Brexit 5: who says what?

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson fighting to be the next UK leader

A series of votes have taken place this week to whittle down the Conservative Party leadership candidates to the final two, with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt as the two main candidates. Hunt was only two votes ahead of Michael Gove (77 to 75) and according to some reports, Johnson’s team feared Gove most as a competitor.

Next month, approximately 160,000 Conservative members will have the chance to elect the next Conservative party leader and Prime Minister in a postal ballot. The leadership campaign and debates have been predominantly focused on Brexit, the 31st October deadline, and the agreement with the EU, but the campaign will give party members the chance to test the leadership styles of the final two before deciding who will replace Theresa May.

Current leadership polling – no good news

A recent YouGov survey has indicated that a majority of Conservative Party members would rather see the party destroyed, or the UK broken up, than see the reversal of Brexit. 63% and 59% of those asked said they would prefer Scotland or Northern Ireland respectively to leave the UK, rather than remain in the EU. 54% said they would be willing to see the party destroyed if necessary, for the UK to leave the EU, and 61% would accept significant economic damage to the British economy for its departure. Just over half of those surveyed believed failing to deliver Brexit would mean the party would never again have another referendum to leave.

Labour leader doesn’t mind a second referendum

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach is that there should be a public vote on any deal agreed with Brussels – “right to demand any deal is put to a public vote”. As a result, more than 25 Labour MPs have written him to warn him that a second referendum would be toxic and empower populists across Labour’s heartlands, as the shadow cabinet discusses whether it should soften its stance or campaign to remain. The 25 MPs have indicated that Labour’s leadership should back an agreement by 31st October. Deputy leader Tom Watson has blamed Labour’s ambiguity on Brexit for last month’s poor European election results, but those representing many traditional heartland constituencies are afraid a second referendum would deepen the divide between bedrock Labour voters and the party.

Dutch Prime Minister says UK will be a different country after Brexit

From 20th – 21st June, the European Council meets in Brussels, and Brexit is, unsurprisingly, included on the agenda. Even if the major talks are focused on who will get the top EU jobs in the next administration, EU leaders are unlikely to avoid discussing Brexit.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, took a bold stance in an interview ahead of the summit stating that with a hard Brexit — even with a normal Brexit — the U.K. will be a different country, a diminished country. According to him, it would be much more difficult to impress the “world stage” as a single actor. Rutte also dismissed Johnson’s idea to secure a transitional period in case of a no-deal scenario. That is why it’s called a hard Brexit, no?

Leo Varadkar’s emphasis on European Unity

Even though Boris Johnson has not yet won the PM’s seat, his various statements on Brexit are echoing loudly across continental Europe.

As well as mentioning that, as a future PM, he would negotiate for a transitional period in case of no-deal, Johnson also stated that renegotiating the controversial Northern Irish backstop arrangements might be part of the agenda too. In response, Ireland’s Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, said that this proposition would not be possible – “there is no Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop and there is no implementation period without a Withdrawal Agreement”. As simple as that.

Varadkar also dismissed the idea of having bilateral talks with the UK Government on this subject, with the EU being the leading actor upon that. The Irish PM is talking here about “European Unity”, ladies and gentlemen.


The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at