How the Two Tory Rivals for PM Reckon They Can Fix Brexit
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are battling to replace Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party and British prime minister. Their visions for Brexit are converging as the campaign approaches the final ballot.
Both want to deliver on the referendum result of 2016 before another general election, both want to rip up the Irish backstop in the existing accord brokered by May, and both are prepared to contemplate a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson and Hunt are touring the country to try to persuade the party’s 160,000 grassroots members that they’re the best man to lead. The new prime minister is expected to be announced – and then take office – during the week of July 22.
Who? The favorite to succeed May, Johnson, 55, quit as foreign secretary last July over her Brexit deal. He was the highest profile campaigner in the 2016 referendum, and was mayor of London from 2008 to 2016. He was elected to serve the west London constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in 2015; he was MP for Henley for seven years before becoming mayor.
On Brexit: Johnson has said Britain must leave the bloc on Oct. 31 with or without an agreement, “do or die, come what may.” But he’s also said the chances of no-deal are “a million to one against.”He’s not ruling out suspending Parliament to push through no-deal, but says he doesn’t want to. His approach to winning over rebel MPs will be to “love them up,” he said on July 2. He’s declined the opportunity to guarantee the U.K. will leave on Oct. 31, hinting that it would be a mistake to signal he wanted another extension now. He says the country must prepare for no-deal to increase the chances of securing a good deal.
Johnson’s approach to negotiations is to withhold the 39 billion-pound ($49 billion) divorce bill if the EU doesn’t improve the terms, and to demand the controversial Irish backstop is stripped out. He wants solutions for the Irish border to be discussed as part of the future trade negotiation. The EU has previously said no to similar proposals.
Johnson has also said that in a no-deal situation Britain could get an agreement with the EU based on World Trade Organization standstill provisions under Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The idea of mini deals has long been rejected by the EU, while the validity of such a proposal has been questioned by the head of the WTO and the governor of the Bank of England.
Johnson has built support both with Tory moderates and ardent Brexiteers, and they’ve drawn different conclusions about the broad thrust of his Brexit policy – suggesting some of them will end up disappointed.
Other policies: Johnson advocates cutting business taxes and red tape. He’s proposed tax cuts for higher earners by raising the threshold at which people start paying 40% income tax to 80,000 pounds from 50,000 pounds. He also wants to boost transport infrastructure and broadband, and raise spending on schools and the police. He’s pledged to put the environment “at the center” of his program for government.
He says nobody “sensible” would want a general election immediately, but some of his supporters have already begun wargaming the possibility in the fall.
Also: Born in New York, Johnson gave up his American citizenship in 2016. He’s published books on the Romans, London and wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Who? Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, 52, has been in the Cabinet since 2010. He was the U.K.’s longest-serving health secretary before taking his current job. He voted Remain in 2016 but is now a “born again Brexiteer.”
Must read: Johnson and Hunt Share Views, Not Style on U.K. Foreign Policy
On Brexit: He wants to renegotiate May’s deal, focusing on getting changes to the Irish backstop. His position has hardened during the campaign and he now appears more open to a no-deal exit than he was at the start.
Hunt had said it would be “very challenging” to get a new deal by Oct. 31 and was therefore open to another delay. He had said no-deal would be “political suicide” as it would prompt a general election the Tories would probably lose.
Now he has set a deadline of Sept. 30 to decide whether the EU is willing to renegotiate. If by then he decides it isn’t, then he will pursue a no-deal Brexit. Hunt pitches himself as an experienced negotiator and says EU leaders also want to strike an agreement. He reckons the fix for the Irish border lies in existing technology. The EU has rejected that so far. He has promised that Northern Ireland will be treated the same as Britain in any Brexit deal.
The U.K.’s negotiating team should be expanded to include representatives of Scottish and Welsh Conservatives, the Democratic Unionist Party, and the ardent Brexiteers in the Tory party’s European Research Group, he says. That would mean “no proposal we make would be a proposal that couldn’t get through the British Parliament,” he told LBC radio on June 19, adding that would give it “credibility.”
He’s also suggested that the backstop is the only element he’d change in May’s deal, and he wouldn’t quibble over the 39 billion-pound exit bill. “We need to pare down to the minimum the requests we are making,” he said.
Other Policies: Promises to “turbo-charge” the economy after Brexit to make it “the most high-tech, greenest, most pro-enterprise, pro-business economy in Europe.” Hunt, who was health secretary for six years, says spending cuts to social care went “too far” and he’d seek to plow more money into the system. Another key pledge is to abolish illiteracy. He has ruled out a general election “until we have delivered Brexit.” On tax, he’d ensure the first 1,000 pounds of earnings every month don’t incur income tax or national insurance payments. He’d focus on cutting the tax burden on the lowest-paid.
Also: Hunt is independently wealthy, earning about 15 million pounds in 2017 from the sale of an educational listings company he founded, Hotcourses.
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