By Arj Singh
Boris Johnson’s row with partner Carrie Symonds, which ended with the police visiting her flat in the early hours of Friday morning dominated the Sunday newspapers and shows.
With Johnson refusing to answer questions on the issue, his proxies, critics and supporters of rival Jeremy Hunt filled the space on the airwaves, and the story is showing no sign of going away.
The ex-foreign secretary’s EU withdrawal plan also came under tough scrutiny, while Jeremy Corbyn will have heard Labour voices from both sides of the second referendum divide set out their cases ahead of what is looking like a crunch week for the leader on Brexit.
The Johnson/Symonds row
Liam Fox piled pressure on Johnson by suggesting he should answer questions on what happened with Symonds, having dodged the issue at the first hustings of the Tory leadership run-off in Birmingham on Saturday.
The Brexit-backing international trade secretary, who is supporting Hunt, suggested the story was becoming a “distraction” from the big issues in the Tory leadership race.
He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “It’s always easier to just give an explanation and move on.”
Hunt later tightened the squeeze on Johnson, telling Sky News that “someone who wants to be prime minister should answer questions on everything”.
He adds that Mr Johnson’s prime ministership won’t be one that lasts if he is going to “disappoint people very quickly”.
— Sky News Politics (@SkyNewsPolitics) June 23, 2019
However, the leadership frontrunner was nowhere to be seen, with his backers Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak instead sent out to defend him.
Truss told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics: “There’s no point in asking me, I believe it’s a private matter, I don’t think the public are concerned about that and I think that Boris is somebody who served for eight years as mayor of London – did a brilliant job, he served as foreign secretary, people know what he’s like in office and that’s what’s important.”
But Labour’s shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said Johnson was “completely unsuitable” to be PM.
He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “In one sense, of course, it is a private matter, but when you’re running for public office, when you are wanting to be the prime minister of the UK, then these matters are in the public interest.
“I’ve long held the view that Boris Johnson is unsuitable to be prime minister of this country. I’ve had my run-ins with Boris – I, infamously, was almost tackled to the ground in the 2017 general election by this man.”
Johnson’s Brexit strategy also came under heavy scrutiny, with Fox joining cabinet ministers who overnight warned that the frontrunner’s claims that the UK could have tariff-free trade with the EU without ratifying a withdrawal deal was wrong.
Johnson has been suggesting that Britain could use something called Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to leave the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms – essentially a no-deal Brexit – and not see duties imposed on goods crossing the border.
Fox said this would not work unless the EU agreed. Brussels has made clear that the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May is the only exit deal available.
Liam Fox on Boris Johnson’s ‘GATT 24′ #Brexit claims: “It isn’t true, that’s the problem”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) June 23, 2019
Fox said: “It isn’t true. That’s the problem.
“Article 24, sub section five it is, allows countries to deviate from what’s called the most-favoured nation principle.
“And that is we have to treat one and other the same, give the same access to markets.
“There are two exceptions under that part of the trade law. One says if you are going to be in a customs union. The other says if you have got a free trade agreement
“But you have to have the agreement to benefit from any temporary relaxation.”
Labour’s second referendum problem
Corbyn is facing increasing pressure to unequivocally back a second referendum and to campaign for staying in the EU and is currently consulting with unions on the way forward, with a potentially significant policy pivot coming later this week.
Senior Labour figures from both sides of the party’s deep divide over Brexit used the Sunday shows to try and sway the leader.
Former minister Caroline Flint, who represents Brexit-backing Don Valley, suggested the 26 Labour MPs who last week wrote to Corbyn to oppose another referendum vote could end up backing a Tory withdrawal deal.
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) June 23, 2019
Only a handful of Labour MPs have previously backed the deal May negotiated with the EU but Flint said: “I think it will go up but I’ve been through this situation many times before.
“I believe that the only way to stop no deal is to support a deal.”
Flint also said she would rather support a no-deal Brexit than stay in the EU.
“I won’t be voting to revoke Article 50,” she said.
Labour former foreign secretary David Miliband meanwhile made the case for staying in the EU, telling Marr: “The politicians are honour-bound to stop playing with the unicorns, there isn’t a jobs-first Brexit, just as there isn’t a GATT 24 option for the Tories.”
He went on: “The arguments that you’re making against a second referendum that it will prolong the agony, that it will fuel the far right, that it will divide the country, those are precisely the arguments against the deals that are on offer now.”
Shadow international development secretary Dan Carden said he would vote to stay in the EU in a second referendum if no deal was the other option.
He told Pienaar: “If there was a referendum and no deal was an option and remain was an option, then I would be voting to stay in the EU.”
And Gwynne made clear Corbyn’s position was unchanged, for now.
“Is this really the Brexit you want?”
— Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) June 23, 2019
He told Ridge: “Jeremy’s said that and that is because we face the risk of no deal, so that any Brexit deal that is brought to parliament, including a no-deal scenario, we will say, as the Labour party, that there should be a second referendum on those prospects, because it’s looking increasingly likely that we’re heading to no deal, that was not on the ballot paper in 2016.”
Pro-EU Tory MPs were said to be spying an opportunity to block a no-deal Brexit by joining Labour in backing a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s government as soon as the new PM takes office next month.
It is likely this would trigger a general election and Truss said she did not believe her colleagues “would seek to bring a Tory government down and let in Jeremy Corbyn and his Marxist agenda”.
.@trussliz on delaying Brexit again in October:
“It’s the executive’s decision, it was Theresa May’s decision to go back to the EU and ask for an extension – it’s not a matter for parliament, it’s a matter for the executive.” pic.twitter.com/H2qDsOfQNi
— John Pienaar (@JPonpolitics) June 23, 2019