Entering the contest at 33/1 odds after eight other candidates, and despite having a long-standing record of Euroscepticism and a Leave backroom team, Javid still had to overcome the obvious obstacle of having voted Remain in 2016. Easy to say in hindsight, but the party were determined one way or the other to have a true believer Brexit leader after Theresa May.
Four years ago, the Brexiteers won what was essentially a referendum and a general election all in one. Two thirds of the declared candidates for the 2016 contest were Leavers, yet it was Theresa May who infamously clinched an unlikely coronation. Few thought at the time that leaving the EU would be enacted and resolved swiftly, but even fewer could have predicted the polarisation and division that led to the Withdrawal Agreement’s impasse in Parliament.
Last year, Boris managed to break this deadlock and unite a coalition of Brexiteers – socially conservative voters led by liberal free-traders, with voters in Labour’s working-class heartlands repelled by Jeremy Corbyn.
The best evidence that the political centre ground has since shifted considerably on Brexit, comes from the man most closely associated with finding centrist electoral sweet spots. On the 31st of January, Tony Blair finally accepted the reality of Brexit by publishing a commentary via his think-tank. His piece contained arguments that would not be out of place in, say a Dan Hannan op-ed or Michael Gove keynote speech. As Labour leader, Keir Starmer also cannily has not fallen into the trap of calling for the transition period to be extended.
Unless and until the UK Government formally walks away from the future relationship talks, the leader of the opposition will not waste energy lamenting hypothetical scenarios.
In a short space of time, from leafleting and knocking on doors in north London in 2015, to appearing on broadcast during the 2019 campaign, I have seen how the Conservative Party has gradually evolved from a broadly pro-membership party to an outfit content to trade with the EU on the same terms we’ve been trading with Australia.
It was not that long ago that Nigel Lawson and Dan Hannan were the only Conservatives on record arguing for an outright exit. Now, the party’s official policy is being genuinely sanguine about conducting trade with the largest free trade area in the world on WTO terms.
In his memoir, David Cameron admits to misjudging the strength of the ‘latent Leave gene’ in the Tory party. Successive leaders have now come undone by an inability to adapt to changing attitudes.
Having led the historic Leave campaign – after virtually creating Eurosceptic journalism as the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent – the incumbent is not making the same mistake.