Tuesday 22 October 2019

John Downing: '"Dark horse" Stewart is our only hope - but it's a long shot'


Rory Stewart. Photo: PA
Rory Stewart. Photo: PA
John Downing

John Downing

Many of us had never heard of Rory Stewart until the other week - but he continues to rise and rise and may even make second place.

That whiff of mystery fuelled by 'Jimmy Bond' spy allegations yesterday - which he kind-of denies - will be no load. The UK international development minister defied the pundits and made it through yesterday's eliminator vote of Tory MPs and, by extension, on to the first candidates' television debate which included Boris Johnson, the runner rated invincible in this contest.

The Oxford-educated Scot posed questions about how the Irish Border would fare under Brexit. Viewed from Ireland, he would be a welcome winner on July 22 when this process is due to conclude. But the winner will be Johnson - bar something extraordinary coming tumbling out of the UK political works. Looking on the bright side, it may bring some kind of end to the Brexit melodrama of almost three years.

Stewart's surprise emergence from the shadows is encouraging and interesting. He is posing serious questions to the UK Conservative Party, factoring in how the other EU member states have lost patience with the UK over three years of major disarray in London.

Nominally, there are still five candidates in the running. There will be another vote today and, if necessary, two more votes tomorrow before things are reduced to the two candidates who will go before the 160,000 Conservative Party members from next Saturday.

There was little encouragement to be gleaned from a YouGov survey of those Conservative Party members published yesterday. It was essentially a message of Brexit-at-all-costs and as soon as possible.

It was a story about English nationalism - and we mean English rather than British - very much on the rise. The opinion poll said they would happily part company with Scotland - and indeed Northern Ireland - from the United Kingdom to achieve a timely EU-UK divorce.

It also suggested they would be prepared to destroy their own political party and ship some heavy economic damage in the process. Essentially, six out of 10 of those people who will chose the next UK PM said Scotland and the North could leave their nation to pay the Brexit price.

Over half said they could live with their party being destroyed if that were the price. Some 46pc said they could live with uber-Brexiteer Nigel Farrage as their leader and prime minister. The only small baulk factor appeared the idea of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming the UK government leader.

The only hope here for Ireland appears to be a continued good showing for the dark horse, Rory Stewart.

He could be an influential figure when the dust settles and rhetoric is dialled down. Or maybe we are just grasping at straws.

Irish Independent

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