On the eve of the Conservative conference, the party is imploding in public

May Johnson conservative Tories
Mark Turley

The Conservative Party Conference is due to begin in Manchester on 1 October. It already seems unlikely to be a happy event. Predictions of major policy disputes and mass protests will make it an uncomfortable four days for Theresa May. But now two of her most influential colleagues have waged all-out war.

The conspirator

In an interview with The Sun, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson outlined his four Brexit “red lines”. This follows his Brexit piece in The Telegraph on 15 September, in which he revived the bogus ‘£350m a week for the NHS’ claim.

Many commentators view Johnson’s actions as a simple ploy. He is undermining May on purpose, to position himself to become the next leader. Under normal circumstances, Johnson would be sacked. But May’s own status has become too weak to risk this.

In the other corner…

Meanwhile, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, has responded to Johnson with scorn. Davidson has said [paywall] that only “serious people” should have any say over Brexit. Speaking to The Times, Davidson added [paywall] that the “overoptimism” of figureheads like Johnson “sells people short” with regard to leaving the EU.

An unhealed wound

The feud between Davidson and Johnson goes all the way back to the EU referendum campaign of June 2016. Since then, and the Conservative chaos that ensued, they have both been championed as potential leaders.

Their differences represent the two sides of a Conservative party split down the middle over Europe. The issue has divided the Conservatives for over a hundred years. David Cameron gambled on a referendum putting the issue to bed. But that failed.

With one day to go before their conference, and a weak leader unable to hold them together, the Conservatives appear ready to pull themselves apart.

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