London Tories must step up to stop ‘hard Brexit’

by Dave Hill

The Conservative Party’s net loss of five London constituencies in Thursday’s general election has underlined what a sorry state it is in in the capital. Most of its defeats were half-expected or at least half-plausible. But to be unseated in Enfield Southgate and Kensington is damning. Even Boris Johnson is down to his last 5,000 votes. And they should take no consolation from their one gain of the night being Zac Goldsmith’s return in Richmond Park – his disgraceful mayoral bid last year has been a big contributor to Tory fortunes here continuing to plunge.

But the reverses suffered by Theresa May across the country provide London Conservatism with hope of rehabilitation. While their ranks contain plenty of eager Brexiters, notably on the London Assembly, there are respected Remainers too. The prime minister is weak, clinging to her premiership by fingernails already frayed and grubby thanks to her courting Northern Ireland’s hard-faced Democratic Unionists. She went to the country seeking the support of the slim Leave majority and failed. It confirms that there is no national mandate for a ruinous “hard Brexit”, which May, as a Remainer, presumably does not really believe in anyway. London certainly doesn’t want one. Our Tory Remainers in parliament must make their presence felt.

There are already some signs of this happening. Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, who made a nuanced and comprehensive case for Remain, has been quoted in support of the view that May must change her Brexit plans (whatever exactly they are): “It would be foolish not to have a pause. Other voices have their part to play.” Bob Neill, still solidly ensconced in Bromley and Chislehurst, has tweeted in support of the idea advanced by Armando Iannucci and taken up by other Tories that the main political parties should set aside their differences to negotiate the best Brexit deal. Neill is regarded as consensus politician – exactly the type the UK requires right now.

It’s far too soon to say how great the appetite is among London’s 21 Conservative MPs in the capital for pushing the PM for a Brexit that reflects the narrowness of the referendum margin. But Remainers far outnumbered Leavers among the 21 London Tory MPs left and the election has left no doubt that the capital is as a pro-Remain as ever, with prominent Leavers Theresa Villers and Iain Duncan Smith badly weakened and the eurosceptic Goldsmith crawling back by just 45 votes. Even Johnson, ever the opportunist and for whom sovereignty, rather than trading arrangements or immigration, was the key factor in his becoming the poster boy for Leave, might have some useful part to play.

The new Commons landscape is complex and treacherous. The PM’s instinct when under pressure, as so damagingly revealed during the election campaign, is to retreat to her bunker rather than reach out. But, for the sake of the country as well as their city, London’s Tory MPs must surely try to persuade her to think differently.

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