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Are the Conservatives now officially the no-deal Brexit party?

16 July 2019

8:28 AM

16 July 2019

8:28 AM

With just a week to go before the result is announced of the election to choose the new Tory leader, and our new PM, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are shape-shifting into each other.

On Brexit Hunt is adopting more and more of Johnson’s rhetoric about the need to keep open the option of a no-deal Brexit.

And in Monday night’s Sun debate, both of them made a new commitment that makes no deal the most likely outcome – they both said they wanted to scrap the so-called backstop, the mechanism for keeping open the border on the island of Ireland.

Johnson said that putting a time limit on the backstop, or acquiring a unilateral right for the UK to withdraw from the backstop, would no longer be an acceptable reform.

The backstop had to go altogether.

Hunt concurred.

Most EU leaders will see that shift as the official moment the Tory party became the no-deal party – because EU leaders have consistently said the backstop cannot and will not be dumped.

What was also striking was that Johnson abandoned his vow never to criticise the president of the US.

He resisted the invitation from the Sun’s political editor Tom Newton-Dunn to call Trump a racist but did say it was ‘totally unacceptable in a modern multinational country’ for Trump to call on four women Democrats (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar) to ‘go back’ to their ‘countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe’.

Hunt had attacked Trump in more-or-less the same way, for what has been widely seen as a deliberately inflammatory paraphrase of the ‘immigrants go home’ slur.

And unlike when Hunt laid into Trump in ITV’s debate last week – over the American president’s personal attack on Theresa May – this time Johnson was shoulder to shoulder with him.

As I understand it, some of Johnson’s closest advisers fear he had been damaged by being seen to kowtow to Trump, though not so damaged as to cost him the leadership election.

There are two consequences of this convergence between the two, on Brexit and Trump.

First any Tory member who hasn’t yet voted – and most have – has to make the choice largely on character and personality, rather than policy substance.

Second, this convergence makes it almost impossible for either of them not to give the other a job in one of the big cabinet offices of state, that is foreign secretary, home secretary or chancellor.

And although there has been lots of muttering in the Johnson camp that Hunt’s earlier attacks on Trump made it impossible for Hunt to remain foreign secretary, that fox has been shot by Johnson today joining the chorus of thin-skinned Mr Trump’s critics.

Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared on his ITV News blog


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