The publication of Boris Johnson’s proposals for breaking the Brexit deadlock shows the utter absurdity of the whole project.

We must respect the narrow Leave victory three and a half years ago by creating a trade border in the Irish Sea as well as at the divide between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. I’m sure such arrangements will assist greatly in improving the prosperity of the left behind communities that voted Leave.

Nevertheless, there remains a chance that Johnson will get a deal. The EU want a deal and are fed up with us. The cross-party MPs For A Deal group is growing. Tensions are increasing among the opposition parties who can’t agree when to bring down the PM. The SNP and Liberal Democrats want an election now because of their favourable poll ratings. Labour say they want one but with Jeremy Corbyn’s appalling approval ratings must give them pause for thought.

The other thing that has changed is the calculation about how damaged Johnson would be by being forced to miss his Oct 31st deadline. He is likely to challenge the Act requiring him to ask for more time in the courts. But even if Spiderwoman (Lady Hale) strikes him down, would it mean electoral disaster? Could Nigel Farage really say he was just like Theresa May in failing to meet another deadline. Johnson can demonstrate that it is parliament and the courts that have stopped him achieving his oft repeated exit promise.


I suspect Margaret Thatcher regarded Alistair Burt as a “wet” when he was elected MP for Bury North in 1983. Be that as it may he has been a fine representative of that one nation pro Europe tradition that was in little evidence as I dodged the rain on the conference fringe in Manchester.

I found Alistair in a fringe meeting along with German Conservatives. Alistair was trying to persuade the audience that a deal was the only answer to end the nation’s pain. He was subject to aggressive questioning from activists for whom only the purest form of Brexit is sufficient with no respect paid to the 48% of us who voted to remain.

My suspicion is that the Tory Party has been very lax in letting in UKIP and Brexit members. The result is that Alistair Burt is expelled from the parliamentary party. Let’s see if it happens to members of the European Reform Group.


Boris Johnson’s keynote speech included a pledge to tap into the talent of the North in the left behind communities. The minister in charge of delivering it is Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry. I bumped into the Rossendale MP at a series of fringe meetings on devolution.

He has been doing the job for two and a half years, which helps the government’s claim that it is taking devolution seriously. The departure of Berry’s predecessor after just a year had damaged the cause.


One fringe meeting I couldn’t get to was aiming to get Tories back onto Manchester City Council after decades without. At the moment it seems the only Conservatives that will be in the city will be at conference time.





Could Lady Hale, spider broach and all, be called into action again? The government persist in the contradictory mantra that they will obey the act preventing no deal yet leave on October 31.

Have they been given legal advice that there is a loophole in the legislation that would force the Prime Minister to ask for an extension to our EU membership if a deal was not agreed by October 19th ? It had better be sounder legal advice than they received before they faced the Supreme Court in the illegal prorogation case. Otherwise Lady Hale and her fellow judges (Champions of the People, by the way) could well be called in to nominate someone other than the PM to ask the EU for more time.

Johnson’s boorish, brazen behaviour on Wednesday has some MPs considering what else they need to do to prevent no deal on October 31st. There is talk of strengthening the law because who knows what PM advisor Dominic Cummings is contemplating? The aide should be out of Downing Street following the failure of his strategy to shut down parliament failed so spectacularly.

The other consequence of Johnson’s confrontational approach is to make it very difficult for Leave Labour MPs to vote for any deal that the PM might negotiate before Oct 19th. While I was in Brighton for the Labour conference I spoke to Lisa Nandy. The Wigan MP has been keen to join over 30 Labour MPs in supporting a soft Brexit deal. Even on Monday she expressed to me pessimism that Johnson was negotiating seriously. Now Nandy must contemplate whether she could support a potential Prime Minister’s deal after Johnson accused one of her female colleagues of “humbug” when she expressed despair at the level of abuse MPs are getting.

It looks as if Johnson has decided on a People v Parliament and the courts strategy. It depends for its success on appealing to people who want to leave the EU at any cost to national unity, standards of behaviour, economic welfare, peace in Ireland and the Union.


The Prime Minister has been rightly punished for his unrepentant behaviour by MPs denying him a recess for the party conference in Manchester. In truth most MPs don’t attend their autumn gatherings. Too much contact with fanatical party members is to be avoided. So, talk of the Manchester economy taking a hit is far-fetched. Most of the junketing and lobbying will go on as usual. Johnson will be the one most inconvenienced having to move his keynote speech which now clashes with Prime Minister’s Questions.

He will still have time to point out that this is his third visit to the North since he became Prime Minister. He will big up the Northern Powerhouse as part of his strategy to win Leave seats up here.


On my visit to Brighton, I was surrounded by socialist zeal. Labour’s programme for the election is very radical and one can make comparisons with the 1983 manifesto dubbed the longest suicide note in history. The £90bn price tag, 4-day week and ultra-liberal immigration policy are huge gambles. But whilst we were in Brighton Thomas Cook was collapsing as its executives walked away to count their bonuses and airlines jacked up their prices for people whose holidays were ruined. Labour hopes to get support from those who think capitalism has many unacceptable faces.

Remainers were stitched up by Unite, as I forecast last week, and Labour’s complex position will probably lose out in the battle between Tory No Deal and Lib Dem Revoke. However, Corbyn staying neutral is a lot more honest than Johnson’s confected hostility to our EU membership.





As I forecast last week, The Prime Minister had a good conference. While the hard line Brexiteers raged at the fringe meetings, the mainstream of the party held things together in the hall. Mrs May’s speech showed less of the Maybot and more of a woman trying to do a very hard job in the face of rank treachery from Boris Johnson and his allies.

Direct reference to the Chequers Plan was cleverly avoided, but the success of the Birmingham conference will give room for Mrs May to get a deal with the EU. After that an alliance of sane MPs that may include the likes of Labour’s Lisa Nandy (Wigan) and Caroline Flint (Don Valley) will vote to avoid a No Deal exit.

It has been quite alarming to see the hatred against the EU being expressed at Tory fringe meetings. In the Birmingham bubble these extreme Brexiteers were immune to the dire warnings coming from Vauxhall and Toyota bosses at the Paris Motor Show. If Brexiteers want to dismiss them as “project fear”, try this for “project fact”. A clinical trial of a ground-breaking heart drug has been put on hold by a California company because of Brexit uncertainty.

Against my better judgement I queued for over an hour for the Boris Johnson rally. I hope I witnessed the last hurrah of this discredited man. Hopefully his constant treachery to Mrs May has weakened his support, even amongst the grassroots. The man has no political integrity denouncing the Northern Ireland backstop which he had agreed to in Cabinet last December.

Far more sense was spoken at another fringe meeting I attended where Tory MP Philip Lee, who resigned from the government to promote his call for a second referendum, warned that the Tory Party was heading for a death spiral. We had been shown polling figures which suggested many Tories regarded Brexit as more important than keeping Labour out of office. Lee forecast that Labour would present a powerful case to voters by blaming everything that goes wrong after March 29th on those who had taken us out of the EU.


As Parliament returns we find the Conservatives just ahead in the polls, a condemnation of Labour effectiveness 18 months after a General Election. Theresa May has every chance of battling on until Brexit is delivered and possibly longer. This is partly because she is seen to be doing her best in difficult circumstances and because the Tories are preparing policies to counter the potentially effective Labour message about the unfairness of Britain. Mrs May’s decision to remove the shackles from council house building shows a preparedness to be flexible on ideology.

Labour had a good conference and are in tune with voters on issues like the railways and utility companies ripping off loyal customers. However, they are handicapped by their flirtation with far left causes and people.

It has been a bad conference season for Lib Dems and moderate Labour MPs. They lack the political strategy and vision to create a new centre force just when its needed most.

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After the Salzburg ambush, the Prime Minister addressed the nation with two Union Jacks behind her. The absence of the EU flag was significant. Her message, that she was not going to be bullied by Brussels, will be her stance in Birmingham this weekend. The Brexit talks are on hold because Mrs May needs to prolong the Salzburg image of herself as the reasonable woman ambushed by obdurate Europeans.

Such a stance will play well with the grassroots and will help to nullify the attempt by Boris Johnson to hijack the conference. He is due to address a big rally on the eve of her keynote speech. The extreme Brexiteers will continue to denounce the Chequers compromise that the Prime Minister supports, but the suggestion that Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was leading a Cabinet revolt in favour of a Canada type deal has faded.

Salzburg has rescued Mrs May from what was going to be a nightmare conference, as has Liverpool. Labour’s week on Merseyside has presented the Tories with so many opportunities to go on the attack.

Labour are in a shambles on Brexit. I was at the Pier Head rally on Sunday where European flags were almost as numerous as the contradictions coming from the platform. The leader of the GMB Union made it clear a People’s Vote would only be on the deal whilst every other speaker wanted the Remain option to be considered. Anyway, it was nice to catch up with one of the speakers, ex Everton hero Peter Reid, making his first foray into politics.

Then came the Brexit debate on the floor of conference. The result is the party will be vulnerable to Tory claims in Birmingham that it wants to overturn the democratic vote of the people, whilst at the same time being in open disagreement over whether Remain would be an option in a People’s Vote. Corbyn made his position clear by hugging a delegate who called the EU “a capitalist conspiracy”.

Mrs May can even look forward to some Labour MPs voting for her deal, if she can get one. Opponents of the EU like Blackley’s Graham Stringer may be joined by the likes of Wigan’s Lisa Nandy who is reported as being critical of Labour’s preparedness for a parliamentary impasse.

Calls by Crewe MP Laura Smith for a general strike to bring down the Tories and Shadow Minister Dawn Butler’s support for the 1980s Liverpool Militants stance on “breaking the law, not the poor” will be meat and drink to Tory supporters. One could say “who is Dawn Butler?” and even more “who is Laura Smith?”. Small fry in the great scheme of things, but I can tell you their speeches represented the general feel of the Liverpool conference that I will now turn to.


The Corbyn revolution was confirmed in Liverpool. The conference was huge. The fringe meeting rooms totally inadequate (my only criticism of the venue) for the number of people wanting to debate the priorities for a Labour government. Gone was the subdued mood of New Labour where lobbyists in suits circled the debating hall where delegates were invited to watch discussions being held on sofas. The conference now is a forum for left wing zeal and endless debates on rule changes.

It is also the place where this week the leader, Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell set out their policies for a fairer Britain. Some of the proposals, like rail nationalisation, will have support well beyond normal Labour ranks. But the proposal to effectively nationalise 10% of large companies has sent shockwaves through business already reeling from Brexit uncertainty.

Promises to create green jobs in northern communities still suffering from the loss of traditional industries and changes in Treasury rules to help infrastructure investment are good. The Tories are vulnerable to Labour’s claim we live in an unfair society.


There will be no breakaway from Labour moderates. At the Progress Rally, MPs who oppose Corbyn, made it clear they were staying and fighting their corner. Good luck with that.

I was at the Jewish fringe where Wavertree MP Luciana Berger arrived with a police escort. They remain unconvinced anti-Semitism will be rooted out.

So, its off to the Midlands Engine after a week when Liverpool looked its best in the sunshine and the local economy was given a boost.

Follow me @JimHancockUK