Rory Stewart’s elimination from the Conservative leadership contest is disappointing for those who want to see the Tories facing up to some hard truths about Brexit.

There was never much chance that Mr Stewart would proceed very far in the contest, given how virulently pro-Brexit many Tory MPs and much of the party’s activist base have become.

But he played a vital role by exposing how the remaining candidates continued to make promises and assertions about Brexit that were flawed and fantastical. 

All the remaining candidates believe a new Brexit Withdrawal Agreement can be agreed by October 31 or soon after. But, as Mr Stewart pointed out, there is no way this can happen in time, given political calendars in London and Brussels.

All the candidates want to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and revisit the Irish backstop. But the EU has flatly said no to this.

They entertain the possibility that Britain might end up with a no-deal Brexit. But they downplay the huge damage that this would do to the UK economy and the fact that the Commons would probably block it anyway.

They continue to make lavish promises about tax cuts and increased public spending. But none recognises that a no-deal Brexit would savage these tax and spending plans — and is therefore not credible, even as a negotiating tactic.

Mr Stewart’s own arguments were not without fault. He never explained how he would get Theresa May’s Brexit deal passed by the Commons when she failed three times. Whenever interviewers or rivals pointed this out, he looked flustered — as in this interview with Andrew Neil.

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But now that he is out of the race, many onlookers will be left wondering how the two final candidates can be made to face some of the realities of Brexit as they tour the country.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, will tonight make his own effort to pick up from where Mr Stewart left off.

In his Mansion House speech, he will insist that there are “immutable truths” about Brexit which are very similar to those raised by Mr Stewart and the candidates need to face up to them.

Mr Hammond’s message to the two final candidates is to be honest with the public: “How will they balance protecting the economy and our precious Union with delivering the referendum decision? How would they manage a no-deal Brexit when most of the levers to do so are in the EU’s hands?”

These are important questions. Now that Mr Stewart is out of the race, they are even less likely to be answered. 

Further reading

Scotland: Brexit uncertainty revives independence debate

“Any unwinding of the 1707 union of England and Scotland that created Great Britain would have far-reaching implications. Scotland accounts for about a third of the UK’s landmass and 8 per cent of its population. It provides the base for the UK’s submarine-borne nuclear forces. And it is a core ingredient of British identity.” (Mure Dickie, FT)

The Guardian view on Tory leadership and the constitution: a crisis in the making

“To appoint a prime minister without a credible national mandate would be awkward in less volatile times. To do it three months before Britain’s EU membership expires, when half of the country might prefer not to leave, places immense strain on the legitimacy of the system.” (Editorial, The Guardian)

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. . . the new prime minister must establish a cross-regional approach

“The problem is that northern support for Brexit has been significantly overstated. Taking lower regional population sizes, lower electoral turnout and the fairly balanced result in every UK region (remember that only in Scotland did one side or other poll more than 60%) into account dramatically challenges the notion that support for Brexit is centred in the north.” (Craig Berry, The UK in a Changing Europe)

Hard numbers

Manufacturing orders drop to lowest level in 3 years

UK factory orders have fallen to their lowest level in nearly three years, adding to concerns that Brexit uncertainty is weakening Britain’s manufacturing sector. Read more



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