Dissenting Tories pushed out of backbench committee

MPs broadly sympathetic to the leadership are elected to influential 1922 committee.

If there is one thing the Conservative Party has in ample supply at the moment, it is internal tension about the direction of travel. This was reflected in elections for the influential 1922 committee of backbench MPs last night.

The 1922 committee is seen as a barometer of backbench opinion, and gives MPs a forum to connect with the leadership. It has long been a thorn in the side of David Cameron, who caused outrage early in his premiership by attempting to reform the committee so that ministers could become full members. He eventually backed down on this move, which Gary Gibbon described as akin to "the management demanding seats on the union negotiating team".

However, it looks as if the Prime Minister might have managed to neutralise the committee, which is frequently critical of the leadership and has largely represented the party’s Eurosceptic, traditional right wing, frustrated with the compromise of coalition.

After elections for the committee last night, several long serving MPs who are critical of the coalition and Cameron’s modernising agenda were voted off, including Peter Bone and Christopher Chope. In their place, candidates from the “301” group of MPs – so called because it represents the number of MPs needed for an overall majority at the next election – were elected. These MPs, many of whom are from the 2010 intake, are broadly supportive of the leadership and believe that the 1922 committee should be modernised.

So what does this mean? Firstly, while there will be cause for celebration in both Downing Street and the Treasury, it is perhaps needless to say that this is unlikely to be the end for internal strife. Over at ConservativeHome, Paul Goodman says he is “not altogether persuaded” that allies of Cameron and George Osborne didn’t interfere in the elections, warns:

Some of those who weren't re-elected - or elected at all - may feel that they now have nothing to lose in criticising the government very strongly indeed.

As James Forsyth points out at the Spectator, this election had a 93.8 per cent turnout, making it very representative of the parliamentary party. However, no single group was victorious - some of the "old guard" hung onto their places. This says something about the state of the Tory party and the direction its members want it to go. A Guardian editorial today explains the dilemma thus:

The question that really divides the party is whether in the face of austerity it returns to an enhanced core-vote strategy of shoring up the right flank from Ukip by focusing on the traditional crime, immigration and Europe agenda, or whether to keep faith, despite the vastly altered circumstances, in Cameron's modernising programme and anchor the party to the centre-right.

As this election shows, the battle is very much yet to be won.
 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Brexiteers want national sovereignty and tighter borders – but they can't have both

The role of the European Court of Justice is a major sticking point in talks.

Why doesn't Theresa May's counter-offer on the rights of European citizens living and working in Britain pass muster among the EU27? It all comes down to one of the biggest sticking points in the Brexit talks: the role of the European Court of Justice.

The European Commission, under direction from the leaders of member states, wants the rights of the three million living here and of the British diaspora in the EU guaranteed by the European Court. Why? Because that way, the status of EU citizens here or that of British nationals in the EU aren't subject to the whims of a simple majority vote in the legislature.

This is where Liam Fox, as crassly he might have put it, has a point about the difference between the UK and the EU27, being that the UK does not "need to bury" its 20th century history. We're one of the few countries in the EU where political elites get away with saying, "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" when it comes to checks on legislative power. For the leaders of member states, a guarantee not backed up by the European Court of Justice is no guarantee at all.

That comes down to the biggest sticking point of the Brexit talks: rules. In terms of the deal that most British voters, Leave or Remain, want – a non-disruptive exit that allows the British government to set immigration policy – UK politicians can get that, provided they concede on money and rules, ie we continue to follow the directions of the European Court while having no power to set them. Britain could even seek its own trade deals and have that arrangement.

But the problem is that deal runs up against the motivations of the Brexit elite, who are in the main unfussed about migration but are concerned about sovereignty – and remaining subject to the rule of the ECJ without being able to set its parameters is, it goes without saying, a significant loss of sovereignty. 

Can a fudge be found? That the Article 50 process goes so heavily in favour of the EU27 and against the leaving member means that the appetite on the EuCo side for a fudge is limited. 

But there is hope, as David Davis has conceded that there will have to be an international guarantor, as of course there will have to be. If you trade across borders, you need a cross-border referee. If a plane goes up in one country and lands in another, then it is, by necessity, regulated across borders. (That arrangement has also been mooted by Sigmar Gabriel, foreign minister in Angela Merkel's government. But that Gabriel's centre-left party looks likely to be expelled from coalition after the next election means that his support isn't as valuable as many Brexiteers seem to think.)

On the Conservative side, a new EU-UK international body would satisfy the words of May's ECJ red line. On the EU27 side, that the body would, inevitably, take its lead from the treaties of the EU sans Britain and the ECJ would mean that in spirit, Britain would be subject to the ECJ by another name.

But it comes back to the Brexit dilemma. You can satisfy the voters' demand for non-disruptive control of British borders. You can satisfy political demand for sovereignty. But you can't have both. May – and whoever replaces her – will face the same question: who do you disappoint?

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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