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The big Tory leadership question: what happens on All Saints Day?

26 May 2019

1:05 PM

26 May 2019

1:05 PM

If the EU is unable to make a Brexit offer that is acceptable to Parliament by the Brexit deadline on 31 October, what then? This is the big question in the Tory leadership contest and – slowly – we’re getting answers.

1. No deal back on the table, an extension not ruled out Dominic Raab this morning told Andrew Marr that if the EU does not compromise then he’d leave anyway, without a deal. In other words, the Tory 2017 manifesto position would be restored: no deal is back on the table, only this time they’d have to mean it. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid all agree. All would seek a compromise with the EU: modified version of Theresa May’s deal. Nigel Farage says this is pointless because the outgoing Commission is intransigent. Several Europhiles agree. So then what? One option is to delay until, say, Christmas and see if the new Commission (which starts in November) might be more inclined to compromise to get a deal. It might, as it’s likely to be more respectful of nation states – and it will be free of the hyperbolic language that Donald Tusk etc ended up deploying. A fresh start is possible. The Euro election results will send a clear message.

Or new Commission might want to move on and blame the failure of Brexit talks on the Juncker Commission. It’s hard to tell.

When asked by Marr, Raab has said that he would not ask for an extension, but says he’d be in a “difficult position” if Parliament wanted one. So, some wiggle room.

2. No deal, no extension No wiggle room with Esther McVey told Sky’s Sophy Ridge today that she rules out an extension, saying that business needs an end to the “corrosive uncertainty… so that date is fixed”. She’d like to bury rather than modify May’s deal. Liz Truss says “we should leave on October 31st, deal or no deal”. Or as Ben Bradley MP puts it, “October 31st, come what may, is the end”. You can see the appeal to Brexiteers: come what may, Britain’s last day of EU membership is Halloween, 31 October. And then we would leave on 1 November, All Saints Day. Many ERG members would agree with her, as would quite a few grassroot Tory members who think only a cast-iron fixed-date promise could win back voters from Nigel Farage.

3. No deal off the table – but not prepared to threaten to bring down the government Rory Stewart says that no-deal would be a disaster, so he’s ruling it out as is Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary. It’s not clear why the outgoing EU Commission would then offer a better deal or how they could persuade Parliament to back the May deal on a fourth vote. But neither have said they’d bring down the government in a confidence vote, which might be the only way of stopping no-deal if the EU does not compromise. When asked by Sophy Ridge today, Justine Greening stopped short of saying she’d vote for an election saying this is “likely” to mean Corbyn.

4. No deal off the table, ready to bring down government Dominic Grieve has said he would vote with Labour to bring down a Tory government to stop a no-deal Brexit. This is the only tool at Parliament’s disposal. MPs have already given authorisation to leave without a deal on 31 October and do not need to be asked to vote again. Backing a no-confidence motion would be the only way to stop this. But for an MP to threaten to bring his or her own government carries risks under the UK system, mainly that of deselection.

In the next few days, we can expect to see various MPs line up behind one of these four positions. We’ll update as this happens.

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