Brexit is not touched, taxes are lowered: the struggle to manage the legacy of Boris Johnson | International

The first public messages from the candidates to lead the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom give the impression that it was necessary to liquidate Boris Johnson to discover that, indeed, there was something called johnsonianism. In the best case. At worst, the stark revelation that, beyond stabbing a Caesar whose behavior was already unbearable for many people, in the field of ideas, the contenders have little new to offer. Brexit is not touched, and taxes must be lowered. The battle will be fought in the nuances.

“There is no possibility that we will return to the European Union. I would never vote in favor of our reincorporation into the institutions of Brussels”, he declared early this Sunday in SkyNews Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and one of the first to officially launch his candidacy to lead the party. Tugendhat was one of the last of the Mohicans when it came to fighting the hard Brexit, driven at the time by the most conservative wing – the internal current tory of the European Research Group―, with Boris Johnson at the helm.

His chances of taking the lead, if he dared to question the negative consequences of the UK’s exit from the EU, would be reduced to zero. That is the general feeling. And that is why Tugendhat, in addition to presenting his impeccable credentials as an ex-military officer and as a parliamentarian, hardly goes beyond promising “a new beginning” and a ten-year economic plan that he has not yet outlined.

“Thanks to Brexit, we are a free nation.” The anti-EU fundamentalism that has taken root in the Conservative Party cannot be expressed in fewer words. It is the beginning of the speech with which the current Economy Minister, Nadhim Zahawi – the man Johnson clung to to save his government when the cascade of resignations began – wants to publicly present his candidacy. He has already advanced a substantial part to the magazine The Spectator, that, together with the newspaper Daily Telegraph, it is the guardian of the essence of the hardest conservatism. “Just managing the biggest tax hike since 1949 is not the conservative way to do things. We cannot build our path to prosperity based on fiscal pressure”, proclaims Zahawi. She is one of the candidates who has clung to that flag to oppose his program to that of the favorite.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss last Tuesday in Downing Street.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss last Tuesday in Downing Street.PETER NICHOLLS (REUTERS)

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Rishi Sunak, the former Minister of the Economy who, together with that of Health, Sajid Javid, caused the collapse of Downing Street with his resignation, retains for the moment, according to the count he manages ConservativeHome (the website that serves as a forum for party ideas), a clear leadership. 27 deputies have given him their official support. Penny Mourdant, the Secretary of State for Commerce, has 16. Liz Truss, the Foreign Minister, who already has twelve and is expected to add many more -she is very popular among party members- launched her campaign this Sunday with the initial promise to lower taxes from day one if elected. “I will make the private sector grow faster than the public sector, with a long-term plan to reduce the size of the State and reduce the fiscal burden”, she has written in the Daily Telegraph.

Sunak wanted to present himself as the most serious candidate in economic matters. The one who, from his position in the hard journey of the pandemic and his vision at the end of that health crisis, has understood better than the rest the need for a certain fiscal orthodoxy in the face of galloping inflation and a recession horizon . “Do we face the current moment with honesty, seriousness and firmness? Or do we tell ourselves comforting fairy tales that make us feel better now, but ruin our children’s future?” asks the former minister in the video with which he began his official campaign to lead the Conservatives, the first to take the step in the contest.

The response from many of his rivals has been clear. Jeremy Hunt, former Foreign Secretary and prominent politician tory, or Sajid Javid want to immediately freeze the plans drawn up by Sunak to increase the Corporation Tax from 19% to 25% next April. The same as Zahawi or Grant Shapps, Minister of Transport, who are also pressing to reduce the fiscal pressure on citizens and lower income tax rates.

None even questions Johnson’s most conflictive legacy: the law currently being processed by Parliament, with which it is intended to unilaterally annul a large part of the commitments signed between London and Brussels when they agreed on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The House of Commons concludes its current session on July 21, with which the next or the next leader of the Conservatives, who will automatically occupy the position of Prime Minister, must decide whether, in addition to maintaining the essence of the legacy Johnson’s ―a Brexit with no turning back―, maintains the rogue and conflictive part of that policy, which has led the United Kingdom to its worst relationship in decades with its most important partner, the EU.

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