Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining candidates in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the position of Prime Minister of the UK, are campaigning throughout the country to win the votes of 160,000 Conservative Party members. Johnson is more likely to win, not only because he had a big lead over Hunt in the last voting round (170 to 77 votes), but also because a recent poll shows that more than three quarters of the party members believe Johnson would be a good leader.
The strength of Johnson is that he is clear in his mission. He wants to leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal. In a no-deal scenario he even proposed this week not to impose tariffs on goods entering the UK. Yet, Johnson stressed that it is not only a decision made by the UK, but also by the EU. Despite criticism of others like the Governor of the Bank of England and the International Trade Secretary that this would not be possible Johnson did not change his strategy. Therefore, his rival, Jeremy Hunt, is blaming Johnson that his no-deal Brexit plans are remaining too vague and unrealistic. Hunt distinguishes himself from Johnson by pursuing a better deal rather than a no-deal Brexit. Hunt stated that a new deal with the EU would be difficult but said that he would keep negotiating if parliament were to veto the no-deal option, even with the option of an extension after 31 October.
One of the main issues, also in this campaign, is still the Irish backstop. To solve this problem three domestic advisory groups have been established. The Technical Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group is the first, the second is comprised of businesses and trade unions and gathered for the first time this week, and the third will be made up of parliamentarians. Boris Johnson’s main goal is to replace the Northern Ireland backstop in May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with “alternative arrangements” to take effect at the end of the transition period. Jeremy Hunt’s main goal, too, is to renegotiate the WA and get rid of the Northern Ireland backstop as it is currently stated. However, as stated before, Hunt would continue negotiations to find a deal beyond 31 October.
The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar reacted this week again that he could not accept alternative arrangements as an alternative for the backstop before he knew how it would work in practice. In addition, he said that it would never be possible to have these alternatives ready before the UK leaves the EU. Therefore, he still supports the backstop as the only solution for the time being.
Conservative Party members will receive their postal ballots between 6-8 July. The final deadline to return the ballots is Sunday 21 July and consequently, the winner will be announced in the week of 22 July. Johnson and Hunt participate in hustings until 17 July.