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16 December 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 11:17am

Now Boris Johnson has his majority, what is the ERG for?

By Patrick Maguire

Steve Baker, who did as much as anyone to ensure the 2017 parliament came to a premature end, has urged new Conservative MPs to join him in the European Research Group. 

“Join the European Research Group. This is going to be a busy and important parliament,” Baker writes in ConHome. “You’ll need supportive, friendly colleagues who rely on one another. We will be supporting Boris to get a great deal and secure our future. Please contact me and we will include you.”

But what is the ERG for in a parliament where Boris Johnson not only has a comfortable majority, but one solely made up of MPs who have pledged to support his Brexit policy come what may? 

Sedition, according to Baker, is now off the menu. “We will be supporting the government: which is now led by a PM who, like me, resigned over Chequers; which has the right future relationship, and which clearly has the power in the Commons and the mandate from the country to do it,” the ERG chairman tells the New Statesman. “It’s great news for the country that we can move on.”

Taken together with his healthy majority, that should make comfortable reading for the prime minister. But it doesn’t follow that the ERG leadership has handed Johnson a blank cheque on Brexit. Rather, it has endorsed the specific path to a future relationship outlined in his deal. 

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Should Johnson change tack, he might find that the mood of the ERG changes too. “The Remain left are now promoting a false idea that the big majority means the ERG can be isolated and ignored,” Bernard Jenkin, another senior Eurosceptic, warned over the weekend. “Without the ERG, Theresa May’s Brexit deal would have got through and she would still be PM.”

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For now, Johnson is insulated by his majority and the loyalty of the new MPs who won it, sweeping those Leave constituencies in the north and midlands. But if he does have designs on a u-turn or fudge, he should make sure they aren’t taking up Baker’s invitation.