around 160,000 members of the Conservative Party were eligible to vote in the membership round of the contest between the Foreign Secretary and MP for South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt, and the former Foreign Secretary and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Boris Johnson. The new leader of the party is expected to make a short speech after the result is announced. He will form a new administration tomorrow afternoon after Theresa May leaves Downing Street and formally tenders her resignation as Prime Minister to the Queen.
Commenting on the possibility of a Johnson victory, Open Europe’s Director Henry Newman told BBC Radio 4’s PM last night that Johnson “is going to have one of the shortest honeymoons of any recent political leader, where he is going to have to get the whole of the Government machine working towards that Brexit date [of 31 October]… If he manages to pull it off and get us out by then, I think he’ll have achieved a success that Theresa May failed to, and he will be in an extraordinarily strong position thereafter.”
This comes as the Foreign Office Minister, Sir Alan Duncan, resigned from the Government yesterday. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Duncan said he wanted to resign “in order to be free to express my views in advance of you leaving office.” Later, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, rejected a request from Duncan to hold an emergency debate today on the motion “That this House has considered the merits of the newly chosen leader of the Conservative Party, and supports his wish to form a Government.” Duncan said the motion was designed to test whether the next Prime Minister can command the confidence of the Commons.
Elsewhere, the House of Lords yesterday voted in favour of an amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill by 272 to 169 which requires the Government to give regular updates on political progress in Northern Ireland. The amendment is part of a plan aimed at preventing the Government from proroguing Parliament to facilitate a No Deal Brexit.
Separately, the Conservative MP for Dover, Charlie Elphicke, was suspended from the party whip yesterday after being charged with sexual assault. Elphicke will sit as an independent unless and until the whip is restored, meaning the Government’s official working majority (including the DUP) is now down to two votes.
Sir Alan Duncan MP Laura Kuenssberg Politics Home BBC Open Europe
Jo Swinson was elected as the leader of the Liberal Democrats yesterday, defeating rival contender Sir Ed Davey. Swinson, the MP for East Dunbartonshire and previously the party’s deputy leader, received 47,997 votes from party members, ahead of Davey on 28,021. In her victory speech, Swinson said “liberalism is alive and thriving,” adding, “the two old parties have failed. Our party has been clear on Brexit from day one. We believe the UK’s best future lies within the European Union, and that is why, as your leader, I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit.” She added, “I stand before you as a candidate for Prime Minister. I am ready to take our party into a general election and win it.” She also called on MPs in other parties to “work with us, join us, my door is always open.”
The former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Trimble, has written a new report for Policy Exchange in which he argues that the Irish Backstop Protocol contained in the Withdrawal Agreement does not protect the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement but “could destroy it.” In the report Trimble writes, “Separating Northern Ireland from the UK’s single market and placing it under a separate economic regulatory regime clearly changes the status of Northern Ireland.” He adds, “This violates the consent principle of the Agreement and makes a laughing stock of Article 2 of the British/Irish intergovernmental treaty in which ‘the two Governments affirm their solemn commitment to support and where appropriate implement the provisions of the multi- party agreement’.” Trimble is a former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize who now takes the Conservative Party Whip in the House of Lords.
Three former Prime Ministers – Sir John Major, Gordon Brown, and Tony Blair – yesterday issued warnings to the next Prime Minister over the risks of a No Deal Brexit.
In a statement, Major (Conservative Prime Minister 1990-1997) said, “As the evidence mounts of the probable economic and social damage of a No Deal Brexit – and of the rising opposition to it – the new Prime Minister must choose whether to be the spokesman for an ultra-Brexit faction, or the servant of the nation he leads.”
Elsewhere, in a speech, Gordon Brown (Labour Prime Minister 2007-2010) said, “Boris Johnson is becoming prime minister just as support for his October 31 No Deal policy is falling away. Already, away from Westminster, three million Brexit voters will not support a No Deal Brexit.”
Meanwhile, in an article for the Times, Tony Blair (Labour Prime Minister 1997-2007) said that the 2016 referendum “mandated Brexit, for sure, but not a No Deal Brexit,” and called on Boris Johnson, if he becomes Prime Minister, to “go back to the people in a referendum.”
A new YouGov survey published yesterday suggests that only 27% of the public think it is “likely” the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, while 56% think it is “unlikely.” Leave voters (38%) were more likely than Remain voters (22%) to predict the UK will leave by the current deadline.
The Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam, told the Commons Home Affairs Committee yesterday that Border Force’s working assumption in a No Deal scenario is that trade flows through the English Channel could drop to “roughly, in a plausible worst case [scenario], to roughly 40 to 60% of current levels for a period of three months.” Rutnam added, “The plausible worst-case assumption is not as bad as the plausible worst-case assumption was back in February,” when he had told the Committee that cross-Channel trade flows could drop by 75% for six months following a No Deal exit. He further added, “I should emphasise the level of uncertainty around all this… this is critically dependent on action that would be taken by our neighbours, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.”
In its latest assessment of the UK economy, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) think tank said, “Economic growth has stalled and there is around a one-in-four chance that the economy is already in a technical recession,” adding, “The outlook beyond October, when the UK is due to leave the EU, is very murky indeed with the possibility of a severe downturn in the event of a disorderly No Deal Brexit.” NIESR’s forecast reveals that if No Deal is avoided, the UK’s economy would grow at around 1% this and next year “as uncertainty continues to hold back investment and productivity growth remains weak.” In the event of an “orderly” No Deal Brexit, the economy would stagnate and only start growing again in 2021. The think tank also expects public sector borrowing to rise above 2% of GDP, and in a No Deal scenario it could increase to 3.8% by 2022.
Elsewhere, the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, told the BBC that the No Deal trade tariffs plan released by the Government in March “can change,” adding, “We’ve made very clear from the outset that these were tariffs that would probably last six to 12 months before the Government would review them. And therefore our advice was and is to our trading partners – don’t take the risk of there being trading friction that you don’t need to have, let’s have a continuity agreement.” Fox has also revealed that a number of Democrats in the US Congress suggested they would block a UK-US post-Brexit free trade agreement is Brexit has an impact on the Irish border or the Good Friday Agreement.
Following an informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Paris yesterday, 14 member states agreed to the “solidarity mechanism” system proposed by France and Germany to allocate asylum seekers arriving via the Mediterranean, French President Emmanuel Macron announced yesterday. Macron said, We must respect humanitarian and maritime law, which means that once a boat is in international waters it must find refuge in the nearest safe port. This a legal and practical necessity. The only way to handle this is through cooperation,” adding that the new initiative would be “quick” and “automatic.” In addition to France and Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia, and Ireland voiced their commitment to accept asylum seekers and to help returning migrants not eligible for asylum to their countries of origin. Six other member states agreed to the mechanism in principle.
In his column for ConservativeHome, Open Europe’s Henry Newman writes, “Nearly four months after the UK was supposed to leave, Brexit seems more uncertain than ever… There is a path through to securing Brexit, but it’s a narrow one. Either side lie dangers: a general election before Brexit, or a second referendum. In just a hundred days, we will know whether Boris Johnson has succeeded.”