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Analysis

Johnson won’t be able to rely on Tory MPs

by Nick Kent | 23.07.2019

Just as a supporter of a no deal Brexit has been chosen as Tory leader, his MPs appear to be moving in the opposite direction. Over the last few weeks sentiment has started to shift in the Conservative Parliamentary.  Note last week’s massive parliamentary rebellion, which included four Cabinet members.

Four factors have changed the situation.

First, and above all, the threat of a no deal Brexit.  Whilst wealthy backers of Leave may be relaxed at the prospect, and many in the party grassroots welcome it, there is deepening concern among MPs at what might happen.  Ministers who have been involved in discussions about the consequences of a no deal Brexit are genuinely frightened as to what would happen.  They don’t think the break-up of the UK and civil disorder are possibilities that can be dismissed.  (Read our new dossier on the consequences of “no deal”.)

Secondly, the whole reason for a Johnson leadership was that he was a sure-fire vote winner who would, with one bound break free of the Brexit yoke, wipe out Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and implement a bold new vision for Britain.  But new polling research suggests he is a vote loser rather than an asset, particularly in Scotland and amongst Lib Dem voters. Many of the latter switched to David Cameron’s Tories in 2015, giving the party a majority at Westminster.  And without the 12 seats the Tories won in Scotland in 2017, they wouldn’t be in government.

Then there is what the unkind are calling the “Hancock factor”: the sense among Tory MPs that worrying about your career at this moment in British political history looks cynical at best and unpatriotic at worst. Matt Hancock began the leadership election savaging Johnson and now he has (politically speaking) jumped into bed with him.  The contrast between Hancock’s ringing declaration that he was backing Boris “because he’s going to win” and that of the “Gaukeward Squad”, willing to give up their cabinet seats to oppose a no deal that only weeks ago Hancock described as “political suicide”, is rather painful.

Finally, the attempts by extreme Brexiters to de-select pro-European Tories has rebounded against them. It has long been a rule of Tory MPs that they stick together and oppose de-selections. Initially de-selection threats scared Tory MPs. Now they are increasingly defiant, partly because they are so obviously the result of brazen infiltration.

Will sentiment keep shifting? It is true that stopping the government suspending Parliament to force through a no deal Brexit is different from voting for a new referendum. But once MPs get a taste for rebelling they tend to carry on doing so. As the clock ticks down to 31 October deadline, Tory MPs are likely to have to choose between a general election they could lose or a People’s Vote they know will infuriate their grassroots supporters. Pro-European still have all to play for.

One Response to “Johnson won’t be able to rely on Tory MPs”

  • A Cabinet of mediocrities, failures, & fools headed by, to use American parlance ‘a major league a**hole’.

    We need to remind ourselves that this so-called PM is illegitimate and has no mandate for anything.