New Times,
New Thinking.

How Tory MP Guto Bebb’s plan to stand down highlights fears for the future of the United Kingdom

By Stephen Bush

How do you solve a problem like Boris Johnson? Guto Bebb, the Conservative MP for Aberconwy, has one solution: early retirement. He has revealed that he has found himself unable to back either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt’s candidacies and is alarmed at what he sees as rising English nationalism of the Conservative Party. He will not run for re-election at the next election, whenever it may be.

He has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent a no deal, although he was already one of the most reliable Conservative votes for measures to prevent a no-deal Brexit. As Henry Zeffman reveals in the Times, Philip Hammond has told his civil servants that he will oppose a no-deal Brexit from the backbenches, which underlines that a Boris Johnson government is going to have a very tricky time getting its legislation through this parliament and is likely to need an election sooner rather than later. While Amber Rudd’s decision to put aside her opposition to no deal in order to try and secure a continued role in government is taking the headlines, the more important story is that there is a lot more Hammond (or Gauke, or Lidington) in Theresa May’s cabinet than there is Rudd.

But we knew that anyway. The important part of Bebb’s plan to stand down isn’t the restatement of Johnson’s Brexit problem, it’s what it says about the future of the United Kingdom and whether the Union will survive in its current form. Although Bebb, whose grandfather Ambrose was one of the founders of Plaid Cymru and who was himself a former Plaid Cymru activist, has ruled out rejoining that party – saying he believes that Wales is better off staying in both the European Union and the United Kingdom – his fears that the Conservative Party is becoming a party of English nationalism will heighten the positive mood music around Plaid Cymru.

Mark Drakeford, the Labour Welsh First Minister, made headlines last week for saying something that is essentially obvious: a vote for Scottish independence will mean that the calculation about whether Wales is better off in the Union will also have to be revisited.

There is an extreme probability that if there is another Conservative government after the next election, it will be a party that has gone backwards in two parts of the United Kingdom and will have been kept only in office thanks to voters of England. This, along with Scottish independence, will put further pressure on the pain point in our constitution: that England’s huge share of the overall population compared to the rest of the Union makes it hard for the Union to function happily. And whether or not Brexit goes ahead, that the Conservative Party is about to double down on Englishness means that problem is not going to go away any time soon.

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