Sajid Javid has a date with destiny
What Sajid Javid does now will determine whether he will ever lead the Conservative Party.
I first met Sajid Javid in February 2015, when he spoke at an event I hosted with Conservatives for Liberty. It’s fair to say that I was impressed; Javid spoke with conviction, was very personable, and had a compelling back-story to explain his fairly radical politics.
Javid’s charm offensive took in not only Conservative for Liberty, but a range of other right wing, free market groups associated with the Conservative Party too. Positioning himself as a darling of the right wing, Javid played up his eurosceptic credentials and told the same bad joke about condoms over and over again.
By the time 2015 was over and we were entering 2016, Javid was being touted as a future leader of the Conservative Party, as the free market right’s greatest hope for the future. But everything changed during the referendum campaign.
After talking up his eurosceptic credentials in the preceding years, Javid made an about turn and campaigned to Remain in the EU. To many Brexiteers this felt like a betrayal, an obvious manoeuvre to advance his career at a time when many expected Remain to win the referendum.
Some of this sense of betrayal has worn away since the referendum. Partly as a consequence of time passing, partly because of the good work Javid has done as Home Secretary, and party because of the trickles of information that suggest Javid has argued for a proper Brexit in Cabinet meetings.
However, distrust and suspicion linger. Many Brexiteers question Javid’s motives in remaining within the Cabinet and then leaking details of his arguments with the Prime Minister. They wonder if he is doing just enough to boost his credibility, whilst falling short of doing anything tangible to advance the principles he claims – and has so easily abandoned in the past.
When a leadership election does eventually come – whenever that may be – it is widely expected that Javid will stand. And if he does, there will be one question on the minds of Conservative Party members: can Javid be trusted to stand by his principles, or will he drop them whenever it is convenient?
Given the past hurt around his stance on the EU referendum, it is critical that Javid pins his colours to the mast with regards the continuing Brexit negotiations and the fate of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement. Quite simply, it is not enough for Javid to sit back and let the chaos unfold, watching as Conservative backbenchers do the work necessary to secure a proper Brexit and declining to get his own hands dirty.
Whilst it is important for Javid to take a firm stance on the entire exit agreement and future relationship, his position as Home Secretary makes it particularly important that he speaks out on aspects of the EU-UK relationship that affect his own brief. Two important policy areas where Javid needs to do more are immigration and extradition, as these speak directly to his claimed principles of free markets and individual liberty.
It has been widely reported that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have clashed over immigration policy, with the PM defending her cap on net migration, and Javid moving against it. It is cheering to see Javid fighting for his free market principles in this way, as ending EU freedom of movement and introducing a skills-based immigration system is a move that many Conservatives welcome.
However, as people who value free markets and business success, we all ought to be concerned about the clampdown on low- and un-skilled immigration that this policy involves. The problems this has already created for various industries has been well explained, but no solution has yet been found. Javid’s objective to balance business needs and the impact of immigration on communities is a good one, but the government’s current immigration policy does not yet meet it. He must do more.
Arrangements for extradition will be agreed by the UK and EU in the next stage of negotiations, as part of the future relationship. At present, the government’s position is to seek to remain part of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system. This is a problem for two reasons: first, the EAW is overseen by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and so continued membership of the system would violate an important red line in the government’s Brexit policy of getting out of ECJ jurisdiction. Second, membership of the EAW leaves British citizens and residents vulnerable to abuses of their fundamental liberties, with unfair trials, inhumane prison conditions, and the inability of UK judges to deny extradition on the basis of there being no evidence against the defendant.
Javid has affirmed and re-affirmed his commitment to the principle of liberty – including at the event I hosted in 2015 – and the EAW system is one of the most obvious violators of liberty in the UK today. The EAW leaves all of us exposed to the ‘justice’ systems of countries like Romania, which are reminiscent of totalitarian communist regimes, and where the secret protocols between intelligence services and prosecutors have recently been ruled unconstitutional, casting doubt on scores of ongoing trials; including active extradition requests received by the UK.
On these important issues, as with many others, Sajid Javid is now at a junction in the road: he can either continue on the same path, keeping his position in the Cabinet, expressing his concerns privately and then spinning them in public, and hoping that the Conservative Party membership has forgotten his record of changing his mind; or else he can take a right turn, banging the drum for free markets and individual liberties, boosting his credibility and winning respect from the Party faithful.
The next leader of the Conservative Party needs to be steadfast, dependable and reliable; and if Javid is to have a hope up success, he must do something drastic to prove he fits that description.
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