Wednesday 16 October 2019

John Downing: 'May was hopeless but she was decent - her successor list bodes ill for Ireland'

Michael Gove. Picture: Reuters
Michael Gove. Picture: Reuters
Riding high: Boris Johnson leaves his home in London. Photo: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

None of the frontrunners cited as likely successors to Theresa May will inspire too much confidence in Dublin about a good Brexit outcome - but some are less awful than others.

All contenders will strike a strong pro-Brexit pose and talk about returning to Brussels in a bid to re-open the EU-UK draft divorce deal struck by Mrs May on November 25 last, and which has failed to get the necessary Westminster parliament ratification three times.

The new UK prime minister will be told the Withdrawal Agreement, which includes the Irish Border backstop, cannot be re-opened.

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The choice will be whether to make the most of additional Brussels reassurances in a non-binding declaration to guide future EU-UK relationship talks; try again to push May's deal through parliament; seek another Brexit extension; or opt for the default nuclear option of a no-deal Brexit.

There are up to 13 potential leadership contestants mentioned but, at kindest estimate, about seven are in any way real.

None has any real feeling for the Irish dimension of Brexit.

Former London mayor and accident-prone foreign minister Boris Johnson leads by a mile. A key face of Brexit in the 2016 campaign, he may be feared in some EU capitals as a swashbuckling wrecker.

At Westminster doubts remain on whether he can get to be one of the two candidates on the ballot paper going before 120,000 Conservative activists who would probably endorse him. Many of his fellow 312 MPs doubt him and may not back his nomination.

Others at Westminster point out Johnson has already backed May's deal in a Westminster vote in March. The hope is he might be able to sell it to MPs on the back of stronger EU reassurances on the future relationship talks.

Some distance behind Johnson comes former Brexit minister Dominic Raab. He has profiled himself as an ardent Brexiteer, who would not shrink from a no-deal end to this farrago. He distinguished himself last year by admitting he did not realise how important the Calais-Dover freight link really was. Boris might be a better bet.

Environment Minister Michael Gove is an avid Brexiteer but has come out against a no deal. He could prove interesting from an Irish standpoint, if he could get himself elected.

Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign minister, and Sajid Javid, the justice minister, were each pro-Remain in the 2016 referendum.

Each has been busy profiling themselves as "pragmatic Leavers" since then.

Either could be a reasonable option - but their electability is in doubt.

Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd is mentioned.

She was one of the few strong Remainers all through this business.

Health Minister Matt Hancock is a dark horse. He could be better news for Ireland as he strongly backed May's deal.

Irish Independent

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