It was no real surprise, but with 66% of the votes Boris Johnson became the new leader of the Conservative Party this week. The other contender, Jeremy Hunt, received 34% of the votes with an overall turnout of 87.4% among Conservative Party members. In his speech, Johnson vowed to unite the country and stressed again to deliver Brexit by 31 October. As a reaction to the election result, Chancellor Philip Hammond, Justice Secretary David Gauke, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart and Education Minister Anne Milton resigned from the Cabinet.
This was only the beginning of a radical overhaul. A day later Johnson drastically removed the leading figures from the Theresa May’s Cabinet. In total, 17 Cabinet and other top ministers were either sacked or resigned themselves. Jeremy Hunt was offered the Ministry of Defense, but he refused. Overall, Johnson put well-known Brexiteers in senior ministerial positions, thus introducing a hard-Brexit Cabinet. Dominic Raab becomes the new Foreign Secretary, Priti Patel Home Secretary, Sajid Javid Chancellor of the Exchequer and Michael Gove Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Steve Barclay keeps his job as Brexit Secretary.
Equally interesting is the appointment of Dominic Cummings as Senior Advisor to the new PM. Cummings was a key brain behind the Vote Leave campaign and was the person who came up with the successful slogan “Take Back Control”. This new addition to Johnson’s inner circle highlights further the Leave-nature of the new Government.
Nonetheless, the UK’s parliament remains as divided as ever, now with more sacked Remainers from May’s Government who might not hesitate to rebel in Westminster against a hard Brexit. The arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg will play a key role here. He has been promoted to Leader of the House of Commons, which could yet be “more proof that Johnson is deadly serious about pushing a No-Deal Brexit through parliament if necessary” according to Politico. Rees-Mogg masters parliamentary procedure like no other.
Consequently, the likelihood of a hard Brexit is more than ever a possibility. If there is no agreement on 31 October Johnson wants the UK to leave the EU unconditionally. One of the biggest challenges in finding a deal in only three months is still the Northern Ireland backstop. Boris Johnson’s main goal is to replace the Northern Ireland backstop in May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with “alternative arrangements” to take effect at the end of the transition period. Not only has the EU repeatedly said the WA cannot be renegotiated, but it is also believed to be unrealistic to expect technology can be put in place on time by the end of the transition period. If this plan fails, Johnson has said he would seek to trade under Article 24 of the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to avoid tariffs with the EU during the transition period in which the UK and the EU negotiate a free trade agreement. 31 October remains the deadline.
The UK Parliament goes into recess until 3 September. To prevent that the Parliament would be blindsided in the ongoing debates, an amendment on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill tabled last week, aims to make it more difficult to prorogue Parliament and force through a No-Deal Brexit. In addition, from 29 September until 2 October the Conservative Party will hold its yearly party conference. With Brexit barely a month away, the party leadership could make important announcements.