Tory leadership election spiced by Brexit Party’s no deal vision

Conservative Party leadership candidates are expected to register their bids to stand in the election by 5:00 p.m. local time on 10 June following Theresa May’s official resignation on 7 June with up to 11 contenders – mainly hard Brexiteers – expected to register, increasing the prospects of a hard Brexit.

British and European businesses are preparing for the United Kingdom (U.K.) crashing out of the European Union (EU) on 31 October as front-runners in the race to become the new Tory leader, and the next Prime Minister, are mainly hard Brexit supporters. However, all are wary of forcing an early general election, which the Tories all agree they cannot win.

Recent voting in local council elections, the European Parliamentary elections and the Peterborough by-election on 6 June have seen the Conservatives crushed by rising support for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. In Peterborough, the Labour Party won the marginal seat with a slender 683-vote majority from the Brexit Party with the Tories in a distant third place.

The success of the Brexit Party is forcing some leadership contenders to shuffle to the right in an effort to win back the Conservative’s traditional support, which has clearly deserted them as a result of the Brexit fiasco of the last three years.

In an effort to reverse the Tory losses, leadership candidates are having to spell out not only how they would achieve Brexit, but what would come after and how they would prevent a Labour Government.

The Tory majority in Parliament has declined to almost zero with the defection of Members of Parliament (MPs). Some have moved to the new party, Change UK; others sit in Parliament as independents as tensions amongst the Conservatives have surfaced in the face of Theresa May’s failed Brexit negotiations.

Among the leading candidates to replace May are former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, current Environment Minister Michael Gove, Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt.

In the initial stages of the election only MPs will vote, with candidates needing at least eight MPs supporting them in order to be allowed to stand. The first round of voting will take place on 13 June. Successive ballots, each eliminating the candidate with the least votes, will take place from 18-20 June. When only two contenders are left, a postal ballot of 120,000 Conservative Party members will select the winner, and that result is expected by around 22 July.

Of the five candidates mentioned above, Johnson, Javid and Raab have argued for a hard Brexit. Johnson is currently the leading candidate, with 52 MPs currently declaring they would back him; but moving into second place is Hunt with 28 MPs supporting him. Hunt is perhaps the softest Brexiteer of the front-runners. He voted “remain” in the referendum but says he would negotiate a new deal with the EU.

Gove is a staunch Brexiteer and is seeking to renegotiate the Brexit deal with the EU (although the EU has said repeatedly that it cannot be renegotiated). Perhaps the most controversial candidate, Dominic Raab, has suggested that a Brexit to World Trade Organization rules would be preferable to a bad deal. To achieve Brexit on 31 October, he believes it may be necessary to prorogue Parliament. That would discontinue the Parliamentary session without dissolving Parliament.

In effect the government in the UK has the power to decide when Parliament will sit and when it is in recess. Raab is suggesting that following the leadership election, Parliament will be in recess, normally until September, but he would consider prolonging the recess period until 1 November so that Parliament would not have the opportunity to vote down a hard Brexit.

All of the candidates are wary of the fact that if Parliament votes down a no deal Brexit and there continues to be an impasse in Parliament the clamour for an early general election could become irresistible. While the Labour Party is able to call for a vote of confidence in the government, it is unable to grant a second referendum. However, it could be that some Tory MPs would vote against their own party.

Potentially that could see the Labour Party elected with the Tory vote split as the Brexit Party takes votes from the Tories.