Alex de Ruyter, a professor at Birmingham City University's Centre for Brexit Studies, shared his thoughts on the Conservative Party leadership race.
Sputnik: What can you say about the results of the vote?
Alex de Ruyter: The final ballot should be known by this evening. We’ve now seen the number of candidates reduced to three – we have Boris Johnson who is the clear frontrunner, then we have Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt; Sajid Javid was the eliminated candidate in this round.
So, I would expect Boris Johnson will be the next leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore the next prime minister of the UK. I expect that he will win that ballot of members.
That will then go to the Conservative Party members – there’re about 160 thousand of them – in the form of a postal ballot, and they will vote for the person to be the next party leader. As I said, I expect that would be Boris Johnson.
Sputnik: To what degree are Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt serious contenders? Could they win the vote?
Alex de Ruyter: I don’t think so. In the Conservative Party membership, the average age is about 60; they are strongly for Boris Johnson as their prospective leader and Prime Minister. I think the poll said about two thirds of them would favour him.
And, of course, the Conservative Party membership are overwhelmingly pro-Brexit in their sympathy; so that would probably add somebody like Jeremy Hunt; before the 2016 referendum campaigned to remain […] wants to leave the EU.
But I think for the Conservative Party membership, he will be regarded with suspicion by a lot of them. Michael Gove, on the other hand, in the event that he does get into a contest with Boris Johnson, may be a little bit closer, but I don’t think close enough.
Gove, of course, unlike Johnson, has been consistently pro-Brexit in his views; Johnson, of course, is notorious for his U-turns. Before the 2016 referendum he notoriously penned an article in favour of Remain as well as Leave. So, there has always been element of doubt about him.
And that’s one thing for him to say when he announces his leadership that he thinks the UK will leave the EU on 31 October no matter what. It’s another thing entirely now that leadership appears within grasp and he started backpedalling on some of those statements.
Sputnik: In your opinion, which candidate of the left will be the most successful in breaking the Brexit deadlock?
Alex de Ruyter: I don’t think it matters who is in that role; I don’t think it makes any difference which, of course, is – I don’t want to say tragedy – fuss would be a better word. Theresa May essentially was forced to resign by her own MPs because she couldn’t deliver Brexit on the terms that they wanted.
Now it’s unclear to me why they would think that anyone else could negotiate a different withdrawal agreement with the European Union.
I mean, the European Union has been consistently clear in this regard – they are not going to renegotiate this particular withdrawal agreement. It is unclear to me as to why the Conservative Party MPs would think that Boris Johnson, or Michael Gove, or Jeremy Hunt for that matter would be able to negotiate any better than Theresa May did.
So, I don’t think it makes any difference in that sense; they won’t break the impasse in the sense that they will not get a different withdrawal agreement or offer. The European Union are not going to compromise on the issue of Northern Ireland backstop; that for the European Union is the insurance policy designed to prevent a hard border returning in Northern Ireland. They are not going to compromise on that.
I think what is probably more likely is that whoever becomes Prime Minister, even if it’s Johnson, would still go back to Brussels and ask for a further extension. I personally think the only way to break the Brexit deadlock is a referendum.
I’m not sure that the Conservative Party particularly relishes the prospect of another Westminster election given Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is […] obviously, a lot of them think that Johnson is a vote winner but I’m not so sure in that regard.
I think that anything short of a no-deal Brexit will upset a good quarter of the population and they will all vote for Farage’s Brexit Party which could cause problems. So, to me, it seems that a referendum is a more probable way of breaking this deadlock than an election.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.