Jo Johnson’s resignation a strategic boost for pro-Europeans

by Hugo Dixon | 11.11.2018

Jo Johnson’s resignation could change the calculations of key players – MPs, ministers, media, voters and our EU partners – and pave the way for a People’s Vote.

Until Boris Johnson’s brother quit as transport minister on Friday, the weight of conventional opinion in Westminster and Brussels was that Theresa May would somehow get a Brexit deal and ram it through her Cabinet and then Parliament.

True, many people argued that the prime minister’s Brexit scheme would collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions. But the Whitehall machinery is formidable and the Tory whips can both bribe MPs to toe the party line (by dangling Cabinet positions, knighthoods and so forth) and threaten them with the political wilderness if they don’t.

But such promises and threats only work if you believe that May will actually succeed in reaching the finishing line – because, if she doesn’t, she won’t be in any position to reward loyalists or punish opponents.

Johnson’s resignation has had an electric effect because it comes at a time when the prime minister’s plan is already on the ropes. In her desperation to do a deal that keeps the Irish border open under all circumstances, she is making one concession after another – and still doesn’t have a deal. They all point in the same direction: turning the UK into what both the Johnson brothers call a “vassal state” – following EU rules on trade and the single market without any say on them.

May doesn’t just face a pincer movement from pro-European Tories (such as Jo Johnson) and anti-European Tories (such as Boris Johnson). She is also being attacked by Northern Ireland’s DUP and risks losing the support of Scottish Tories. The latter are concerned that the prime minister’s deal could pave the pay for Scottish independence and prevent the UK taking back control of fishing, a big concern for many of their constituents.

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Tipping point?

Jo Johnson is right that the prime minister should not be forcing Parliament to choose between the “vassalage” of her deal and the “chaos” of crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. Given that what’s on offer is so far from the “false prospectus” promised by his brother in the referendum, it would be a “democratic travesty” not to ask the people whether they still want to quit.

Other Conservative MPs will be reviewing their positions. Does it still make sense to weigh in behind a prime minister’s when she has little chance of ramming through her deal? Surely it would be better to back a People’s Vote given this is an increasingly realistic option – especially as they know that staying in the EU would be much the best outcome for our nation?

There will be similar calculations in the media. A striking leader in Saturday’s Times, entitled “Honest Jo”, came within a whisker of endorsing a People’s Vote. The Daily Mail and Financial Times, both of which have hitherto been square behind the prime minister, also gave positive coverage to Johnson’s resignation.

Business too will reflect on whether it is sensible to weigh in behind the prime minister. Last week saw the launch of Business for a People’s Vote. This weekend, there is a powerful column in the FT by Mike Rake, the CBI’s former president, calling on business to back a new vote.

The People’s Vote campaign will gain momentum. Activists will be emboldened. Donors will be more willing to give money. Meanwhile, our EU friends will increasingly realise that Brexit may well be cancelled – and will start preparing for that possibility.

Jo Johnson’s resignation is brilliantly timed. It will persuade others to abandon the prime minister’s defeatist suck-up-the-misery camp and join the upbeat realists fighting for a People’s Vote.

The word “sycophants” was changed to “loyalists” shortly after publication

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

12 Responses to “Jo Johnson’s resignation a strategic boost for pro-Europeans”

  • 100% agreed. Jo Johnson’s resignation is likely to be a tipping point that should change Westminster’s arithmetics in favour of a second referendum and, possibly to start with, a motion “in favour of suspending the process triggered by art. 50”. Tactically, it is now urgent to bring into the debate the modalities of that second referendum that must avoid replicating the scandalous flaws of the first one, most notably the exclusion of the estimated c. 2.3million adult Brits living abroad. This time, the British citizens who reside abroad ought to be allowed to participate in the vote and HM’s Government should not assume that it could contravene again such an elementary tenet of democracy with impunity. By the way, it is extraordinary that no action -as far as I am aware- was taken with the International Court of Justice since 2016 in that respect. Any other member of the EU -even the US- could supply the UK with the technology, including internet-based, if required, for “the lack of an efficient technology” seems to have been the sole pathetic excuse the Government came up with to justify at the time preventing a significant fraction of British citizens from exercising their civil right.

  • Where the heck is Corbyn? How can he possibly continue to parrot the line about respecting the voters wishes? The whole pro leave team is in disrepute and suspected skuldugery is being investigated. How can Corbyne be so bright and so stupid at the same time?

    Where will that leave the pro EU groups if they succeed in turning the exit around? Who will be the leader that represents them with compasstion and conviction? Will it be Corbyn doing some sort of hat switch trick or what? How can we trust him?

  • Corbyn can’t survive supporting Brexit. He has made much of being at the democratic will of his party – if he aligns with ushering in a Brexit, he is guilty of utter hypocrisy since 92% of momentum supporters want a People’s Vote and the vast majority of his party also supports it. The idea of supporting the vote if an election is not an alternative was passed by his party’s conference: now the leader is saying that Brexit can’t be stopped and he doesn’t support a second vote (Der Speigel). His position is becomming as untenable as May’s.

    He said “the fight starts here” after waving through A50 – there has been precious little fighting from the Labour leader that I can see.

  • I, too, feel dismayed at Corbyn’s attitude. He claims Brexit cannot be stopped and that he dislikes the neo-liberal economics of the EU. Well, Brexit can be stopped and anything he dislikes about the EU can be worked on if you remain a member. He also ignores other powerful arguments for remaining such as security, peace and co-operation which combats the threat of extreme nationalism. There is a real possibility that when the crunch comes the Labour Party will be as divided as the Tories. Corbyn is actually aiding and abetting May and his wish for a general election is rather forlorn.
    It is excruciating watching PMQs; he should be wiping the floor with May but hardly lays a glove on her.

  • Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong eurosceptic who is riding roughshod over the will of the party to achieve his own wishes. It’s time we in the party stopped asking him to change his mind and started telling him to.

  • Jeremy Corbyn – where are you, when we most need you?
    Alas, Corbyn has been a life-long eurosceptic. Can he really ditch everything he learned at the knee of his mentor, Tony Benn, and become an enthusiastic suppporter of the eu? I have my doubts.
    Let’s not forgot that one of his closest advisers, Seamus Milne, is a visceral eurosceptic. Read some of his old Guardian articles, in which he excoriates almost everything the eu has ever achieved. Then there is John McDonnell – a dyed-in-the-wool eurosceptic. I’m a member of Momentum, but I fear – after the Die Speigel interview – that Jeremy and Co are no longer the men for me.

  • Sadly, Corbyn is an ideologue who would sacrifice the welfare of the country to achieve his aims. In this respect he is no better than the ERG who are prepared to do the same.

    What kind of politics do we have to look forward to in the UK, when we are forced to vote for the least worst option.

  • Corbyn is a dimwit who failed at school, could not get into university and dropped out of polytechnic. But I believe some people see him as a “useful idiot”.

  • So, well done Jo Johnson. Hopefully you are able to divulge your otherwise privileged cabinet discussions to a wider Tory and press audience.

    However, just digressing with just a few diverse points:

    1. InFacts is clearly providing an insight into the politics of Brexit nevertheless in keeping with its title, I would implore Hugh and team, also the Guardian to provide ‘facts’ on the ground, about ordinary businesses, the daily reality for people and how they will be affected by Brexit – but also other ‘facts’ which have been overlooked. Examples:

    a. Port of Dover: Do interviews with the staff working there, get a feel for statistics, and the logistics of how the port handles trade now but also after (if) Brexit happens. People want to know this stuff.
    b. Small businesses in Kent: Find and interview those who travel daily/weekly plying their trade by car or van to deliver or buy goods or services across the channel. Ask them what they think. I’d definitely like to know.
    c. The actual functioning of the EU: It might sound odd to ask the media to cover this now. Listen to this: until I asked one of my family to research the EU website, he was referring to Brussels as an unelected organisation. Clearly it is not. Please do something here.
    d. Comparison of annual UK EU contributions versus loss of tax revenue at different rates of contraction of the economy post (possible) Brexit.
    e. Sovereignty: When ‘England’ (not the UK or Britain) used to not worry about mutual trade agreements with other countries it took over huge land and resources in the world. I equate sovereignty to theft and piracy. As soon as you trade, you share your sovereignty, and you mutually sign up to product standards and working standards. What on earth then is ‘bringing back control’? The modern world is about sharing, pooling, compromising. Can you get this message out please.
    f. Peoples Vote: Just start a campaign to encourage people to put posters in every window of every car, home or business asking for a People’s Vote. This has a visual impact that no end of expensive advertising could match.

    Please InFacts, do these things or talk to your Guardian colleagues to do them.

    Does any other reader agree with me?

  • Totally agree. All ordinary members of the public who care passionately about this impending disaster need to demonstrate their concern – if enough of them do so our craven politicians may find their backbone.

  • I also agree with NJs comment above as I believe people voted in ignorance of the facts. I am not saying they are ignorant, just ignorant of the facts. I have talked to several leavers and made this statement who thought my comment unfair. “OK”, I go on to ask, “Do you know how much you contribute to the EU budget through direct taxation?” To a man, they hadn’t a clue which sort of proves the point. When you think that someone on £ 30,000 pa pays less than £30 a year into the EU budget through direct taxation and compare that with the hit that we have already seen through the collapse of the value of the £ due to Brexit even before we leave, is equivalent to more than £1000 per year per person, the contrast is pretty stark. And whereas our contribution is progressive through taxation, its not through inflation. As many have already observed the poorer UK citizens will feel the greater burden. I feel we need to make these sort of facts clearer to ordinary citizens as they were easily hoodwinked by sums like £350 M per week which were never put into there proper context by the Leave campaign.

  • Fortunately Starmer has now reaffirmed labour’s official position. Corbyn looks rather out on a limb, he would be wise to acknowledge the views of his party and supporters or otherwise he will be open to the charge of being anti-democratic. Most people respect his pacifist and antinuclear commitment, if the party can appear united it will be a powerful force to resolve the current crisis