29 May 2019

Tory leadership contest: Framing the debate

Political Editor

Team Boris is widely thought to be worried that Team Raab might beat them in the first round and dangerously damage the former Foreign Secretary’s standing as the frontrunner.

A couple of tweets this morning suggest the leadership contest is going to get even more crowded.

Steve Baker @SteveBakerHW sounds like a man who is planning a tilt at the Premiership, gushing his thanks to ConHome voters who put him fourth in their recent poll.

And this tweet by @joepike shows Priti Patel filming a promotional video outside Parliament before hastily packing up all the kit again when she realised someone was watching.

Mark Harper, the former Chief Whip, is still expected to unveil his candidacy before too long with persistent suggestions he has a few more backers than his lack of fame might have you expect.

Jesse Norman popped into the TV studios at Millbank briefly this afternoon. He said he was still taking soundings about running but then had to rush back to the Treasury for a meeting. One campaign aide from another team was startled: “There are meetings about government business actually going on?”

James Cleverly suggests the Tories need someone who is decisive and a communicator at the top. The unsaid hint is that these are qualities Theresa May may not have had in spades.

Some sense the campaign is shifting from a framing that asked “who will get us out on October 31st, deal or no deal?” The new framing, it’s suggested, is “who will guarantee me that there will not be an early general election in which I won’t lose my seat?”

It was that framing that Jeremy Hunt appeared to have detected and tried to play on in his Telegraph article yesterday but it backfired when everyone focused on the logical route he took to his “no early general election” promise (No Deal Brexit won’t happen and shouldn’t happen) rather than the end destination (you keep your seat until 2022 with a vote for Hunt).

Team Boris is widely thought to be worried that Team Raab might beat them in the first round and dangerously damage the former Foreign Secretary’s standing as the front runner.

All the candidates so far declared, with the exception of Esther McVey, say that they would attempt a renegotiation of Theresa May’s deal with the EU. Some breezily tell you that they’re quite sure they could get something better by threatening No Deal with more conviction and negotiating with more guile than Theresa May and her team.

The argument runs that all this will be aided by a new European Commission team that takes over when the EU27 have worked out who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker. A new Commission, the logic runs, will be more open to new thinking.

But the EU has announced that Michel Barnier’s deputy in the negotiations and the EU’s counterpart to the UK’s Olly Robbins, Sabine Weyand, is standing down from the Article 50 team and taking over as the senior official in the Trade Commissioner’s office (in effect in overall charge of the future trade agreement talks). Two messages seem to be tranismitted by this.

The Brexit divorce agreement is done, set in stone, sign if you wish. And the person who kept lecturing you on the implications of your negotiating red lines is the same one who’ll be at the door if you get round to leaving and negotiating a future relationship.