Will Conservative Party as we know it still exist in 2021? – John McLellan

If Boris Johnson decides to back a Theresa May-style Withdrawal Agreement and Tory hard No Dealers rebel against him, will they be thrown out like Ken Clarke, Rory Stewart and Nicholas Soames, wonders John Mclellan.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 17:00 pm
Rory Stewart had the Conservative whip removed after rebelling against the Government over a no-deal Brexit

Amidst all this week’s political mayhem, the inclusion of the Tourist Tax in the Scottish Government’s programme of new legislation passed most people by. And given how many will have meekly coughed up the local levy on their summer holiday there won’t be much chanting and banner-waving to the accompaniment of a bad samba band outside the City Chambers when it is introduced in Edinburgh.

Instead, the carnival has been across the High Street outside the Court of Session as Lord Doherty ruled what was obvious from the outset, that the UK Government’s decision to extend the Westminster conference recess this month was a legal, political decision and not a matter for the courts.

It has, however, raised the profile of Edinburgh South-West MP Joanna Cherry who led the court bid to halt the suspension and has made little secret of her ambition to lead the SNP when the time comes for a new occupant of Bute House, which political observers unanimously agree will be early next year after the trial of the former First Minister Alex Salmond on sexual assault and attempted rape charges.

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But for the current incumbent Nicola Sturgeon now it’s business as whatever passes for usual in these turbulent times and at least the spending plans she unveiled on Tuesday then received a £1.2bn “Barnett boost” from Chancellor Sajid Javid’s budget.

But her programme was inevitably dominated by the drive for a second independence referendum which, with the probability of a general election in the next two months and current polling returns, now looks like a certainty. The once-in-a-generation opportunity is turning out to be anything but.

Although the SNP and Greens voted a second referendum through the Scottish Parliament, new enabling legislation needs to be framed in a bill, consulted upon, enacted and then, after the Electoral Commission intervened, at least a further nine months should elapse before the actual vote. There is very little, if any, time for a referendum between now and the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2021.

Who knows what the political or economic landscape will be like by then or who will be leading the main parties. Will Ms Sturgeon still be First Minister or Boris Johnson Prime Minster? Will, horror of horrors, Jeremy Corbyn be Prime Minister and Richard Leonard still be Scottish Labour leader? Is he just now? Who will be the Scottish Conservative leader? Will the Conservative Party as we know it still exist?

At the time of writing it was looking unlikely that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would succeed in calling a snap general election or, unless supportive Lords can take three days to talk about 102 amendments, see off the rebel legislation to force him to seek a further extension to the Brexit deadline.

What has not changed is there is no majority for anything other than avoiding a no-deal Brexit and we are essentially back to square one, with the obvious difference being that the Government has just lost 22 seats and the Conservative Party sustained the reputational damage involved in throwing out prominent moderates like Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart and Nicholas Soames. Ruth Davidson tweeted about the expulsion of Sir Nicholas, Churchill’s grandson, in despair.

Once again, something very similar to the Withdrawal Agreement, plus tweaks to the Irish Backstop, becomes the most probable outcome, so what would happen if Mr Johnson tabled such a proposal after the long recess and hard No Dealers refused to support the Government. Do they get thrown out too?

The only other majority in Westminster is against Jeremy Corbyn taking over as interim Prime Minister, and despite the Fixed Term Parliaments Act Tuesday’s events show the Prime Minister cannot take forward his main policy. Another trip to the Queen must only be days away.