Brexit veterans form new think tank

Is the new group a munitions factory for Commons rebellions?

Artillery Row

Pro-Brexit politicians and policy wonks have formed a new think-tank to provide the “evidence-based case for a real Brexit and its benefits”.

The Centre for Brexit Policy say they will give the government “clear and constructive advice on how to deal with ongoing negotiation”.

The group is formed from a number of the figures who gave Theresa May clear and robust advice after her vision of Brexit turned into the Chequers plan, seen by Brexiteers as a betrayal of Brexit.

Owen Paterson, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, and one of the ‘Spartans’ chairs the group and John Longworth, the former chairman of Leave Means Leave and sometime Brexit Party MEP is the Executive Director.

Longworth, a former Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, will be responsible for day-to-day management along with Edgar Miller, who is also the convener of Economists for Free Trade.

The board also includes Labour MP Graham Stringer and the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson.

Post-Brexit watchers might be forgiven for thinking the new think tank is a stick to beat Boris with if he backtracks on Brexit. But a senior figure involved in the group suggested this isn’t quite the case:

“I wouldn’t characterise it like that. CBP will provide analysis and research in order to help identify the best policies to take advantage of Brexit while also analysing and rebutting any suggestions that might lead towards rejoin, or remain.”

But another senior member was more candid:

“It’s not helpful to rubbish someone you’re trying to work with, but it’s worth bearing in mind what they’ve done in the past. Trust in Boris Johnson has been broken: He set himself a deadline and sacrificed Northern Ireland to achieve it. But now he has a chance to redeem himself.”

CBP “fellows” include veteran Brexiteers such as leading lawyer on EU law Martin Howe QC, Free Trade economist Patrick Minford and financial lawyer Barney Reynolds. All these names will be familiar from the struggle of the last four years to see the Referendum result delivered. And indeed, many of them have several decades of Withdrawalist form on their CVs.

A key consideration for CBP will be, how well will it work with the ERG? It wouldn’t quite be fair to say that Leave Means Leave was strangled at birth by the ERG, but with Richard Tice and other Nigel Farage supporters having been prominent in it, LML was very firmly kept in a box by the Baker and Mogg era ERG. As one ERG insider put it, “Mark [Francois’s] attitude will be crucial: will he see them as being useful potential external supporters for what the Group might have to do? Or will they be as ill-disciplined as so many Brexit People’s Fronts have been in the past?”

The new think-tank plans to concentrate initially on how coronavirus will affect Brexit and how the UK can best position itself in the Brexit negotiations. It’s unlikely that either of these worthy causes will have any political purchase inside the Commons, in terms of votes that might cause Mark Spencer any potential headaches. But more resource for potential rebels will not be something any Tory Number 10 will not look on with any enthusiasm.

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