Cascade Commentary

Boris Johnson wins Tory Leadership Contest, securing 66% of the votes

July 2019

Boris Johnson has ended the Tory Leadership Contest victorious, securing 92,153 votes out of a total 138,809 cast, beating rival Jeremy Hunt to become Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s 77th Prime Minister. Johnson had been favourite to win the contest since the outset having secured support from both sides of a divided Tory party. In his acceptance speech, Johnson joked that his supporters may now “wonder quite what they have done” before summarising his intent succinctly to “deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn”.

With 99 days to go until the 31st October 2019 Brexit deadline, the new Prime Minister promised that the UK will leave the European Union (EU) without further delay, with preparations for a “no-deal” scenario being stepped up should Brussels refuse to negotiate further. Johnson stressed that while a “no-deal” scenario is not desired, it is common-sense to prepare in the event that a fresh agreement is unable to be reached in time.

The new Prime Minister takes on the mantle to deliver the UK’s historic exit from the EU at a time of great political division and strife within Parliament. Many Tory ministers resigned from their posts in advance of Johnson being sworn in, citing grave concerns around a “no-deal” Brexit. Such ministers included Education secretary Anne Milton, Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan, Chancellor Philip Hammond, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington.

Despite the resignations, Johnson has pressed onwards appointing his new cabinet with the key posts held as follows:

  • Sajid Javid Chancellor
  • Priti Patel Home Secretary
  • Dominic Raab Foreign Secretary
  • Stephen Barclay Brexit Secretary
  • Michael Gove Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
  • Ben Wallace Defence Secretary
  • Liz Truss International Trade Secretary
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg Leader of the Commons

In the aftermath, a senior European diplomat indicated that the feeling in Brussels is that London’s central plan is for the UK to exit on the 31st October without a deal in place, with an intention to open negotiations for trade thereafter.

Downing Street has indicated Johnson’s openness to negotiate but has affirmed such discussions will centre on the removal of the contentious backstop, under which no hard border would be created between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland meaning that the UK would technically remain part of the customs union. The EU has indicated a reluctance for this to be removed and without suggestions from the UK on an alternative, Brussels has indicated its expectation for negotiations to remain in stalemate.

There are no plans in place for new UK-EU talks and Westminster has been buoyed with action to prepare for a “no-deal” Brexit, criticising former Cabinet ministers, including former Chancellor Philip Hammond, for failing to make adequate provisions for a “no-deal” scenario.

The Tory party remains divided however and many ministers have vowed to defect to opposition parties to prevent the UK crashing out. Conservative rebels and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn are considering a vote of no confidence soon after Parliament’s summer break in early September.

With the countdown underway to the 31st October deadline, Johnson has a big task on his hands and we’ll be watching his next steps closely.

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