UK Politics

Tory conference: Three Brexit champions hammer home PM's message

Steve Barclay, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove Image copyright PA Media

The headline act - Boris Johnson's speech - may be three days away, but what better opener for a Tory Party conference tag-lined "Get Brexit Done" than three of its biggest cheerleaders.

Such a trio was presented to members on Sunday afternoon in the form of Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Barclay.

Mr Gove - no-deal planner in-chief and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster - kicked off the session with a little doom and gloom.

He said the government was facing "a paralysed Parliament" - echoing the words of the attorney general earlier this week - and "polarised politics", all because the referendum result had not been delivered after more than three years.

Mr Gove said the only party to lift this fog was his very own.

"I've known Boris for more than 30 years, and while we haven't always agreed on everything, let me tell you this," he told the audience.

"Boris is brave, he is determined, he loves this country, and he delivers."

Sniggers rose from a crowd familiar with his sometimes frayed relationship with the prime minister.

But after ensuring he was on his boss's Christmas card list, Mr Gove went on to describe how the pair were definitely on the same page when it came to leaving the EU on 31 October - no ifs, no buts.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael Gove spoke of his long lasting relationship with the PM

He did admit, however, that it may not all be smooth sailing, and leaving without a deal, as the government - at least - is prepared to do, would present "some challenges".

But, despite "new tariffs", "new checks on trade" and potential issues for UK citizens abroad, he said the UK had ramped up its preparations, adding: "While the difficulties caused by leaving without a deal will pass, the damage to our democracy in not getting Brexit done would endure, and resound, for much longer."

His speech brought waves of applause from those in the hall - the assembled members undoubtedly want to get Brexit done.

But the mention of no deal did prompt a few bristles and there were some hands thrust grumpily into pockets.

There are certainly members, even if they appear as a minority, who want out but not at any cost.

'Remoaner coup'

The Leader of the House, Mr Rees-Mogg, was next to take the podium and got a standing ovation before uttering a word.

The speech was "classic Mogg", as one party member put it, offering history lessons, literary refreshers and high-brow jokes to please the crowd.

Reports earlier this week that the bespectacled MP had called the Supreme Court decision to rule the suspension of Parliament unlawful a "constitutional coup" caused controversy.

But he decided to invoke a similar sentiment all over again, describing attempts by opposition parties to form a government of national unity as a "Remoaner coup".

Mr Rees-Mogg said they left the government feeling like "Gulliver tied down in Lilliput", fighting against "fumbling, fettling, flitting politicians" who have the "unworthy aim" of stopping Brexit.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionJacob Rees-Mogg: Opposition MPs will get their comeuppance at the ballot box

He then turned his sharp tongue to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.

"As a parliamentarian I have been, and in some ways remain, an admirer of the Speaker," said Mr Rees-Mogg. "But now he has flown too close to the sun.

"His recent mistakes have damaged the standing of the House in the eyes of the public to its lowest point in modern history."

But despite all of dramatic rhetoric, Mr Rees-Mogg sought to reassure delegates.

"Fear nothing that they try to do, fear nothing of their schemes and their stratagems," he said.

"Because ultimately we will have a general election and parties that deny democracy get into great trouble when people have the chance to vote."

'Get Brexit done'

Last up was the Brexit secretary himself, Mr Barclay.

It was not an enviable task to follow two stalwarts of the Leave campaign, but he had the experience of the Brussels negotiations (and the ticket stubs to prove it) to see him through.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Steve Barclay has been back and forth from Brussels

Like an underdog edging towards the front of the race, he was optimistic - even if the noises from the EU haven't been especially positive.

"The Irish deputy prime minister said on Wednesday that 'there are solutions to this but it is a matter of political will' - I agree," he said.

"The Commission has said that it is open to 'creative and flexible solutions on the border in Northern Ireland' - I am too.

"And President Juncker said he is 'not wedded to the backstop' - Nor are we. So let's abolish it."

The crux of his message - we want a deal, we're working hard to get it, but in the end, no deal? No matter.

Blimps and placards

Outside the conference confines, though, it matters very much. And while everyone stayed on message (and warm and dry) indoors, on the streets of Manchester it was a decidedly less pro-Tory affair.

The grey skies and drizzle didn't stop thousands of protesters telling Mr Johnson exactly what they thought of him and his Brexit plan.

A giant inflatable modelled on the prime minister was even on show to poke fun - dressed in blue shorts with the word "Nigel" on it and a t-shirt emblazoned with a certain Brexit bus.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The Boris blimp took flight in Manchester

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner was one of the better-known faces at the rally, carrying her banner saying: "No More Austerity".

Others proclaimed "Tories Out" and "Defy Tory Rule", while draped in EU flags.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told the crowd: "The time for party self-interest is over. Everybody from every party must unite to stop a no-deal Brexit."

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Protesters marched by the conference centre in Manchester