After the 2019 election, we suggested five ways that Boris Johnson could help to secure the Party’s electoral position as part of our Majority series. This was the third. Eight months on, how are they doing?
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Securing The Majority? 3) A Department for the Union
Boris Johnson did not become Prime Minister to fight for the United Kingdom, any more than did Theresa May to deliver Brexit.
Nonetheless he, like his predecessor, knows that his legacy will be defined by a battle not of his preference.
The precedent set by the Government’s handling of Northern Ireland is not inspiring, with MPs reportedly not realising the real implications of the terms they agreed to escape the impasse over the Backstop. However, the steel ministers are showing over control of post-Brexit economic powers suggests that they are finally getting across the need to defend the structures of the Union.
Officially, the Government insists that it will not grant a second “once-in-a-generation” referendum. It would be quite right to do this, although the arguments for doing so will need fleshing out.
Yet holding that line in the face of a separatist majority at next year’s Holyrood elections may require more nerve than the forces of unionism possess at the minute, and there are signs that preparations are being laid for a future campaign.
As suggested in Paul’s original article, Michael Gove is playing a leading role in the pro-UK operation inside the Government, although much of his time is reportedly consumed with Brexit at present.
He has even been out on manoeuvres with George Galloway, who has returned to Scotland and launched a new political party, the Alliance for Unity, to contest the upcoming Scottish Parliament election.
Interesting question https://t.co/jJnxe4fyAr
— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) August 19, 2020
Whilst there is no sign yet of a full-blown Department of the Union, Johnson has brought in Luke Graham, the former Tory MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, to head up the Downing Street ‘Union Unit’ – although the sacking of the Unit’s adviser in February caused concern amongst Scottish Conservatives.
The Prime Minister has also blocked a proposal from Gove to invite Nicola Sturgeon to sit in Cabinet (which seems fair, as she would not be bound by collective responsibility and has no mandate on reserved matters) and ordered that projects funded by the Government in Scotland should bear the imprint of the Union.
Outwith the Government, meanwhile, work is underway to rebuild the pro-UK campaigning machine. Whether or not this network can work harmoniously with the Number Ten operation remains to be seen.