Boris Johnson’s character and Brexit plan – plus Labour’s next move

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Does character or policy detail matter when it comes to our next Prime Minister? The Tory leadership frontrunner would like us to think that neither is of import. But of course the answer is that both matter. A terrible news cycle for the Conservative Party on Friday saw convicted MP Chris Davies recalled by constituents who chose to trigger a by-election, a video circulated online of minister Mark Field manhandling a peaceful female protester and a story surface of the police being called to Boris Johnson’s home.

Speaking at a hustings over the weekend, our (likely) next PM refused to answer questions about the domestic incident during which his partner was heard shouting “get off me” and “get out of my flat”. The man is running his entire campaign on the assumption that he is an election winner with broad appeal, yet apparently we are not entitled to ask about something fundamental to his character.

Detail on Brexit also proves elusive, as ever. In addition to the theory that Johnson is best-placed to beat Jeremy Corbyn, a promise to take us out of the EU by October 31st come what may is his other key asset. And yet his explanations for achieving this aim and surviving its inevitable consequences – an implementation period without a withdrawal agreement and GATT 24 will see us through – have been dismissed as dishonest even by hard Brexiteers.

Setting aside the unavoidable fragmentation of his supporter base, questions still hang over whether Johnson can avoid being subject to a successful vote of no confidence in the Commons. Defence minister Tobias Ellwood has told the BBC that “a dozen or so” Tory MPs would support such a move in order to block a no-deal Brexit.

With 26 Labour MPs signing a letter that urges their party to back a deal, it makes one wonder whether Jeremy Hunt would be a safer bet for those wanting to see Brexit implemented after all. ‘Theresa May in trousers’ promises to avoid an early election and get Brexit done slowly but surely, which seems wise considering Labour’s evolving position.

Corbyn will meet trade unions this morning as part of the further consultation promised at the special shadow cabinet meeting last week. Unite is the last big one left still holding out on another referendum. The union led by Len McCluskey has been quick to dismiss the results of a new YouGov poll commissioned by the People’s Vote. It showed that almost two thirds of trade union members back a public vote, but Unite say: “Polls that profess to speak for our members yet are not conducted by our union cannot be considered credible.”

Pressure on the leadership to back Remain, as well as another referendum in all circumstances, is rising in the run-up to conference in September. Another Europe is Possible has launched a new campaign, Remain Reform Revolt, that hopes to prepare the ground for an anti-Brexit victory by boosting the grassroots rather than establishment politicians or big business. An official pivot towards wanting to overturning the 2016 result looks increasingly inevitable, and there are two schools of thought accordingly. The first is outlined by Andrew Harrop in a LabourList piece today:

“Jeremy Corbyn has always supported democracy within the party and it is his own rule changes that will make it harder to keep controversial business off the conference floor this year,” the Fabians general secretary writes. “Whatever his private feelings, he should make a virtue of necessity: better to embrace the will of the party now than buckle later. He should say that a Labour government will hold a second referendum and that he will personally back Remain.”

The other argument counters that resistance is crucial: taking into account all reservations about a Remain stance, the fight is worth having. For the many, not the few only works as a message if Labour refuses to side with the 48% or 52%, proponents of this path insist. Whether the shadow cabinet meeting tomorrow sets out a fresh position is, frankly, anyone’s guess, as sources say they simply don’t know in advance whether it will be a big showdown with a clear outcome or not.

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