03/07/2019 14:34 BST | Updated 03/07/2019 14:39 BST

Johnson And Hunt: A Choice Between Populism And Professionalism

Top Tory donor Alexander Temerko says the party should not turn to the ‘fun blond guy’ as its next leader.

A threat is only a threat when it is deliverable – it has the exact opposite effect when it cannot be delivered on. The same applies to ultimatums and pledges.

Boris has solemnly declared his intention to take the country out of the EU on 31 October this year, should Europe fail to agree to his terms of Britain’s ‘liberation’. People believe what they want to believe, or as a great poet once said: “Oh, it takes little to deceive me – I cannot wait to be deceived!” 

By the same token, 31 October will turn into another day of national disappointment and yet another Article 50 extension, which the president of Poland may allow himself to be cajoled into. The people who wish to believe the fairy tale they have been told by the fun blond guy, will wake up on 1 November to a stern Angela Merkel. This was always going to happen, and will happen unless we face reality and honestly admit that we are who we are and where we are.

We must realise that we will not wake up as free people even under Boris’ leadership, and that implementing the will of the people expressed in the referendum may take time, effort and compromise. Would you like to take down and rebuild your Grade 1 or Grade 2-listed home in a conservation area? No problem! But first you have to secure all the required planning permissions – and we are not even talking Brussels but your very own local council in Portsmouth or Chelsea – which, as you may know, will take three to five years. So why is it we think that leaving the European Union, which involves a full-scale remodelling of our European home, can be fast-tracked? 

This is virtually the same scenario. Any democracy, even in the birthplace of democracy, must abide by law, rules and tradition. Internationally, it rests on conventions, treaties and commitments. These arrangements make it possible to implement any will expressed by a majority, but the process of finding an agreement is something everyone, even such a unique individual and perpetual queue jumper as Jacob Rees-Mogg, have to endure.

This coin also has its flip side. Should the triumph of democracy and freedom from the European yoke fail to materialise on the mystical 31 October date, the morning of 1 November would bring with it not only a stern Merkel but likely the lowest polling numbers for the Conservative Party and its leader, as well as utter disappointment among Octobrists. An election would become unavoidable and once a left-wing coalition comes into power, any faith in a ‘clean Brexit’ would be put to rest altogether. 

If we in the Conservative Party want to be driven by results and not fantasies, we have to choose between the two candidates, and between populism and professionalism. As we make that choice, we ought to realise we are choosing the leader for a party whose membership represents under 1% of the population, is divided into contending groups, and has a barely meaningful majority in Parliament that will hardly live to see another election. This kind of mandate renders turning a fairy tale into reality overnight unattainable.

Which brings us to the conclusion that what we need today is not a storyteller issuing threats to our neighbours and swearing on 31 October as if it were the Holy Grail. We need a person of international standing, an experienced statesman with a business mindset. A leader who would be able to deliver Brexit without self-deception, without issuing empty threats or making false pledges. One who would be capable of maintaining a relationship with Europe, finding common ground with political and trade partners, strengthening the British economy and safeguarding UK’s security in the face of terrorism and Russian aggression. 

And this person is not our superhuman blond leprechaun promising pots of gold. It is our proper politician, and profoundly good man, Jeremy Hunt.

Alexander Temerko is an industrialist, a Conservative Party donor and activist, and a member of the IEA’s Advisory Council