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July 31, 2019

What Cummings' appointment says about Johnson

Another question we keep asking ourselves - this time in relation to Brexit - is what kind of Brexit Dominic Cummings wants. He was the leader of the Leave campaign and is now the strongman in Boris Johnson’s government.

The ultra-conservative Simon Heffer is not normally somebody we quote in our briefing, but writers like him can still be useful when it comes to the pathology within the Tory party. His article - in the New Statesman of all places - leaves no doubt that there is a substantial anti-Cummings caucus among the Tories. Heffer says he does not care what the worlds thinks of him. To us that sounds like a laudable quality - but in the chummy world of UK politics this is the ultimate insult. Heffer calls him a sociopath. 

Heffer tells us two potentially interesting things that are probably worth exploring. He says that Cummings never wanted a no-deal Brexit. On the contrary, he was interested in an association agreement. This seems objectionable to Heffer, but a very good idea to us. 

Second, Nigel Farage regards the appointment of Cummings as a clear sign that Johnson does not want to make a deal with the Brexit party, but to crush it. We think this part of his analysis is correct. Johnson’s strategy is clearly to out-Brexit Farage and marginalise him in the polls, and then work towards a Brexit deal before the end-October deadline. If he gets the deal, there would have to be a short extension to make time for ratification - a process that would then be framed as ratification versus no-deal.

This morning, the Daily Telegraph reports that Johnson would accept a two-year transition period inside the single market and the customs union - similar to the arrangements Theresa May negotiated - except with no backstop at the end. That position remains unacceptable to the EU. But, as we keep on writing, the EU keeps attaching a near-zero probability to a no-deal Brexit. We expect the EU’s position to evolve as that perception shifts.

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