Boris Johnson: Scots Tories’ ‘Operation Arse’ ends in surrender – leader comment

Scotland’s Conservatives are set to pledge loyalty to Boris Johnson, but they should make sure this does not extend to backing a no-deal Brexit.

Conservative MP and leadership contender Boris Johnson is set to become the next Prime Minister. (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)
Conservative MP and leadership contender Boris Johnson is set to become the next Prime Minister. (Picture: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Just five months ago, a group of Scottish Conservative MPs were celebrating the success of a whispering campaign dubbed “Operation Arse”. It had, they believed, ensured that a certain leading Brexiteer would now not become the UK’s next Prime Minister.

Fast forward to today and at least some of these same politicians are likely to be among the Scottish Tory MPs who will meet privately with the politician concerned, Boris Johnson, ahead of his widely expected victory in the party leadership contest.

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As The Scotsman reports today, they plan to pledge their loyalty to Johnson in exchange for a promise that he will listen to them, at least on issues relating to Scotland.

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In other words, they will capitulate completely. Any MP worth their salt should expect, demand even, that their own party leader gives them the time of day as a minimum requirement.

Not being ignored is hardly much of a concession.

At the UK level, the Conservatives may have got used to life with hardly any Scottish MPs, to being an essentially English party, but at the 2017 election a total of 13 were elected in a backlash against the SNP landslide of 2015.

Most of these Scots Tories have their differences with Johnson, reflecting the fact that his brand of politics is less popular north of the border than south of it.

What they do have in common is a belief in the union. Johnson would be wise not just to listen to the Scots Tories, but to act on their advice if he wishes to avoid boosting the cause of independence.

If after the UK leaves the EU, Johnson embraces Donald Trump-style policies and is seen to have little regard for the interests of Scotland, then it is likely that the clamour for a second referendum in Scotland will grow.

For their part, the Scots Tories should make clear their pledge of loyalty does not stretch to endorsing a no-deal Brexit.

It is clear that such a chaotic departure from the EU poses severe risks to the economic health of this country and should be avoided at all costs.

Every MPs’ first loyalty should be to their country, not a particular Prime Minister or party.

And, in this case, Scotland’s and the UK’s interests are aligned – Brexit should only happen if a deal with the EU is secured.