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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 9 December, 2019
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SO IT’S OFFICIAL. Boris Johnson will be taking over 10 Downing Street tomorrow.

After a protracted leadership race, the former mayor of London was announced as the new leader of the Conservative Party today, winning 66% of the vote.

Theresa May will then step aside tomorrow, paving the way for the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP to become the Prime Minister.

And, with the new Brexit deadline of 31 October a full 100 days away now, Johnson will have little time to decide the path forward.

Anne Milton announced her resignation just before Johnson’s election, while David Gauke and Rory Stewart reiterated their intention to resign in the aftermath. 

So, how’s it all going to happen over the next couple of days.

My colleague Gráinne Ní Aodha has you sorted on TheJournal.ie this morning

Here are the main points:

  • The announcement of the new Conservative leader – most likely Boris Johnson and not Jeremy Hunt – will be made at around 11am today. 
  • Theresa May will take her final Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons early tomorrow afternoon, and then formally tender her resignation to Queen Elizabeth afterwards.
  • Then Johnson will become the Queen’s 13th appointment to prime minister. 
  • He won’t get a lot of time to make his mark in parliament just yet – the House of Commons is breaking for its summer recess on Thursday.
  • And the Brexit deadline of 31 October is still looming. 

It’s been flagged that Boris Johnson can expect a number of resignations from within Theresa May’s existing Cabinet if he becomes prime minister.

Yesterday, the Europe Minister Alan Duncan pre-empted a Johnson premiership by stepping down. 

A long time critic of the former London mayor, Duncan tweeted last year that Johnson’s comparison of May’s Brexit strategy to a suicide vest was “one of the most disgusting moments in British politics”.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is perhaps the most high-profile minister to confirm they’ll resign if Johnson becomes prime minister. 

If – or perhaps more accurately, when – Boris Johnson is announced as the new Conservative leader, we can expect a flurry of resignations from MPs who disagree with his Brexit policy. 

Speaking of Brexit policy, what can we expect from Johnson when he becomes prime minister regarding the UK’s protracted exit from the EU?

Well, before coming out to definitively back leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum, Johnson apparently wrote a pro-leave and pro-remain column, setting out the argument for both sides. 

But since becoming a Brexiteer, he has repeatedly advocated no-deal if the EU won’t compromise on issues such as the Northern Irish backstop. 

During the race to become the next Tory leader, he has said that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October “come what may, do or die”. 

This is, of course, bad news for Ireland as a no-deal Brexit would have a very damaging effect on the whole island and its economy. 

Whether Johnson’s rhetoric after becoming prime minister matches what he’s been saying beforehand remains to be seen. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the Tory leadership battle doesn’t lead most British newspapers this morning.

Instead, most opt to cover the case of a man – who accused UK establishment figures of sexual abuse – found guilty of perverting the course of justice.

As an aside, this rather alarming story made the cover of the Star in the UK, and I’m thinking of switching this liveblog to cover this instead.

download (61) Source: Daily Star

More on the looming threat of no-deal under Prime Minister Johnson, Simon Coveney spoke about this topic in very strong terms on the BBC on Sunday. 

“This is a British choice. We all want to avoid a no-deal Brexit and we have worked for three years to try to do that,” he said. 

“I have done very little else in politics apart from focus on the choice of the British people to leave the European Union, and its impact on Ireland and the EU.”

Writing in the Sunday Times, Coveney echoed these sentiments. He said if Britain decides to leave the EU without a deal, “it would cause huge damage to us all”, adding that such a scenario would “devastate the Northern Irish economy”.

He said the withdrawal agreement, which has been rejected by the House of Commons three times, is “a balanced document that deals with the interests of all parties and is not something that is up for renegotiation”.

pjimage-771 Source: PA Images

For his part, Johnson has been adopting a rather more optimistic tone at the prospect of a new deal with EU – which has been ruled out again and again by the EU.

Writing in his column in the Daily Telegraph, he said yesterday that if landing on the Moon was possible, then it’s possible to find a solution to the Irish border problem.

In particular, he cites the computer on the Apollo spacecraft which ran on a hand-woven ‘code’ of wires and metal rings, as well as the bravery of the astronauts.

“And yet it was with the help of that computer, and with the gumption of those pilots, that the Americans were able to perform the quite incredible feat not just of landing on the moon, but of getting back in one piece.”

Johnson uses this as a basis to argue that technological solutions at the Irish border are possible, and seems to hint in favour of a deal: “We can come out of the EU on October 31, and yes, we certainly have the technology to do so.”

So how will the Conservative party in general react to Johnson as leader?

There’s still a large number of them who want to avoid a no-deal at all costs. 

Former leadership candidate Rory Stewart was seen as the most moderate candidate vying to be the new prime minister. 

In this interview yesterday, he says he’s not prepared to serve in a Boris Johnson government. He’s also asked how “dangerous” he thinks Boris Johnson is. He waits a long time before answering.

Of course, many are having their say on Johnson as he waits in the wings to step into the top job.

Adding to the commentary yesterday was AIB chairman Richard Pym, who was speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal.

Referring to how the soon-to-be prime minister once described the  relationship between Ireland, the EU and the backstop as the “tail wagging the dog”, Pym said: 

“If you mess with an animal’s tail, you risk ending up with a dump of s**t on your own feet.”

And Pym wasn’t done. 

“As chairman of AIB I am regularly interviewing prospective new directors as we replace departing ones… So, what if a candidate appeared in front of my desk with uncombed hair who had been dismissed from two previous positions in his career for … shall we say… being economical with the truth… It would be a very easy decision to reject that candidate, notwithstanding the charisma which they showed in interview. “

So what exactly is Johnson’s Brexit plan?

Just to recap, Theresa May’s government reached a withdrawal agreement with the EU after years of negotiations. That deal was rejected three times by MPs, leading to her downfall and Johnson’s now-expected ascension.

He’s put forward a number of options to avoid a no-deal, but most are light on exact detail and it’s been argued that they simply can’t be done as the EU has said it will not renegotiate.

Plan A

This would see Johnson negotiating a new agreement altogether. Yet even he admits it might be a stretch. 

Furthermore, he has little time. The House of Commons is stopping so MPs can go on their summer holidays on Thursday. 

The summer break and leadership transitions in London and Brussels leave a matter of weeks in September and October for formal talks.

Plan B

Johnson’s alternative starts with parliament ratifying “the best bits” of May’s deal.

What it explicitly excludes is the dreaded backstop – the key provision that avoids a hard border in Northern Ireland no matter the outcome of talks over the future relationship between the UK and EU.

Johnson also wants to adopt a policy of “constructive ambiguity” over whether Britain will start paying off its estimated £39 billion (€43 billion) withdrawal bill.

The cash pile would be used as leverage to get Brussels to sign off on a “standstill” agreement that rolls over existing trade rules until a new treaty is signed.

Johnson envisions gradually unrolling a mix of “technology-based solutions” and waiver agreements that keep the Irish frontier free-flowing over this interim span.

He argues that everything can be settled “well before” Britain’s next scheduled election in May 2022. Again, the EU has indicated it wouldn’t be willing to agree to it. 

Plan C

This is high-stakes gambling territory. 

Should the threat of the UK jumping off the cliff of no-deal force the hand of EU leaders to avoid it?

While a no-deal would cause significant harm to the UK economy, it would also cause damage to its key trading partners – including Ireland.

Can the UK dangle calamity in front of the EU to get them to cooperate and secure a favourable deal? That remains to be seen. 

Jeremy Hunt may be the forgotten man in this leadership race, and he also appears aware how today is going to go.

Speaking to reporters outside his home in the last few mins, he said: “I’m feeling positive, but who knows what’s going to happen?”

He looks well placed for a senior job in a Johnson Cabinet afterwards at the least.

British oil tanker Stena Impero Source: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images

Theresa May is chairing her last Cabinet as prime minister this morning.

No one is in any doubt over who’ll be chairing the next one according to the BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley.

Also spare a thought for Nick and his fellow political reporters who’ll be standing outside No 10 Downing Street and Westminster in this heat.

Lord Heywood Thanksgiving Service Theresa May with Tony Blair last month Source: Henry Nicholls/PA Images

What do his predecessors think of the incoming prime minister then?

In an interview published in The Irish Times today, Tony Blair says that Boris Johnson is “no fool” and will “face the facts on Brexit”. 

Blair adds, however, that Johnson may have made an error in promising too much before taking office.

“His political commitment is to delete the backstop. If that remains his political commitment, I can’t see any circumstances in which Europe agrees that, in which case we are heading for no deal,” he says.

And, without the backing of parliament or the people for a no-deal, Blair believes a second referendum is the likely outcome.

That’s it from me for now, but unfortunately I’m not getting out to enjoy the sun just yet. 

I leave you in the capable hands of Gráinne Ní Aodha for the next few hours.

Take it away…

You heard him, Boris - 

Source: The Telegraph/YouTube

Gráinne here taking over the Liveblog from my colleague Sean Murray, who’s off to investigate murderous seagulls.

How are we feeling about the new British Prime Minister? What do you think the new leader will mean for Brexit? Let me know in the comments below, or send me your thoughts at grainne@thejournal.ie or tweet me @GAodha

While this morning is a happy time for Boris Johnson and those who back him, for some this appointment means the end of their time in government. 

Former Tory leadership candidate and Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart said he couldn’t serve in Johnson’s government, and that the dangerous thing about Johnson is the vagueness of his Brexit policy.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen on 31 October [with Johnson as Prime Minister].” 

“All to play for,” were the words Boris Johnson said to reporters who asked whether he had his top team in place.

Jeremy Hunt said that he wouldn’t be doing interviews this morning, and that there would be “plenty of time for talking later”. 

When a reporter tripped while trying to ask him questions, Hunt said “oh, bad luck”.

A tad prophetic? 

So if Johnson is a sure thing, by just how much will he win it?

Remember this is a ballot of the Tory membership, so it’s not in step with the public votes at all. 

Beth Rigby of Sky News says that Johnson’s team will want to win by at least 60%. In 2005, David Cameron beat David Davis by 68% in the member’s vote, so that’s an obvious target for Johnson to try to beat. 

BRITAIN-LONDON-BIG BEN-BELL-160TH ANNIVERSARY Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Here’s an updated timeframe of what’s happening when:

  • 11.47am, Dame Cheryl Gillan from the backbench Tory 1922 Committee announces the results of the leadership contest at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre
  • 11.50am, the winner will make a speech.

Afterwards, the new leader will address his staff and appear before Tory MPs at a 1922 Committee meeting.

Theresa May is also holding her last Cabinet meeting today.

Don’t forget that the world is watching this announcement.

This headline from Australia’s The Conversation: 

Headline Source: The Conversation

The New Yorker has a few enjoyable phrases including calling Johnson’s smoked kipper show “one of Johnson’s factually deficient performances”.

Our own Bertie Ahern, meanwhile, said this morning that the Taoiseach shouldn’t make any concessions on the backstop, and said that he would like if ”people across the water would read the backstop and try to understand it”.

QE 2 Source: Sky News

Here’s a glimpse of the stage inside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre where the announcement will be made in around a half hour’s time. Very regal colours.

Mayham already – Skills and Apprenticeships Minister Ann Milton has resigned from the role, saying she has “grave concerns about leaving the EU without a deal”.

So, ahead of Johnson’s impending appointment, a number of Tories are in the running to make a return to Cabinet. The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Johnson’s Cabinet has largely been selected already.

Dominic Raab, Amber Rudd, Priti Patel, Liz Truss and Michael Gove are among those who are thought to be appointed to Johnson’s team – some had suggested Jeremy Hunt should be kept in the role as Foreign Secretary, but it’s uncertain whether that will happen as Johnson is understood to want a Brexiteer in that role. 

Other ministers are doing all they can to keep their job in government:

Let’s not forget about Theresa May. Cabinet bought her a going-away present, which I was a bit shocked wasn’t some bizarre tradition where she gets a sceptre with her head on top of it, or a lock of the Speaker’s hair cased in gold, etc. 

 

Jeremy Hunt is in the QE2 Centre now with everyone else should be present, and Boris Johnson is running late.

If you’re watching Sky News and are wondering why random music is playing, anti-Brexit protesters have gathered around and have been chanting all morning.

Nothing is ever straightforward, ey?

 

Johnson’s family wait in the QE2 Centre and wonder, along with the rest of us, where the hell he is…

Johnson family Source: Sky News

The party chairman said that the leadership race has “shown the best of the party”.

We’ve held hustings in 16 towns and cities right across the United Kingdom, the candidates have travelled 300,000 kilometres, and answered hours and hours worth of questions in interviews.

“A chance to choose or leader is a privilege,” he says. 

The Tory party is asked by the chair of the 1922 committee: “Can we be kinder to the next Prime Minister than we have been to our current Prime Minister?”

Not great that you have to ask that, is it?

You. 

Cou. 

Not.

Make.

It. 

Up.

“I think you’ve all been waiting long enough…” and how.

Johnson Source: Sky News

Boris Johnson is officially elected as Tory party leader.

  • Boris Johnson: 92,153 votes
  • Jeremy Hunt: 46,656 votes.

There were 159,320 Tory members who voted, representing a turnout of 87.4%. There were 509 invalid votes.

Johnson says it’s the Conservative party who had the best “good, noble” instincts to run the country.

It’s the Conservative party that had “the best insights into human nature and how to manage the jostling sense of instinct in the human heart”.

The DUP are happy.

Johnson quotes the Financial Times’ analysis that he faces a daunting task as Prime Minister, and asks the crowd:

“Are you daunted?”

They don’t give a very energised response…

Johnson finishes his address to the Tories:

“The campaign is over, and the work begins. Thank you all very much.”

A reaction from Michel Barnier:

We look forward to working constructively w/ PM Boris Johnson when he takes office, to facilitate the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement and achieve an orderly Brexit. We are ready also to rework the agreed Declaration on a new partnership in line with European Council guidelines.

Seems like both the EU and the UK are talking at each other instead of to each other…

Johnson acknowledged that some people might question the Conservatives for electing him, and convinced the crowd with a bit of wordplay on the word ‘dud’.

 

“But they forgot the ‘E’ for energise!

“I say to all the doubters: Dude, we are going to energise the country, we are going to get Brexit done.”

Stanley Johnson gave his reaction to reporters, saying he’s very happy.

Here’s what the Brexit party, which is competing for the Conservative vote, said about Johnson as party leader:

Nigel Farage said “I wish Boris Johnson well as Prime Minister with his do or die pledge to deliver Brexit on October 31st. Does he have the courage to deliver?”

In the aftermath of the UK-US diplomatic incident involving former British ambassador Sir Kim Darroch, this is a sign of smoothing things out.

Johnson reiterates his pledge to work “flat out” to repay the Conservative party’s confidence.

Johnson’s dad Stanley tells Sky News that his son will be able to make Brexit happen quickly.

As he’s speaking, a crowd behind them chant “shove your Brexit up your arse”.

Stanley laughs at the chants when he realises what they’re saying. When asks how Boris is going to unite the country, he said “we don’t need a totally united country, we need a working country”.

Former candidates for the Tory leadership Esther McVey and Matt Hancock, who are both members of government, have tweeted their congratulations to Johnson, in what we can only guess is an attempt to keep his job.

McVey is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Hancock is the Health Secretary. 

give me a job Source: Twitter

Some reaction from Jeremy Hunt to Johnson’s election. That smiley though…

Congratulations @BorisJohnson 4 a campaign well fought. You’ll be a great PM for our country at this critical moment! Throughout campaign you showed optimism, energy & unbounded confidence in our wonderful country & we need that. All best wishes from the entrepreneur :-)

Here’s what Johnson is up to for the rest of the day.

No official appointments until he meets the Queen, though it’s been reported that he will be telling people today who won’t be reappointed.

Jeremy Hunt has spoken about how he feels following his loss to Boris Johnson. He told Sky News that he always knew winning would be a “big mountain to climb”, but he is “disappointed for me and my team, but very proud of the campaign we ran”.

Hunt says he and team “did ourselves proud” and that it was always going to be an uphill battle – particularly as both he and current PM Theresa May voted Remain.

“I am delighted for the country that Boris has become Prime Minister – I think he will be a great Prime Minister,” sayd Hunt. “He’s got optimism, enthusiasm, he puts a smile on people’s faces.” He said Johnson has “total unshakable confidence in our country” and will be able to deal with the challenges ahead.

As for Jeremy Corbyn, Hunt described him as the “biggest risk” to the UK – hammering home Johnson’s pledge to defeat the Labour Party leader.

The new head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has said she “looks forward” to working with Boris Johnson – she was at a press conference with Emmanuel Macron today when asked about the news.

According to the Financial Times, she said about Brexit:

We have the duty to deliver something which is good for people in Europe and in the UK.

A couple of quick opinion pieces have been written on what Boris Johnson’s leadership means for the UK:

In a piece entitled Boris Johnson: The next human sacrifice to the Brexit machineIan Dunt writes:

“…their only option was to appeal to something magical, something intangible, in the hope that its mystical quality would break the deadlock. Their castle stronghold was being overtaken by goblins, but a wizard had appeared over the crest of the hill to make them all go away.

“There’s nothing new in this, of course. Brexit was always defined by fantasy… [and] they found a fantasy solution to the problem: a leadership contest. And it goes without saying that their favourite candidate was the one with the most fantasy content. 

Hugh O’Connell is writing in the Irish Independent that a number of sources in Dublin believe Johnson isn’t as committed to a disorderly Brexit as he’s let on recently:

“Why? Well because Mr Johnson is not an ideologue when it comes to Brexit. His campaigning for Britain to leave three years ago was arguably motivated more by personal political ambition to one day become Prime Minister than any dogged desire to get out of the EU. Don’t forget, he wrote two op-eds – one arguing for Leave, the other for Remain – in the days before he came out in favour of Britain leaving.”

Johnson also voted for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement the last time it was put to the UK parliament, which he hasn’t quite explained why he’s done so.

Some glimpses of what Johnson’s Cabinet could look like: MP Mark Spencer, who voted to remain the European Union, but has since supported the pro-Brexit result.

So, through Nicola Sturgeon’s very strong condemnation of the UK’s Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell, I’ve found one of my favourite Twitter accounts.

Conservative MP Mundell voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, and is against a no-deal Brexit, saying it could cause “chaos and disruption” to the UK economy.

But he said that he would “certainly not leave” the Tory party over the issue, hinting that he might leave his governmental role. Well he’s now said that the party “must unite” behind Johnson, who has considered suspending parliament in order to push through a no-deal Brexit by 31 October.

Sturgeon’s response: “Sec of State for Scotland completes his journey from ‘I couldn’t serve in a Boris Johnson Cabinet’ to ‘please don’t sack me’. Principle, credibility and dignity out the window.”

 

Which brought me to this Twitter account

David Mundell Source: Twitter

This image is a bit… 

…terrible.

It’s jarring for a ‘Leave EU’ account to support Johnson’s appointment when he was elected by the Tory membership rather than the country’s electorate. Anti-EU campaigners have a similar criticism for how the leaders of the EU are chosen.

The very deliberate Trump-tweet language is also noteworthy.

Some fun stats for you now.

A quick result from YouGov found that 37% of voters are ‘Dismayed’ at Johnson becoming leader of the Tories, with 10% describing themselves as ‘Delighted’.

Here’s the breakdown by region:

johnson poll Source: Twitter/YouGov

Half of the British public (51%) and two thirds of Tory voters (65%) say Boris Johnson should offer Jeremy Hunt a position in the cabinet.

Interestingly, Scotland and Northern Ireland are the most in favour of holding an immediate general election.

The North’s Stormont Assembly has been out of action for almost three years, but had also held a number of elections in a short space of time. So it’s interesting that, based on this short poll, they’re in favour of holding another one.

Brexit poll Source: Twitter/Election

DUP Arlene Foster has spoken to Boris Johnson to congratulate him on his election as Conservative Party leader, and to discuss the DUP supporting the Tories in government.

“We discussed our shared objectives of strengthening every part of the Union, ensuring the 2016 referendum result is implemented and seeing devolution restored in Northern Ireland,” she said in a statement,

“The Confidence & Supply Agreement between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party remains. That Agreement included a review between each Parliamentary session. This will take place over the coming weeks and will explore the policy priorities of both parties for the next Parliamentary session.”

“I also look forward to welcoming Mr Johnson back to Northern Ireland shortly after becomes Prime Minister.”

So there we go, more fun talks and negotiating games to come.

This is quite a sharp, unforgiving piece from Hannah Jane Parkinson in the Guardian:

“Well, here we are then. Someone who could easily be rejected as a Guess Who character for looking too ridiculous is now to lead the country… A man who mentioned the 20 hustings he had taken part in, approximately 30 seconds after Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis talked of the 16 hustings held.

She makes a couple of fun but superficial observations of Johnson at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre today, and then exclaims:

“I don’t really know what to say myself. I don’t understand how a man can lie his way about bananas and condoms to high office. I don’t understand how a man whose entire prep for anything seems to consist of drawing a cock and balls – but in Latin! – on a sheet of paper, ends up in high office.”

Right, when we’re analysing celebratory claps it’s time to call it a day.

Thanks for following all the Tory-Boris action throughout the day – check back in with us again tomorrow as we watch Boris Johnson go to Buckingham Palace to see the Queen of England, and later, where we’ll find out who will fill his war cabinet.

Slán tamaill. 

Tory leadership race Newly elected leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson arrives at Conservative party HQ in Westminster. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

About the author:

Sean Murray

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