The week began with the arrival of US President Donald Trump and his family for a state visit to the UK to commemorate 75 years since D-Day. The Trump ladies stunned London with their elegance. The royal family and the Prime Minister extended impeccable hospitality and the photographs showed the smiley faces of the Queen and President Trump. POTUS reaffirmed US commitment to a free trade agreement post-Brexit and UK’s position as a key ally. The President dismissed the London’s Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan’s embarrassing abuse and described Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke at anti-Trump protests, as a “negative force”. Neither Corbyn nor Boris Johnson met with Trump, but European Research Group MPs Owen Paterson, Iain Duncan-Smith and the Brexit Party leader, Nigel Farage, all had conversations. Trump stopped in Ireland to reaffirm his affinity with the Irish, but the media and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar misinterpreted his non-sequitur speak about the Irish border; Trump knew very well that UK and Ireland are both committed to an open border and the Good Friday Agreement.
The Royal British Legion and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines combined to send 300 D-Day Veterans and their carers on a “Voyage of Remembrance’ onboard MV Boudicca to Dunkirk, Poole, Portsmouth, and finally to Le Havre retracing their route to the Battle of Normandy. Theresa May inaugurated the new British Normandy Memorial at Ver-Sur-Mer, followed by an emotional service in Bayeux Cathedral attended by President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister May, President Trump, the Prince of Wales, veterans, politicians and military folk and families of the fallen.
Meanwhile, Peterborough held a byelection as a result of Labour MP Fiona Onasanya’s deceit about a speeding ticket. Onasanya was recalled by constituents and removed from her seat. The Labour, Conservative and Brexit parties fielded candidates; Labour’s candidate, the reputedly anti-Semitic Lisa Forbes won by 600-odd votes and 31% of vote share. The Brexit Party was the runners up with 29% of the vote. The Brexit Party stole the Tory vote (21%). Clearly this is a win for Farage’s Brexit Party but a disaster for the Tory Party and a humiliating indictment of not delivering Brexit in March.
Which brings us to the Conservative leadership contest as Theresa May’s last day as leader was on Friday, 7 June. The Conservative Party has altered the rules for electing a new leader. Now each contestant must have eight nominations to get on the first ballot. If less than 17 MP votes are received in the first-round of voting then that candidate falls out. In the second-round, candidates must get 32 votes or face elimination, and so it continues until only two options are left. Candidate nominations must be received on Monday, 10 June. A series of private hustings follows with the first ballot on Thursday, 13 June. The aim is to have the new leader, hopefully but not necessarily Prime Minister, in place on 22 June. Presently, there are 11 candidates in the race, two hopefuls already dropped out. Boris Johnson, freed by the High Court from the challenge that he misled people over UK’s payments to the EU, is the undisputed front runner; Johnson has run a canny campaign with support being released in stages. Michael Gove, in second position, is a bit fuzzy about Brexit, but his education and environmental policies are greatly respected; but some Ministers/MPs may yet declare. What the party wants to avoid is another accidental Prime Minister as in 2016, when no candidate ran against Theresa May. Successful candidates have been requested by the 1922 Committee to remain in the race until the final ballot on 19 June. To overcome concerns about cheating, Tory administrators are going the extra mile. Different coloured ballot papers will be printed for each round of voting, each colour will be decided only the evening before to avoid forgery. Tory MPs will have to produce their parliamentary ID at the ballot box or be turned away.
Each candidate is appealing to the public, the reach-out is very personal between the candidate and grassroots. It is the 124,000 Tory membership who have the final day. Not all candidates have Ministerial experience. Inter-party leadership elections do not seem to allow direct comparison between candidates. There is no media or public appearance pitting leadership contestants and their views against each other. Rory Stewart with his deliberately amateur selfie broadcasts and frequent TV appearances is scoring well, particularly with young voters. Dominic Raab has said he would not rule out proroguing Parliament if necessary to force a No-Deal Brexit. The Speaker John Bercow responded, “That simply is not going to happen.”
Patriot and passionate Brexiteer Steve Baker, MP for High Wycombe, has all the credentials to be an exceptional candidate. He is reserving his bid while waiting to see which candidates adopt his “Clean Managed Brexit” proposal, launched on 5 June. This ten-page step by step document gives any new Prime Minister the wherewithal to hit the ground running in order to leave the EU by 31 October. “Ideally, our exit would be achieved with a new wide-ranging, zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade agreement (FTA) of the kind offered by Donald Tusk in March last year. Our present trading arrangements with the EU can be maintained for a temporary period under GATT XXIV so long as the UK and EU both agree to negotiate an FTA and notify the WTO of a sufficiently detailed plan and schedule to agree it…Leaving with ‘no deal’ on WTO terms with the EU is not the desired end state.”
It is clear that only after Brexit can the Conservative party be brought back together. What folks are looking for is a leader who keeps his/her promises.