Midlands questions to the Prime Minister

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Image caption Topics including Brexit and HS2 will be put to Prime Minister Boris Johnson by Sunday Politics Midlands

"He's right to bring this to a head"

That's what the Conservative Metro Mayor Andy Street told me when I asked him recently how he reconciled his support for a prime minister who says he's determined to take Britain out of the EU next month, "do or die", with his own repeated warnings about the dangers of a "bad Brexit deal" or, worse still from his perspective, no deal at all.

Mr Street went on to emphasise Boris Johnson's commitment both to secure a deal and then to see it through Parliament.

But how realistic is this given the apparently unending stand-off between British and European negotiators?

Jaguar Land Rover's chief executive, Dr Ralf Speth, has issued a series of dire warnings during and since the referendum about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on his firm's access to its markets and suppliers in the rest of the EU. What does Mr Johnson make of reports that JLR have so little confidence in the likelihood of a deal that they're preparing to suspend production in November in the event of no-deal supply chain disruption.

Image caption JLR chief executive Dr Ralf Speth has issued a series of warnings during and since the referendum about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on his firm

This, after all, is the age of "just in time delivery" when business efficiency dictates that stocks are not held at factories, but arrive exactly where and when they are needed. What if those fears of severe cross channel transport disruption prove well-founded?

That's one of my questions to Boris Johnson when I interview him for this week's Sunday Politics Midlands.

"No deals, no pacts, no stitch-ups behind closed doors"

It's what political parties usually say before elections. But with Brexit, it's different.

The defining issue of our times cuts through, as much as between our two biggest parties, making a mockery even of the most longstanding political loyalties.

Inevitably, there's increasing talk of electoral arrangements and trade-offs: the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, told me a couple of weeks ago that her party was indeed talking to the Greens about how not to split the Remain vote.

Three months ago, before Boris Johnson took over in Downing Street, the chairman of the Conservatives' biggest group donor, the Midlands Industrial Council, wrote in The Daily Telegraph, that if neither the Tories nor the Brexit Party were capable of winning a Commons majority, why not see if they could do it together, with a pact, especially in Leave-supporting areas, where the two parties would work together to keep Labour out.

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Image caption Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson previously told the BBC her party was talking to the Greens about how not to split the Remain vote

The official line from Downing Street has been to poo-poo the very idea, saying that Nigel Farage "is not fit" to be allowed into government. More recently, though, the arch-Leaver and, now, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has spoken more warmly about Mr Farage's contribution to British political life.

Last Friday, during the run-up to his party's get-together in Telford, Mr Farage tweeted that if the Conservatives fail to agree a pact with the Brexit Party, "it is they who will be saddling the country with a Corbyn government".

I certainly intend to ask the PM what he makes of that one!

Tory Trauma

And then of course there are the divisions threatening to tear his party apart.

He and his business managers were accused of heavy-handedness for expelling Remain-supporting MPs, including the Stourbridge MP and former minister Margot James, over their refusal to support his position on no-deal. What would it take for him to have them back?

And how does he now intend to heal the divisions between the likes of Mark Garnier MP (Con, Wyre Forest) and Mark Pawsey MP (Con, Rugby) on the one side of the argument and Bill Cash MP (Con, Stone) and Owen Paterson MP (Con, North Shropshire)? The rift within the party has already brought down four Conservative prime ministers. Is he about to become the fifth?

And then of course there's....


...there's always HS2.

One of his first acts on becoming prime minister was to fulfil his pledge to launch a review of High-Speed Rail, with a decision promised by Christmas including the option of cancelling it altogether. With costs escalating from the original £56bn to something over £80bn, this has delighted the project's opponents, particularly those in Tory shires like Warwickshire and Staffordshire.

Image copyright HS2
Image caption The HS2 project is currently being reviewed

But what does Mr Johnson have to say to local leaders in major cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds who are heavily invested in what they see as the project's regenerative potential to rebalance the economy?

And what does he himself think about HS2?

And finally...

"Abolish Eton!"

That's been one of the rallying cries at Labour's conference in Brighton in support of their promise to integrate private (or should that be public?) schools into the State system, including Mr Johnson's almer mater.

The Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, Ruth Smeeth, told me recently that as an Old Etonian, Mr Johnson was out of touch with the hardship being endured in constituencies like hers after 10 years of Conservative-led government.

To find out how he answers as many of these questions as time permits you'll just have to join me for this weekend's Sunday Politics Midlands at 10:00 on BBC One in the West Midlands this Sunday morning, 29 September 2019.

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