The UK Tory Leadership Contest is Whittled Down to Two

Boris Johnson is the favourite to win the Conservative leadership contest. But has he got what it takes to strike a Brexit deal with the EU?, asks Johanna Ross.

Boris Johnson (Wikimedia Commons)

By Johanna Ross
in Edinburgh, Scotland
Special to Consortium News

The Conservative party leadership contest or “horror show”, as it was referred to by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has now been reduced to a mere double act as favourite Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will now go head-to-head in a bid to become the UK’s next Prime Minister.

With a decisive win of 160 votes on Thursday, Johnson beat both Hunt and Michael Gove, who gathered a mere 77 and 75 respectively in the fifth round, from the original group of 16 all vying to replace Theresa May.

Leadership contests are by their nature steeped in skulduggery, and it’s been rumoured that all has not been squeaky clean in this race – hardly surprising in a Tory party fraught with division. It was reported that supporters of Boris may have been involved in a spot of tactical voting along the way, giving votes to Hunt in order to fend off arch rival Gove.

Indeed no love has been lost between Boris and Gove since the latter stabbed Britain’s most eccentric blonde politician in the back in the previous 2016 leadership contest. This time, no prisoners were taken by their respective campaign teams with every possible skeleton uncovered from the closet. From Johnson being termed a racist, to Gove’s cocaine abuse, attempts were made at every turn to eliminate each other.

But it’s the indefatigable Johnson, former London mayor and foreign secretary, knocked out in the previous contest,  who remains the front runner. And no-one is exactly sure why. Largely seen as the most incompetent and embarrassing of politicians – never mind leadership candidates – this blonde buffoon seems to still carry favour amongst the Tory party faithful.

Perhaps this time he just got the timing right – after the reserved, emotionless May, Boris’ vibrant personality has struck a chord and his undisciplined, shambolic nature is somehow forgiven. He certainly wouldn’t be alone on the world stage – with Trump across the Atlantic and ex-comedian Zelensky in Ukraine – Boris’ antics wouldn’t be out of place.

However, it’s worth noting that despite his popularity within his party, Boris does not have the same degree of support amongst the electorate. In recent weeks the press and social media platforms have been inundated with examples of his worst gaffes and blatant episodes of ignorance, more often than not accompanied by a message of foreboding along the lines of: ‘And this man could be our next Prime Minister…’.

Then he is something of a specialist in making offensive remarks – from describing Muslim women wearing the burka as ‘post-boxes’ to stating that people of African origin have ‘watermelon smiles’. Incredibly, none of this seems to have much impact on his leadership bid, but it remains to be seen how he would fare in a general election.

As for the man left to take on Boris – the mild-mannered, Japanese-speaking Hunt – he could not provide more of a contrast and yet the two also have much in common. Both Oxford graduates, they have clocked up considerable experience in Cabinet and Shadow government and have been MPs for over a decade.

All About Brexit

They also have equally filled the role of foreign secretary, although Boris’ tenure there was arguably more colourful as it was punctuated by arious diplomatic gaffesHe joined in on the prevalent Russia-bashing, coming under intense criticism for early on blaming Russia in the Skripal affair without evidence. For his part, Hunt too has expressed anti-Russian views.  And he’s been scathing in his attacks on WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, condemning a UN expert on torture for concluding that Assange had indeed been tortured. Johnson too slammed Assange for costing the London Metropolitan Police £5.3million.

On Monday Hunt said Britain could join the U.S. in attacking Iran.

Jeremy Hunt (Flickr)

However, the real issue the two candidates will be judged on in this contest among only Conservative Party members, is of course Brexit.

Whilst Johnson has been consistent in his approach that Britain leave the EU “deal or no deal” on Oct. 31, Hunt has taken a more nuanced, and some have argued, more realistic stance.  He has argued that a deal ought to be struck with Brussels and thinks he’s just the man to do it. He believes that he alone can renegotiate a deal with the EU which means there would be no need for the Irish backstop.

What’s not clear however is why exactly Hunt thinks he can do any better than May, who with supreme difficulty, presented three different Brexit deals to parliament, for them all to be rejected. Let’s face it: whoever is at the helm of the Brexit ship will encounter the same obstacles from fellow politicians at Westminster, the majority of whom are Remainers and opposed to the very concept of Brexit.

At the least they are calling for a second referendum on Brexit or even a general election, which could be catastrophic for the Conservative government. But if it is to be Boris for prime minister, as all indicators show, it’s highly likely we could see what former leader Tony Blair has called ‘unthinkable’ – a no deal Brexit without any public consultation.

It’s easy to get pre-occupied with the drama of the Conservative leadership contest – the result of which we will know on July 22 – and neglect the wider picture. For if one analyses objectively what is taking place, the argument that Brexit is about carrying out the democratic will of the people when they voted ‘Leave’ in the 2016 referendum, is looking increasingly thin.

A government that doesn’t have a majority, in a party failing in the polls, could carry out what seems like an act of self-harm in taking the UK out of the European Union without a deal. Chancellor Phillip Hammond confirmed earlier this week, plunged into economic oblivion, Britain could find itself in a state which makes even austerity look good, as it tries to go it alone as an independent trading nation.

Furthermore there is the threat to the UK’s territorial integrity. Citizens of Scotland have observed the antics of the Conservative Party leadership contest with some degree of scepticism as they wonder how much it all has to do with them. Not only is the Conservative Party almost redundant in Scotland, and has been for years, but the majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum and reinforced this stance in the recent European elections.

A no deal scenario would be sure to alienate Scottish voters completely and give the added boost needed to the Scottish independence movement. So Brexiteers could well get more than they bargained for if Britain crashes out of Europe – it would be no exaggeration to say we could see the break-up of the United Kingdom.

So regardless of who wins this Tory leadership race, it doesn’t solve the question of Brexit, despite what some Conservative politicians may think. Riding the waves of the post-Brexit seas, it’s really not clear whether the  ship Britannia will sink or swim. But if one thing is certain, with BoJo at the helm, it would be one hell of a ride.

Johanna Ross is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.


32 comments for “The UK Tory Leadership Contest is Whittled Down to Two

  1. SocraticGadfly
    July 8, 2019 at 00:38

    The main thing, which this piece misses, is that the EU is NOT, NOT, NOT surrendering the Irish backstop, period.

    So, whoever wins is either doing a hard Brexit without a deal, or else hanging high and dry like May, or having the party lose the next election. As for that and Brexit, Corbyn has been a schwaffler since the original referendum. I like him the old “new Labor” in general, but, if he couldn’t firmly support the party’s unequivocal Remain stance, he should have stepped down as party leader.

  2. mark
    June 26, 2019 at 16:49

    Unsurprisingly, Ross forms part of the 99.9% of the MSM’s Brussels Groupies, for whom little things like a referendum result are of no great concern and can be brushed aside. Their nigh religious fervour for the somewhat elusive merits and virtues of the EU Superstate is unshakeable and impenetrable, and to question it is somehow indecent, causing one to clutch one’s pearls.

    Of course, all the 17.4 million who thought otherwise are obviously old, uneducated, bigoted and racist, so their views can be safely discounted. A lot of these Deplorables And Irredeemables are probably dead now anyway. And Farage’s supporters can be ignored as well, because he is a bigoted racist who wants to kill all the gays, sell off the NHS to Goldman Sachs, cheats at cards, kicks his dog, and wears women’s underwear. Oh yes, and he’s anti semitic. Ask the Guardian and the BBC, they’ll tell you. Oh yes, and there’s now a fraud case against him from those splendid chaps in Brussels. The sex/ women scandal was reserved for Boris. That’s getting a bit old hat after Assange.

    Perhaps we should just dispense with elections and all that democracy malarkey and just get Superior Beings like Ross to take all our decisions for us. Save a lot of trouble, really.

  3. Tom Kath
    June 25, 2019 at 20:01

    That a referendum can be described as “LOST” tells you that the real emotional issue is DEMOCRACY.

  4. rosemerry
    June 25, 2019 at 16:35

    Like the US 2016 election but with much less pretence of democracy (Votes only by Tory members) it seems two terrible candidates give little chance of a positive outcome for the UK- unless there is an immediate General Election.

  5. LJ
    June 25, 2019 at 16:25

    It’s a threesome and Boris does have friends as well.

  6. June 25, 2019 at 15:14

    Boris Johnson has demonstrated he is just Donald Trump with an Eton education.

    God, he’s even a good bud with the appalling Steve Bannon, it has been revealed.

  7. Abe
    June 25, 2019 at 14:12

    Finalists Johnson and Hunt are both deep in the pockets of the pro-Israel Lobby in the UK.

    Boris Johnson made clear his strong support for Israel while foreign minister, lauding the “genius of Israel” at an October 2017 parliamentary reception marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and expressing his pride in “Britain’s part in creating Israel” in a Daily Telegraph op-ed.

    In May 2019, the Times of Israel claimed that Johnson’s maternal great-grandfather was a rabbi from Lithuania, and that he also has a connection to one of Britain’s leading Jewish families: Johnson’s father’s second wife, Jenny, is the stepdaughter of Edward Sieff, the philanthropist and former chairman of retail giant Marks & Spencer.

    Roughly 60% of the Jewish community in Britain lives in Greater London, and Johnson’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns for Mayor of London received significant backing from Jewish donors. Johnson promptly signed London up to an international “antisemitism” opposition initiative.

    As Mayor of London, Johnson demonstrated support for Israel by opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He intervened in a row over a controversial sponsorship deal between Transport for London and Emirates Airline, Johnson declared that he could “not think of anything more foolish” than BDS.

    As May’s foreign secretary, Johnson took a robust stance against Israel’s international critics, For example, he called the UN Human Rights Council concerns about Israel “preposterous” and “absurd”.

    Johnson famously called Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital a “moment of opportunity” for peace. His acceptance of Trump’s loony decision brought accusations of “making policy up on the hoof” and weakening Britain’s long-stated position on this important issue.

    Jeremy Hunt, UK foreign secretary, is no less zealous for Israel. Hunt tweeted his approval when Germany recently passed a law declaring the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement “anti-Semitic”, saying: “Boycotting Israel – the world’s only Jewish state – is anti-Semitic.”

    Hunt recently announced that the UK will in future oppose any motions criticizing Israel’s human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza that are brought to the UN’s Human Rights Council under “Item 7”, a procedure that addresses Israeli abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories.

    At a Conservative Friends of Israel annual parliamentary reception early this year, Hunt declared that “Israel’s right to self-defense is absolutely unconditional”. Of course, he said nothing about Palestine’s similar right against the illegal occupier.

    Hunt also called Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Labour Party, “pathetic” for questioning the credibility of claims that Iran was “definitely” or “almost certainly” responsible for the attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and doubting the word of British intelligence.

    Johnson and Hunt remain deep in the pockets of the pro-Israel Lobby in the UK.

    Meanwhile the pro-Israel lobby is leading a witch hunt is leading a witch hunt against Jeremy Corbyn.

    Corbyn has always supported the cause of Palestinian rights and viewed Israel skeptically, breaking the Blaririte mould of knee-jerk support for Israel.

    The goal of Israel and the pro-Israel Lobby to neutralize politicians and movements around the world that threaten to hold Israel accountable for its wholesale violations of international law.

    Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory on the the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gaza siege, wars in Lebanon and Gaza, international assassination campaigns, illegal annexation of the Golan Heights, warmongering against Syria and Iran and much more are legitimate causes of criticism.

    For example, claiming that Israel is a “racist endeavor'” is in no way “antisemitic”. In fact, it is a justified critique, as Israel’s most recent passage of the Jews-Only Nation State law shows.

    The charges of “antisemitism” being thrown at Corbyn’s party are not based on religious prejudice, which is the traditional definition of the term. Rather, they are purely political in nature and are part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to drive a wedge between Labour and its electorate.

    The pro-Israel Lobby groups and individuals behind the campaign to destroy the Labour Party under Corbyn have latched onto anti-Semitism because they know they cannot win the argument fairly. They know that Britain has little stomach for Israel’s mass violence against the Palestinians.

    The activities of the pro-Israel Lobby involve blatant interference by Israel in the UK’s democracy:

    The Lobby Episode 4: The Takedown?

    The video documents discussion by an Israeli embassy official in London of a potential plot to ‘”take down” UK politicians – including a senior British government minster.

    The pro-Israel Lobby in the UK uses a very similar playbook to the pro-Israel Lobby in the United States.

    • Abe
      June 25, 2019 at 15:32

      On June 24th, 2019, Labour Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn said Tory Party candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have ‘no grip on reality’ in relation to Brexit:

      In his response to Theresa May about no deal, Jeremy Corbyn said:

      “The two Tory leadership candidates are still saying that if they can’t renegotiate the backstop – which the EU leaders said was not possible last week – then they would pursue a no-deal exit.

      “Will the prime minister tell us, whether she believes no deal should be on the table as a viable option?

      “And, in her view, what would be worse: crashing out with no deal in October, or putting this issue back to the people for a final say?”

      Specifically regarding Boris Johnson, and about a second referendum, Corbyn said:

      “Neither of the Tory leadership candidates have a credible plan. One [Johnson] even claims we can crash out on WTO terms and still trade without tariffs …

      “The former foreign secretary also told us that under his no-deal plan he could, and I quote, ‘solve the problem of free movement of goods in the context of the free trade agreement … that we’ll negotiate in the implementation period’.

      “Mr Speaker, can the prime minister confirm that if there is no deal there will not be an implementation period?

      “It is deeply worrying that those who seek to lead this country have no grip on reality.

      “The prime minister said the council reiterated its wish to avoid a ‘disorderly Brexit’. I’m not sure they will have been reassured by the statements of her potential successors.

      “Labour put forward a plan that could bring this country back together, but the prime minister refused to compromise.

      “Whoever the next prime minister is, they will barely hold the support of this House, so they certainly have no mandate to force a disastrous hard-right Brexit on this country.

      “And I make it clear that Labour will work across the House to block no deal.

      “But whatever Brexit plan the new Tory leader comes up with, after three long years of failure, they should have the confidence to go back to the people on a deal agreed by parliament.”

    • Abe
      June 25, 2019 at 15:45

      In January 2017, Jeremy Corbyn expressed concern about Israeli involvement in British politics, after the broadcasting of the Al Jazeera Investigations documentary series The Lobby, which documents the activities of Israeli embassy officials and the pro-Israel Lobby in the UK

      Corbyn described the actions of the Israeli embassy’s senior political officer as “improper interference in this country’s democratic process” and was concerned on national security grounds that Boris Johnson had said the matter was closed.

      In his keynote speech at the 2018 annual Labour Party conference Corbyn said if elected his government would immediately recognise the Palestinian State as a way of supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He declared that the Labour Party condemned the “shooting of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza by Israeli forces and the passing of Israel’s discriminatory nation-state law”.

      • Abe
        June 25, 2019 at 16:03

        In the Al Jareeza documentary series, The Lobby, Israeli embassy official Shai Masot was recorded as seeking in a conversation with a British civil servant to “take down” British politicians, including Alan Duncan, then Minister of State for Europe and the Americas. Crispin Blunt, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, was said to be on a “hitlist”.

        Masot was also recorded as seeking to promote the establishment of a pro-Israel youth organisation, intended to be linked to the existing Labour Friends of Israel. He was also recorded as telling Joan Ryan, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, that he had £1 million for MPs to take trips to Israel.

        The film included an interview with Jackie Walker, who told Al Jazeera that “I would say there is a crisis in the way the anti-Semitism is being manipulated and being used by certain parts – not just in the Labour Party but other parties and the media to discredit Jeremy Corbyn and a number of his supporters”.

        The Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev apologized to Alan Duncan for the comments made by Masot. Masot was sent back to Israel and resigned, as did the civil servant involved.

        The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, called on the Commons foreign affairs committee to conduct an inquiry into what appeared to be improper interference in British politics by a foreign power. The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, wrote to the Prime Minister along the same lines. Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party’s foreign affairs spokesman, also asked for a full investigation.

        However, Boris Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, rejected calls to take action against the Israeli embassy and said “the matter can be considered closed.”

        • Peterthepainter
          June 25, 2019 at 18:40

          Good info. Thanks.

    • rosemerry
      June 25, 2019 at 16:37

      Both candidates are also rabidly anti-Russian.

  8. Vera Gottlieb
    June 25, 2019 at 11:54

    To me, either one as PM doesn’t bode well…What a mess.

  9. Andrew Thomas
    June 25, 2019 at 10:53

    Every time I see or hear Johnson I am reminded of the late, great Graham Chapman’s performance in Monty Python’s upper class twit olympics.

    • David G
      June 25, 2019 at 11:37

      Boris does seem like he could give Vivian Smith-Smythe-Smith a run for his money in the Take the Bra Off the Debutante. We already know he’s competitive in the Wake Up the Neighbor.

  10. William Bowles
    June 25, 2019 at 10:50

    Boris wasn’t always a Brexiteer, the author has got it wrong. Boris is a rank opportunist (aside from his misogny, racism and sexism, compounded by his upper class ignorance, a man who doesn’t know the cost of a pint of mik!), thus he has changed his position based upon whether it advances his alleged career or not. So in the early daze of this pointless exercise in reaction called Brexit, Boris was a Remainer but quickly saw the light when he realised that he belonged to a political party still stuck in the 19th century (or earlier).

  11. jared
    June 25, 2019 at 10:00

    Interesting that in recent U.S. election it was the buffoon against the globalist.
    It was lose/lose. We lost big-ly. Each day brings new horror. It’s almost funny.

  12. Tony
    June 25, 2019 at 09:52

    “On Monday Hunt said Britain could join the U.S. in attacking Iran.”

    Well he has already joined with the Trump administration to bury the INF missile treaty by supporting unsubstantiated claims that Russia is violating the treaty.

  13. June 25, 2019 at 08:46

    Jeremy Corbyn is really the best choice for the country because he is all about the PEOPLE much like Bernie Sanders. Boris Johnson is just another corportist puppet…

    • Ikallicrates
      June 25, 2019 at 11:15

      Of course Corbyn would be best for the country. That’s why I’m hoping the Tories choose BoJo the Clown as their next leader. He’d make a mess of Brexit, making the Tories look even worse than they already do. That would ensure that they’ll lose the next general election and, hopefully, enable Corbyn to drag Labour’s Blairites reluctantly to victory.

  14. ron
    June 25, 2019 at 07:32

    After all the ‘drama’ this is indeed a poor article

    What has been missed here is that the ‘brexit pantomime’ and the ‘conservative leadership race’ are parts of the same whole – to deny the public any say on the running of the country – and consequently, to deny Jeremy Corbyn the opportunity to be PM. Britain has been hijacked by the tory party for its own ends. Despite being a minority party the current regime is in no hurry to give up power and the media are no more than describing events rather than challenging the status quo.

    In all of this charade it is clear that this is a regime of occupation; that democracy is dead and free speech almost a thing of the past. There is no challenge at all to this hiatus, the labour party is pathetic as the lead opposition party and thus, the people, the electorate are on their own in all of this. The two ner-do-wells above are not the answer to Britain’s many problems – one of which is having ‘leaders’ worthy of the name. Neither Johnson nor *unt will ‘deliver’ brexit – which is what the UK voted for three years ago.

    • June 25, 2019 at 12:36

      I agree with Ron that this is a poor article
      I also agree with him that the ‘brexit pantomine’ and the conservative leadership race are part of the same whole but I would respectfully suggest that he reflect on what Corbyn is attempting to do before dismissing the lead opposition as pathetic. Corbyn has taken on the might of the elitist state. The elite, as is being demonstrated, will do everything to keep the status quo. It is armed with a compliant media and outrageous propaganda stunts. It’s pretty amazing that Corbyn has clung on for so long and we have to support him. I don’t think that he has ever suggested that a leader is the crucial component and the sheep have to follow. He is attempting to inject a different, more honest form of democracy and he will fail if we, the people, don’t all stand up as one to make our voices heard. If we don’t do this, if we flounder about waiting for a ‘strong leader’ to lead us then we are doomed. Policy not personality is what we should be supporting.

    • JJ
      June 25, 2019 at 14:22

      Sometimes I think that the Brits are suffering from a collective case of Stockholm syndrome… they’ve fallen in love with their abusers. While the richest family in Britain, the royals are being given over a £ Billion, they are cutting the subsistence crumbs of the poor and the handicapped.

      • JJ
        June 25, 2019 at 14:22

        woops… a billion to do up their castles over the next ten years

  15. TEP
    June 25, 2019 at 05:42

    I am disappointed by this article as the author has clear bias towards her desire for the UK to remain in the EU, which is demonstrated in the article content far more heavily than the implied subject matter via the title. There are many arguments for and against ‘Brexit’ but I think the question was asked via the referendum and then answered. Whilst I did not vote for Brexit I respect the outcome none-the-less, and I can not find a more distasteful emission than the utter contempt by those who ‘lost’ for those who ‘won’. A slippery slope indeed for politicians, journalists and the general UK population alike.

    • Speedy
      June 25, 2019 at 11:12

      I could not have written it in a better way. You deserve all my respect. Cheers.

    • Ole
      June 26, 2019 at 03:27

      Agreed. The author could have made this an opinion piece and in that case the bias would have been fine. But in an ostensibly factual and neutral report it has no place.

  16. john wilson
    June 25, 2019 at 04:43

    I’m not so sure that Johnson’s coronation is a foregone conclusion. The MPs who voted for him did so for entirely selfish reasons, because the think that Boris would be the best chance of them winning back their parliamentary seats in the event of a general election. However, the membership of the Tory party don’t have any seats to defend and they really are Conservative minded people. I have met a few lately and they are appalled by Boris’s behaviour and they view his philandering with contempt and disgust.

    Its also worth bearing in mind that a general election doesn’t have to be called for a long time. If Hunt were elected and Brexit was out of the way and a year or so into the past, Hunt might well do as well as Boris if not better in a general election. Let’s look at it this way. If it wasn’t for Brexit Boris wouldn’t stand chance of becoming the PM. Any person with half a brain views Johnson with derision
    and contempt. The man is an oaf.

  17. Kieron
    June 25, 2019 at 03:38

    Bearing in mind Boris Johnsons behaviour in the past and glaringly of late, it appears that the man is just a spoilt brat. The UK is the laughing stock of Europe if not a large part of the world. Heaven knows how far this countries reputation will sink with this clown at the helm. Racist remarks about Muslim women, Obvious lies regarding the Salisbury nerve agent debacle and his just outrageous buffoonery. The UK is in serious trouble if we have to rely on this excuse for a man to lead this country through extremely difficult times.

  18. Seamus Padraig
    June 25, 2019 at 03:14

    Somebody up there sure seems afraid of BoJo. Would it be the MI6 perhaps?

    • geeyp
      June 26, 2019 at 01:23

      Thank you Mr. Padraig.

      • Seamus Padraig
        July 1, 2019 at 10:23

        Happy to be of service!

Comments are closed.