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UK’s next premier will face some high calibre Brexit rebels

Jul 05 2019 05:00
Robert Hutton

While the UK’s governing Conservative Party focuses on who will succeed Theresa May as premier, some of her ministers are already thinking about how they’re going to make life difficult for her successor.

If the bookmakers’ favourite Boris Johnson wins the contest, he’s going to find a very high calibre of internal opponent to deal with. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has indicated he’ll fight any attempt to seek a no-deal Brexit, and May has dropped heavy hints that she could join him.

The most outspoken potential troublemaker is Justice Secretary David Gauke. The 47-year-old has until now built a career on being studiously loyal to his leaders and a willingness to defend the government in tight moments.

But now he’s getting ready to fight and, in an interview published Thursday, made clear he’ll resist any attempt to leave the European Union without an agreement.

“It would knock back our economy very significantly,” he told The House magazine. “I want us to leave with a deal. It’s a view that quite a lot of ministers hold and will continue to argue that case.”

He didn’t criticise Cabinet colleagues who are supporting Johnson, but warned the front-runner’s strategy of allowing different audiences to believe different things about his plans is storing up trouble: “In the end, somebody is going to feel very disappointed,” he said.

It’s unusual for senior ministers to attack their new leader even before he’s arrived, but it reflects a problem Johnson faces. Having undermined May when he was in her Cabinet, and then spent the last year attacking her from the backbenches, he will find plenty of people - perhaps including May herself - ready to pay him back in kind.

boris johnson  |  theresa may  |  brexit
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