26 Jun

ABCC Brexit Update - 26 June - Conservative Leadership Contest: Three years after the Brexit Referendum, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt Go Head to Head

  • Following PM Theresa May's 24 May announcement that she would resign as Conservative Party leader on 7 June, Conservative MPs have held a series of votes on their preference for their future leader and the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. 
  • With an initial field of ten candidates (see full list below), MPs have now whittled the number down to two final contenders:  the serving Foreign Secretary and MP for South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt (aged 52) and the former Foreign Secretary and MP for Uxbridge and Ruislip, Boris Johnson (aged 55).
  • In each of the four rounds of votes, Johnson was the clear favourite amongst MPs.
  • 160,000 members of the Conservative Party will now vote on their preference between Hunt and Johnson.  Members will receive postal ballots between 6-8 July, with a return deadline of 21 July.
  • The winner and next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will be announced on 22 July.
  • Over the coming weeks, hustings (or meetings between the candidates and Conservative Party members) will take place across the country.  Both candidates will be expected to set out their policies both on Brexit and their wider domestic agenda.  A cap on spending of £150,000 is in place for each candidate.
  • Following the Conservative Party's historic loss in the May European Parliament elections, both candidates are under pressure from many within the Conservative Party to deliver Brexit by the next deadline of 31 October.  The UK had originally been scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March of this year but this was extended following PM May's inability to pass her Brexit Withdrawal Deal through Parliament.
  • In a BBC interview on 24 June, Johnson insisted that PM May's Brexit deal "is dead" and that he will broker a new deal with the EU by the 31 October deadline.  Whilst Johnson has refused to rule out leaving the EU without a deal, he has also ruled out calling another general election until Brexit is delivered.
  • In recent days, Johnson has come under pressure for not yet participating in a one-on-one debate with Hunt in addition to reports of a widely reported domestic row with his partner.
  • Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt has pledged to build a new team to renegotiate PM May’s Withdrawal Agreement, consisting of members of the eurosceptic grouping of Conservative MPs, the European Research Group; the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) - on whose support the Conservatives rely in Parliament; and Scottish and Welsh Conservatives.  Hunt argues that the combination of these groups would give the EU confidence that a final deal would ultimately pass through the House of Commons.
  • Hunt has said that he would leave the EU without a deal but that is not his preferred option.
  • Despite a change in Conservative leader and Prime Minister, the UK Parliament remains divided on Brexit. Like PM May, any future Prime Minister will be required to bring their final Brexit deal to Parliament.
  • The most contentious issue in negotiations remains the issue of the Northern Irish border and subsequently, the UK’s future relationship with the EU’s customs union. 
  • On 24 June, Defence Minister Tobias Elwood told the BBC that "a dozen or so" Conservative MPs could support a vote of no confidence in a future leader to stop a No-Deal Brexit on 31
  • October.  A general election would be triggered if the Government lost such a vote.
  • Meanwhile, the Labour Party continues to debate its position on whether or not to hold a second referendum and support a Remain vote.  Despite hints that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would back a second vote, a change in policy has been put on hold following opposition from the influential Unite union.

A full list of the original ten contenders for the Conservative Party leadership is as follows:

  • Michael Gove, MP for Surrey Heath and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
  • Mark Harper, MP for Forest of Dean
  • Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove and Secretary of State for the Home Department
  • Boris Johnson, MP for Uxbridge and Ruislip, former Foreign Secretary and former Mayor of London
  • Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire and former Leader of the House of Commons
  • Esther McVey, MP for Tatton and former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
  • Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton and former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
  • Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border and Secretary of State for International Development

The UK is now due to leave the European Union on 31 October.  It has now been three years since the UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016.

The ABCC and Brexit

The ABCC will continue to follow these developments closely in the coming weeks.  We look forward to keeping members up to date with the very latest from London and what it possibly means for the Australian-British business community.   Earlier ABCC Brexit updates can be found on the ABCC Blog.

If you would like to receive more frequent Brexit updates or have any questions, please feel free to contact our office on abcc@britishchamber.com.

By Paul O’Hagan

Paul O’Hagan is the ABCC’s General Manager in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.  Prior to joining the ABCC, Paul was Senior Political and Economic Advisor to the U.S. Government in London, covering Brexit.

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