Boris Johnson shakes up paralyzed Brexit debate

Nothing better demonstrates the Brexit paralysis currently blighting British politics than the staid opening...

Posted: Oct 3, 2018 11:46 AM
Updated: Oct 3, 2018 11:46 AM

Nothing better demonstrates the Brexit paralysis currently blighting British politics than the staid opening two days of the governing Conservative Party's annual conference.

Perhaps the media can be forgiven for swerving the speeches of lesser-known members of Theresa May's Government. But not even the party faithful, gathered here in the city of Birmingham, can summon up much enthusiasm. On Sunday they left their Chairman, Brandon Lewis, speaking virtually to himself in a near-empty hall.

Boris Johnson

Brexit

Continents and regions

Diseases and disorders

Europe

European Union

Government and public administration

Government organizations - Intl

Health and medical

Neurological disorders and injuries

Northern Europe

Paralysis

Political Figures - Intl

Politics

Theresa May

United Kingdom

By contrast, many of the fringe events -- which take place outside the main conference hall in admittedly smaller venues -- have been jam-packed, even though such gatherings are mostly just dull talking shops featuring little-known lawmakers.

Lines of delegates snake around the conference center to make sure of a seat at events featuring rowdy, pro-Brexit figures like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Aside from Prime Minister Theresa May's closing speech, it's hard to imagine much of the main conference agenda attracting anything like this enthusiasm.

Enter Boris Johnson.

The former foreign secretary, universally known by his first name, is probably the most recognizable politician in Britain. He triumphed as leader of the official campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, but ducked the race for Downing Street when David Cameron quit as prime minister, preferring instead to leave the dirty work of Brexit to others.

Since resigning from May's Cabinet over her Brexit strategy, he has busied himself with making life difficult for her with regular barbs fired from his column in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Such a nuisance had he become that senior Cabinet ministers -- most notably Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond -- this week attacked Johnson publicly, mocking him in a newspaper interview and saying that he was incapable of "grown-up" politics.

It was no big surprise that he used his first big speech since resigning from May's government to call on the Prime Minister to scrap her Brexit plan -- or, in the Johnson vernacular, "chuck Chequers."

Ahead of his speech -- necessarily a fringe event, since Johnson is no longer a government minister -- speculation was rife that it would amount to a leadership bid, offering an alternative program for Britain.

That it was not. Well, not quite.

Chequers plan would 'cheat the electorate'

As usual, Johnson couldn't resist offering a glimmer of hope to party members who would like to see him take May's job.

He rallied party activists to get behind May. He called on the Prime Minister to deliver the right sort of Brexit, rather than "cheat the electorate."

He said that those claiming there is no alternative to the Chequers plan -- cough, like May herself, cough -- should not be believed, and mischievously added that the looser trading arrangements that he and other Brexiteers favor over May's plan "are derived from the Prime Minister's own vision at Lancaster House."

But the address was hardly a full-throated expression of support for the Prime Minister, either.

Indeed, much in the speech will have worried Downing Street. He portrayed Chequers as a plan that "provides the perfect logic and argument for those who want Britain to return to the EU," adding that it would only "only embolden those who are now calling for a second referendum."

'A political humiliation'

Chequers would, in Johnson's eyes, leave British business and industry "perpetually to regulations that might have been expressly designed, at the behest of foreign competitors, to do them down."

He said that accepting EU regulations on agri-foods and goods, as outlined in the Chequers deal, would be a "political humiliation for a £2 trillion economy."

He joked that Chequers could be prosecuted "under the 14th century statute of praemunire, which says that no foreign court or government shall have jurisdiction in this country."

So, while Johnson's plan will have delighted many of those in the party desperate for May to chuck her Brexit plan and move toward a looser free-trade arrangement with the EU -- Johnson calls his own version of this "SuperCanada" -- will those keen for Johnson to lead the party be disappointed?

As ever with Johnson, there was a nod to the future and a glimpse of his possible ambitions.

There was also plenty of red meat for his Conservative audience: tax cuts, housing policy, defense of capitalism and devolution of power to the regions.

But despite the media speculation ahead of the speech, very few in the party believed that Johnson would use this platform to launch a full-on leadership bid.

No leadership contest yet

It was always going to be all about Chequers, Iain Duncan Smith, a former party leader, explained to CNN. "There will always be leadership talk, but that's inevitable. He [Johnson] is very focused on ending Chequers and moving to a free-trade deal. Theresa May must accept that a free-trade deal is the only viable outcome."

John Redwood, a veteran pro-Brexit member of Parliament. added that the party "hates Chequers" and "she has to dump it."

"We are happy for her to be PM, but she's got to understand this is a big issue and we fundamentally disagree with her," he said.

In any event, it's not clear that Johnson has enough support among fellow MPs to launch a successful leadership challenge. As one prominent Conservative MP told CNN, Johnson's "numbers are in the single figures."

"He's not even remotely close. It's Nadine Dorries and Andrew Bridgen and that's it," the MP said, referring to two lawmakers whose names are not widely known outside their own constituencies.

How much impact Boris Day will have on the coming narrative concerning both Brexit and May's premiership remains to be seen.

If May receives a standing ovation in the conference hall tomorrow, then she can chalk this week off as a success: no major public rows, no one calling for her resignation and no coughing fit as she delivers her speech.

However, though Johnson didn't officially launch a leadership bid in Birmingham, battering May's Chequers plan -- now so synonymous with the PM -- is like performing a piece of political voodoo: and what hurts Chequers hurts her.

Terre Haute
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 41°
Robinson
Overcast
44° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 39°
Indianapolis
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 43°
Rockville
Overcast
40° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 40°
Casey
Overcast
41° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 33°
Brazil
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 41°
Marshall
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 41°
Cloudy with Afternoon Rain
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Monday: Cloudy, afternoon showers. High: 52

Image

Sunday Evening Forecast

Image

New named tropical storm

Image

Unreal Nightmare Escapes

Image

Church offers trunk-or-treat

Image

Jeep Junkies Trunk-or-Treat

Image

Riders compete at Griffin Bike Park

Image

College Goal Sunday

Image

Remembering Leeam Pritcher

Image

Bike competition this weekend

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 378958

Reported Deaths: 9775
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1755865421
DuPage22783606
Lake20630510
Will18356427
Kane16621347
Winnebago10183180
St. Clair7920220
Madison7151154
McHenry6310121
Champaign609129
Unassigned4767270
Peoria454470
McLean415034
Rock Island400590
Sangamon398863
Kankakee338880
Macon305552
Kendall267030
Tazewell264556
LaSalle240863
DeKalb235842
Coles191239
Williamson188359
Adams186219
Boone186025
Clinton175526
Vermilion171810
Jackson154226
Whiteside140027
Knox129916
Randolph127115
Ogle11897
Effingham11654
Marion101219
Franklin9829
Stephenson9817
Grundy9657
Monroe92030
Bureau90616
Jefferson90548
Morgan89624
Henry8467
Christian81629
Macoupin80711
Union78025
McDonough76420
Lee7102
Fayette68024
Douglas6729
Shelby66912
Crawford6476
Livingston63210
Woodford61814
Montgomery61016
Logan5904
Saline5599
Fulton5181
Bond4999
Jo Daviess4987
Warren4968
Iroquois49219
Wayne48212
Jersey47321
Cass46211
Perry43816
Moultrie4114
Carroll41011
Johnson3550
Pike3536
Richland33416
Lawrence3338
Clay31113
Hancock3094
Clark30817
Washington3072
Mason3051
Greene29015
Cumberland2886
White2694
Jasper26410
Mercer2626
De Witt2606
Piatt2500
Pulaski2351
Wabash2265
Ford19614
Menard1851
Marshall1563
Edgar15510
Massac1542
Henderson1280
Alexander1201
Hamilton1202
Edwards1080
Brown1070
Gallatin1072
Scott1060
Putnam920
Schuyler901
Stark863
Calhoun660
Hardin530
Pope421
Out of IL170

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 162607

Reported Deaths: 4130
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion25871792
Lake14222358
St. Joseph9532166
Elkhart9156137
Allen8552230
Hamilton6335114
Vanderburgh609062
Tippecanoe391815
Porter341650
Hendricks3367134
Monroe333238
Johnson3239130
Delaware307675
Clark303163
Vigo272440
Madison248096
LaPorte236161
Cass228523
Warrick201565
Kosciusko198427
Floyd185868
Howard168466
Bartholomew146958
Dubois145526
Marshall145126
Wayne137931
Henry131330
Grant131039
Boone128050
Hancock123144
Noble121935
Jackson118517
Dearborn101728
Morgan98940
Lawrence94737
Gibson92812
Daviess91334
Clinton90316
Shelby89431
LaGrange82815
Knox81310
Harrison79924
Posey7667
Putnam76616
DeKalb75811
Fayette73918
Jasper6655
Miami6615
Steuben6578
Montgomery62022
White61016
Greene57338
Scott54513
Decatur52539
Adams5237
Whitley4796
Ripley4748
Clay4587
Sullivan45514
Wells44911
Wabash4389
Starke4378
Huntington4365
Orange42125
Spencer4126
Washington3863
Franklin38125
Randolph38110
Jennings37913
Fulton3764
Perry36114
Jefferson3525
Pike34318
Carroll33813
Jay3316
Fountain3193
Tipton28223
Vermillion2681
Parke2504
Newton23611
Blackford2344
Rush2304
Owen2111
Martin2040
Pulaski1753
Crawford1631
Brown1463
Ohio1337
Union1140
Benton1100
Switzerland970
Warren891
Unassigned0236