Jeremy Hunt's approach to Brexit, he tells Laura Kuenssberg
, "is not too different to what Boris wants". Hunt wants to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, "changing the backstop" and introducing a "technology-led solution" to avoid a hard border with Ireland.
The real difference between him and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, therefore, is not of substance. Rather, the new prime minister must be "the person that we trust to send to Brussels on behalf of the British people and come back with a deal". That, Hunt adds, "has to be someone that they (Brussels) trust, that they're prepared to talk to, because in the end you don't do a deal with someone you don't trust".
So, basically, "there is a deal to be done" in Brussels. "You've just got to make sure that we send the right person to get it". The "you" in this context is, of course, the Conservative Party membership – nothing so vulgar as a popular vote. But the point is made – this is a personality contest where the issue is trust, "It's about the personality of our PM".
Hunt's rationale for a renegotiation is simplicity itself. The current deal won't get through the "British" parliament, which is one of the reasons why European leaders "stopped talking to us". Thus, he says:
What I'm talking about is a deal that doesn't involve the backstop as it's constituted at the moment, so it would be different. And when I talk to European leaders, what they say is 'look, it's up to the UK to come up with a solution'. But of course if you come up with a different solution, something that can work, when we'll look at the whole package.
As to why EU leaders would want to trust him, he is "not afraid to speak uncomfortable truths to our partners in the EU". He "will say tough things" when he needs to say tough things. But he'll also preserve the relationship, having shown as foreign secretary that he can have good links with European countries. "And that's why I'm the right person to deliver Brexit", he says.
The only very slight difference between the candidates, is that Hunt is willing to go beyond the 31 October deadline. He thinks that "31 October come hell or high water is a fake deadline, because it's more likely to trip us into a general election before we've delivered Brexit, and that would hand the keys to Jeremy Corbyn and then we'd have no Brexit at all".
In Hunt's view, "we'll know very soon well before 31st October", if there is a deal to be done along the basis he is suggesting. "If there isn't and if no-deal is still on the table, I've been very clear", he says. "I will leave the European Union without a deal".
However, this candidate is not going to go for a no-deal "if there's a prospect of a better deal". If he did go for it, "it would be with a heavy heart", as a "last resort". If "we haven't got the prospect of a deal that can [get] through parliament by that date, then that is the option I'll choose".
Conveniently, one is now able to set this against the Oaf's plans, delivered with slightly more clarity than previously, and recorded by the Telegraph
. "Come what may, do or die", he says, Britain would leave the EU on 31 October, to which effect he has three options as to how this is achieved.
Plan A is "to get an agreement that is better than the current one you've said and to get out on 31 October". This would mean removing the Northern Ireland backstop.
If this "revised Withdrawal Agreement" is blocked by MPs or Brussels, Plan B kicks in. This would see the UK leave on 31 October and continue to adhere to EU regulations until a free trade deal was signed.
This is the Malthouse "standstill agreement" where the UK and the EU are supposed to agree to keep going with the existing arrangements "until such time as we've completed our free trade agreement and we use that period to solve the questions of the Northern Irish border".
The final option, Plan C, is preparing to exit the EU on 31 October on WTO terms. Plan C would be to get ready for that outcome, "and obviously we're going to do that and it's very, very important that we do", Johnson says.
And there we have it. If we accept that the EU will stand firm in its refusal to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, then we have both Tory leadership candidates setting their stall out to fail, each then committing to delivering a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, with all that that entails.
To a certain and very limited extent, one must feel sorry for Conservative Party members, charged with electing the man who is to become our prime minister. They are faced with an impossible choice, the choice between two cretins, neither of whom have any capability to deliver anything other than a no-deal Brexit in four months' time.
Nor should we exercise any restraint in our condemnation of the men who will take us to this unwanted destination. We are not dealing with office juniors here, but seasoned, senior politicians. They should know full well that what they are embarking on in terms of seeking renegotiation is impossible, and that the necessary outcome of the pathways they have chosen is a no-deal Brexit.
Parliament, of course, must share a considerable part of the blame, for refusing to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement. But the key element – with both candidates – is the determination to remove the backstop from the agreement and to replace it with "alternative arrangements" to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Yet, what neither of the candidates have done is refer to the Strasbourg Agreement
which - if they are so confident that their alternatives will work – gives them everything they need to avoid the backstop kicking in.
I don't think this has been fully- or at all – appreciated, but the EU has already conceded the point that, if alternative arrangements can be demonstrated to work, they will form a part of the treaty on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, implemented in sufficient time to avoid the backstop taking effect.
With regard to the Strasbourg Agreement, the EU has committed
to concluding an agreement aimed at "replacing the customs and regulatory alignment in goods elements of the Protocol".
This, they say, "could stand alone or form part of a wider agreement or agreements on the future relationship, depending on the progress of the wider negotiations", with the aim of establishing any stand-alone agreement "very rapidly after the end of the transition period".
To that extent, the candidates are pushing at an open door, asking for no more than they have already been given. The difference is that, to implement the concession, the UK must first ratify the Withdrawal Agreement. Without that, the UK is expecting the EU to take it on trust that a hitherto untried system will necessarily work, providing the EU with the mechanisms to maintain the integrity of the Single Market.
Clearly, looking at this from the point of view of the EU, it would be unrealistic to expect it to rest the integrity of the Single Market on an untried system, without also insisting on a legal guarantee in the event of non-performance. And that is precisely what the backstop is all about.
Thus, if they wish to take this path, the only way open for the candidates is to convince MPs that their "alternative arrangements" will render that backstop unnecessary, allowing the Withdrawal Agreement to be ratified.
The truth of the matter, though, is that the "Singham plan
" is such a shoddy, superficial piece of work that it would never pass muster. It might fool the likes of Johnson (and Hunt), but would not survive nanoseconds of scrutiny in Brussels.
As long as this is all the candidates have to offer, there can be no doubt about the likely response to their plans in Brussels, with The Sun
already delighting in conveying the reactions of "EU sources" to Johnson's ideas, as if we needed any confirmation. Says one: "Boris can bull**** all he likes. We've been here before".
The point at issue, though, is that neither of these Brexit plans are serious proposals offered by serious men. They do not take us any further forward and do not deserve to be treated seriously – and nor will they be. Whether leavers or remainers, we deserve better than these cretins, whose delinquent approach to such a vital subject is a colossal betrayal of the nation.