Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, Our New Prime Minister.
A friend once described Donald Trump as someone you take “seriously, but not literally”. I disagree with my friend about the first clause, with respect to the US President. But I think this is more aposite to our new Prime Minister.
Unlike the President of the United States, there is much to admire about Johnson. He is fertile. He is physically strong, and can run over small Japanese boys with ease.
I suspect such is Johnson’s Charisma, Toki Sekiguchi will be delighted to have been flattened by the Prime Minister. Furthermore, Johnson does have an exceptional intellect, wide raging interests, and he is a fabulous communicator. And he’s utterly unprincipled, which is also good thing. Principled politicians will sacrifice anything and anybody for their principle which is why I think the best thing to do with a politician of principle is to shoot them in the head at the first available opportunity. Whereas Boris just wants to be loved, and he’ll sacrifice his principles to that end.
I much prefer that in a politician.
Johnson has promised to leave the EU by 31st October, deal or no. And he will make a great show of attempting to do so. However he, and everyone who matters already knows that this isn’t really possible. Parliament has expressed its will, and we will not be leaving without a deal. The Government will be forced to comply, one way or another, or there will be one hell of a constitutional reckoning, up to which Johnson is not. As there is no time to negotiate another deal, another extension will be granted by the EU, subject to a small chance of French President Macron playing De Gaulle with his veto; a veto which if issued, will prompt a revocation of Article 50, not a no-deal Brexit.
Amusing, though that the Brexiters are hoping for help from the French President.
The real question is therefore what Johnson does instead of “no deal” on the 31st. My guess is that he will use the extension to beg the EU for some modification to the Withdrawal Agreement, specifically the Backstop concerning the Irish Border. Perhaps its name will be changed to “Wicketkeeper” instead of “Backstop”, and this (along with the different messenger) might be enough to bring the Brexit headbangers on board. Given the 15 or so Labour rebels who want to deliver Brexit, that should be enough to give the Government a majority. The UK will leave the European Union, but almost certainly not on 31st October.
The EU have said they will not re-open the withdrawal agreement. And unlike most of our politicians, EU panjandrums have to agree between 27 states before they speak, and so mean what they say. There will not be any significant renegotiation of the Withdrawal agreement. Furthermore, the “Spartans” of the ERG have decided they will not vote for any deal if it includes anything like the Backstop. And, like the EU, I think it’s reasonable to take Mark François and his chums at their word. Lying is, after all, one of the higher-level cognitive skills. So ‘the deal’ is out. The only deal on the table is the one negotiated by Theresa May, and it will not pass this parliament.
So the next option is to change the parliament. A general election in September/October risks Johnson being the shortest-serving Prime Minister in History. (George Canning died in office in 1827 after 119 days. That’s the 20th November for Mr. Johnson to beat…), but it does at least give the Prime Minister a possibility of a majority and a mandate to have another go at renegotiating the deal, or indeed to crash out without one.
The country is a four-way marginal at the moment, so this is risky. Another election pre brexit will have Nigel Farage hopping up and down about “betrayal”. The chances of a pact between the Brexit party and the Conservatives is slim, and I suspect the Brexit party will contest the election in enough seats to deny the Conservatives a majority. But If he wins, I think Boris will try to renegotiate from scratch, and secure a good deal. This will take 2 years at least.
Another option is a second referendum. Dominic Cummings, impresario of the leave campaign, and Johnson’s special adviser in Downing Street, was an advocate of a two referendum approach. A vote in principle to leave, and a second one on the deal subsequently negotiated. His logic is impeccable, and might persuade the Prime Minister. It is safer than a general election for Boris, whose support for Brexit was tactical, not strategic. He has got what he wanted, the top job. And I think he’d rather like to have the option to return to Brussels and say “sorry about that misunderstanding, chaps; now where were we?” after a vote to remain.
Here’s the thing: I quite like Johnson. I certainly like him more than the tedious, sanctimonious wet blankets whining about his “letterbox comments” and trying to paint a rather cosmopolitan liberal into a bigot because he uses colourful language and metaphor (read the article). Absent Brexit, I think he could be a great Prime Minister.
Johnson styles himself on Winston Churchill. Johnson ratted on David Cameron when he sided with ‘leave’. “Anyone can rat”, said Winston, “but it takes a certain ingenuity to Re-rat”. To survive a defeat for ‘leave’ would require epic chutzpah and political necromancy on Johnson’s part, but if anyone can pull this off, he can.
I think the probabilities look like this:
‘no deal’ on 31st October, 10%.
not leaving the EU on 31st October 90%. After that, all options re-open, but with each passing day, remaining in the EU permanently becomes more likely.