As the Tory leadership hustings grind on, the process seems increasingly irrelevant because Conservative Central Office was foolish enough to send ballot papers out too early.

Steve Norris

Foolish? Well, given that most people in receipt of a form like this fill it in straight away and send it off, secure that they won’t miss the deadline, many of the 160,000 members will have voted before the hustings finish. And while most of the 160,000 won’t actually go to the hustings, it will be just as important to watch how each of the candidates fares as the campaign drags on.

I’ve been very clear that I will be voting for Jeremy Hunt (below). I note in passing that voters at large, as distinct from Tory voters, prefer Hunt as prime minister over Johnson by a considerable margin.

Conservative members are not as it happens the swivel-eyed loons that the former, unlamented party chairman Lord Andrew Feldman described them as.

Jeremy Hunt

Source: Shutterstock/Twocoms

Future PM? Steve Norris backs Hunt

In reality, the majority of members are perfectly sensible people, a majority (but by no means all) of whom voted to leave. Like the rest of the country, they can’t wait to get Brexit out of the way and get on with their lives. To them, Johnson offers rhetoric and bravado. Out, deal or no deal. Out come hell or high water, and so on.

What is less obvious is how such an approach will succeed. More MPs do now understand that the significance of talking about the prospect of leaving with no deal, while making clear that it is not your choice, is precisely that in any negotiation the other guy has to know you can walk away.

The property industry has always known that. But talking as if that is your preferred option, which is what Johnson appears to be doing, is foolish. As a last possible option if the EU absolutely refuses to budge, no deal might just be accepted by the House of Commons.

”I’ve been very clear that I will be voting for Jeremy Hunt. I note in passing that voters at large, as distinct from Tory voters, prefer Hunt as prime minister over Johnson by a considerable margin.” 

Steve Norris, of Soho Estates and This Land

If France’s president Macron decides to dig his heels in, he could effectively force the UK into no-deal territory by refusing to allow us to revoke Article 50. That would do his ratings a power of good at home.

But opposition to no deal in parliament is still widespread and now heightened by the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to make Labour a clear remain party. So Johnson may well find himself subjected to an early vote of confidence he cannot be sure of winning, the consequence of which would be a general election his party would almost certainly lose.

The overwhelming common-sense approach is for the new prime minister to first get the DUP MPs back on side to go to Brussels with a clear agenda including a proposal for the Irish border that Michel Barnier himself seems willing to accept and the DUP can support, and agree a deal that will benefit the 27 members of the EU as much as the UK.

Neither side wants tariffs or paperwork, nor to stop people travelling freely between the 27 and us. The prospect of cutting their nose off to spite their face is not enticing for economies that export more to the UK than the UK does to them.

This has always been the right outcome for both sides, but sadly we have suffered from two years of utterly wasted opportunity at the hands of Mrs May, whom the EU rapidly concluded was easy meat. They gave her nothing, believing – as some still do – that perhaps the UK would decide in the end leaving really wasn’t worth it if they made the terms sufficiently unpleasant.

Bombast and histrionics will cut little ice in Brussels, where they know the former foreign secretary all too well. For me, and I suspect an increasing number of Tory members, Hunt is the man for that job. Whether or not he is given the chance to do it we are yet to see.

Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and This Land