At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the ICBMs were fueled, the planes were on the runway and the world stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the brother of the US President, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, was dispatched under great secrecy to the Soviet Embassy in Washington. His mission was to do what neither JFK nor Russian Premier Nikita Kruschev could publicly, to admit things had gotten dangerously out of hand and propose an offramp for both sides to avert armageddon.
This is one interpretation of what happened at Ditchley Park last week. With the UK economy barely treading water and increasing global threats underscored by a fresh Russian offensive in Ukraine, Gove was sent as secret mediator from the Government. His mission; to do what neither Sunak nor Starmer can publically, to admit that Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster and that the time is long since past to begin to repair the damage.
Such pragmatism and willingness to admit fault would be welcomed, no matter how belated or infuriating. Through our work with the UK Trade and Business Commission, Best for Britain is similarly focussed on providing immediate fixes to the Brexit deal rather than a premature rush to rejoin. But this is not what happened - it was the same old manoeuvring from Westminster's consummate survivor, who, like Johnson and Truss, is positioning himself for the top job.
If and when Labour crushes the Conservatives at the next election, it is highly unlikely that Sunak will be left in place to pick up the pieces of a shattered Conservative Party already emaciated from Johnson’s purges. Even if Sunak does survive his Richmond electorate, and Best for Britain analysis suggests that’s up for debate, the Tories will be in search of a new leader. In this search they will be faced with an important decision; they can rebuild the party with policies based on observable reality or they can double down on lunacy. This decision will almost certainly involve no reflection, introspection or examination of how their once proud party fell so far, so fast.
Dodgy scouse accents notwithstanding, it appears Gove is positioning himself to be the standard bearer for sensibility. Despite being the Convenor of Vote Leave, all signs indicate he is once more entering his chrysalis of reinvention. What emerges could be a blotchy butterfly both respectable to business and reconciliatory to our European allies. With Starmer having just a few years to deal with the economic binfire he’ll inherit, this invertebrate could be capable of winning a 2028/2029 election, particularly if our antiquated first past the post voting system remains unchanged. What Gove may not be anticipating is the propensity of the Tory party to choose lunacy.
In the red corner, limbering up on the broadsheets and over the airwaves is Lord Frost who is once more jumping to the defence of his indefensible Brexit deal. Any move towards sanity will be fiercely resisted by Britain's second finest unicorn salesmen and he isn’t alone. Britain’s finest unicorn salesman, Boris Johnson continues his de-facto Prime Minister schtick unabated and while he embarasses Sunak on the world stage, Sunak's immediate predecessor Liz Truss, is rehabilitating herself as Queen of the libertarian fringe of the Conservative Party, hitting him on growth and taxes.
Such unapologetic subversion by both has only been possible because of how weak the PM remains within his own party. By not putting Johnson and Truss back in their box, Sunak has declared open season on his leadership. His fox is shot and his goose cooked. The only thing keeping him in power is the political impossibility of appointing another Tory Prime Minister without a General Election.
Whatever the motivations behind this secret summit, it is clear that Britain cannot continue with the status quo. Every extra day that we are shackled to Johnson’s Brexit deal means more lost growth, more lost jobs and more lost revenue for our ailing public services. Gove may try to portray himself as the Bobby Kennedy of this episode, but he, Johnson, Frost and Truss have already detonated the UK’s economy and international reputation. We can only hope that none of them get another crack at power. We can only hope that this was their ‘final failure’.