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13 June 2012updated 02 Sep 2021 4:55pm

There’s only one vote that matters this summer, and it’s not the European elections or Theresa May’s Brexit deal

By Stephen Bush

The Emperor has no clothes! Jeremy Corbyn has pulled the plug on the cross-party talks between Labour and the Conservatives on the Brexit deadlock, citing the Tory party’s deep and growing divisions on the issue as the reason.

It is, of course, true to say that one reason why the cross-party negotiations were never going to bear fruit is that the Conservative Party is too divided to reach an accord with Labour, though the reverse is also true.

What’s changed is that the Labour leadership used to believe that it wasn’t in their interest to point out that the Emperor was stark naked. The talks have ended now for the same reason that the Labour leadership is talking about the threat of Tommy Robinson winning a seat in the European Parliament: to stem the defection of Remain voters to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The reason Theresa May is still pretending that there is any chance at all of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill faring any better in parliament than the meaningful vote did is because she thinks it is still in her interests, just about, to pretend that there is any meaningful hope or prospect of passing the withdrawal agreement through this parliament.

But that it can’t pass this parliament underlines why the summer vote that really matters is the one to choose her replacement as Conservative Party leader. The Times has polled the party rank and file and found that two-thirds of Conservative Party activists want a no-deal Brexit – but 74 per cent of them think that the next leader should avoid an early election and govern until 2022.

The problem, of course, is that they can’t have both. This parliament will always choose transition and delay over a no-deal Brexit. They might even choose revocation over no-deal Brexit. The only way to get a no-deal Brexit is to have an early election – an outcome that most Conservative MPs, and, it turns out, most of their activists too, don’t want.

So while Boris Johnson is, if the polls are right, the preferred choice of the Conservative grassroots, the opportunity is still there for a candidate promising a softer Brexit to sell the Conservative Party on the idea that the only way to avoid an election they don’t want is to swallow a Brexit capable of securing a majority in this parliament – if, that is, such a Brexit exists.

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