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Boris Johnson moving towards ‘Project Love’ strategy to save the union

27 Feb 2021 3 minute read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture by Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

Boris Johnson is moving towards a “Project Love” strategy to save the union, it has been suggested.

According to Katy Balls in the right-leaning magazine, The Spectator, the Prime Minister was initially keen on an aggressive approach to prevent the breakup of the UK.

A strident approach, which said no outright to a second referendum on independence in Scotland was championed by former head of the Union Unit, Oliver Lewis, who is an ally of Dominic Cummings.

But it has been reported that Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove wants to “love-bomb” Scots and start “blowing kisses from the other side of the border”.

Balls said that “Boris Johnson had previously seemed to be all on board with the Lewis strategy”.

But one figure involved said the “idea is you catch more flies with honey than vinegar”.

Boris Johnson has recently formed a new cabinet committee that he will chair, with the aim of saving the union. It will include Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, Scottish Secretary Alistair Jack, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and other Cabinet members.

It had initially been reported that the Union Unit would be disbanded but Downing Street clarified that “No 10 officials continue to work in the Union Unit”, and that the new committee “builds on top of the already existing structures that we have in place”.

‘Blowing kisses’

Balls said: “As well as the No. 10 Union unit, there is the Cabinet Office’s Union directorate — led by Michael Gove. Gove wants to love-bomb his fellow Scots, blowing kisses from the other side of the border. Lewis had advocated a more muscular, take-no–prisoners approach to the SNP.

“While there is general agreement on the nuts and bolts of the strategy, there is dis-agreement on tone.

“Michael Gove is keen on a less combative tone. Project Love — as some have come to call it — would focus on the positive impact of the Union, highlighting UK successes such as the vaccination programme and furlough scheme.

“This idea is that it’s about ‘fighting smart’ — with a more diplomatic approach being more effective.

“With Gove in conversation with Gordon Brown, among others, and said to be in ‘listening mode’, some of his colleagues worry the approach could become ‘too clever by half’.

“There’s talk of a review of the constitution or a look at devolution from a UK-wide perspective. Gove, for his part, is getting ready for battle and has changed his Zoom name to 1707, the year the Union was founded.

“There is also talk of the Prime Minister moving more towards Gove’s Project Love — and away from his original, point-blank refusal to hold a referendum on the grounds that the last was ‘once in a generation’.

“He might create wiggle room by starting to talk about the need to avoid a ‘reckless’ referendum — a word which implies that while it’s the wrong time for a poll now, that could change in the future.

“The Prime Minister is also taken by the idea that Brexit has given him a new weapon to fight for the Union: the controversial Internal Market Bill, passed to give the UK government new powers to handle the Brexit transition.”

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