The news is dominated by the internal race for the leadership of the Conservative Party, a contest in which only 150,000 Tory members will get to ultimately decide who becomes the country’s next Prime Minister. This week Conservative MPs whittled down the choice to either Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson – a prospect that fills many others outside the Tory Party with serious foreboding.
At this crucial time of national crisis with a looming deadline of 31st October when the UK might crash out of the European Union with ‘no deal’, to have a wasted month of hustings and navel-gazing within government feels a totally self-indulgent distraction. It is more than ironic that in April the President of the EU Donald Tusk, on agreeing the Brexit article 50 extension, urged Britain ‘please do not waste this time’. Wasting that time is precisely what is now happening. We will spend June and July now comparing fantasy Brexit scenarios which are not going to get anywhere. Jeremy Hunt is claiming that the EU is somehow willing to revisit the ‘backstop’, though he says this entirely without evidence. And Boris Johnson has evaded questioning about how exactly he will approach Brexit when, as is highly probable, he becomes Prime Minister on 22nd July.
The Commons is going through an eerie period, with hardly any legislative proposals as this leadership contest plays out. But in July will the new Prime Minister suddenly allow MPs to get on with scrutiny of the key Bills needed on Brexit such as the Immigration Bill or Trade Bill? Far more likely that a PM Johnson will instead send Parliament into a summer recess – to avoid MPs getting in his way. We will then effectively have only six parliamentary weeks to prevent any mad or dangerous proposals that he wishes to pursue.
These are forbidding times in British politics, made worse by the lack of a real Opposition party fit for government. MPs are having to build new cross-party coalitions across the backbenches in order to step up and show leadership in the face of dysfunctional government. I am focused very much on appealing to the better instincts of MPs and urging them to think for themselves rather than merely follow tribal orders of their Party whips. This is the only hope we have of stopping real harm to jobs and livelihoods in a damaging Brexit.