3 Jun 2019

Tory leadership – how to cut down the list?

There’s a pre-meeting of the 1922 Committee Executive this afternoon ahead of tomorrow’s main meeting. Then they will decide on how the rounds of voting by MPs starting next week should be conducted. It’s possible the Executive decides to introduce a new threshold of 20 votes that has to be cleared by a candidate to be admitted to the next round. That would be a change from current rules whereby only the bottom candidate is forced to drop out.

The contest is due to run Tuesday next week and then Thursday for the second round, followed by the same schedule the week after until there are a final two names to go to the ballot of the membership. But some on the Committee Executive have toyed with an alternative approach to the culling threshold, instead running contests every working day until there is an outcome.

Twenty MPs would be a threshold that most candidates in recent contests would’ve cleared in the first round. The exception, unless you go back to 1975 or 1965, is Liam Fox, who only managed 16 votes in the first round in 2016 so was eliminated anyway. It’s the sort of number which in narrower fields gets you to the bottom of the ballot and eliminated anyway, not the sort of number from which you can accelerate and surprise everyone with a late surge.

Meanwhile, in Paris, President Macron has weighed into the Brexit debate, forcefully repeating his position that October 31st must be the date of Brexit, deal or no deal. That’s the position of Boris Johnson (repeated in this campaign video talking to voters in Peterborough), amongst others. Though it is partly the prospect of a Boris Johnson premiership which is sharpening President Macron’s appetite for Brexit ASAP.

The French President argued for a shorter Brexit extension at the April European Council meeting when others were pushing for April 2020. He managed to get the date pulled back to October this year and is signalling he’ll fight to hold that line.

Others in the European Council aren’t so keen. Sources say there is a widespread consensus amongst the EU27 that June 2020 should be the next extension date when Britain, despite Boris Johnson’s protestations, crashes through the 31st October 2019 deadline currently in place and stays in.

On President Macron’s side in April was Michel Barnier, the head of the EU’s Article 50 negotiating team and a candidate to be the next President of the European Commission.

President Macron doesn’t want that new Commission bogged down in an on-going saga of Brexit. Neither do his fellow leaders. But some of them calculate a no-deal Brexit could ensnare their meetings and could signal disunity on areas like security at a time when enemies of the EU are strengthening and circling.

June 2020 is selected as the ultimate end date for membership by many around Brussels because it is the moment the EU gets into a complicated new budget negotiation and UK membership at that point could make the process even more challenging than usual.

As I write, an unusually jaunty Sir Vince Cable is touring the TV studios saying that he’s convinced, if the October deadline is missed and the UK is still in the EU on November 1st, his side will in all probability have won and Brexit just won’t happen.

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