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Boris Johnson leading the way up Brexit creek without a paddle

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Adding my thinking to the growing pile of editorial output surrounding the Brexit impasse we now find ourselves so joyfully in; there seem to be five creeks this knackered old canoe can go up – all of them generally without a paddle…

  1. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his contentious strategist, Dominic Cummings, have realised that with no other cards left to play they have to get something agreed with the EU before the end of October. This will likely hinge on amending the detested (by Brexiteers at least) Irish backstop and its implementation. He may agree a border across the Irish Sea which sees Northern Ireland shackled to EU rules and regulations but allows the rest of the UK to float off into regulatory non-alignment, but this is unlikely to go down well with his unionist allies (DUP). Does Johnson care? Probably not now that he lacks an overall majority – why should he not abandon the DUP members that had previously propped up the government and especially after his Kristallnacht moment of expelling the rebel alliance Tory members, which led to him self-immolating his previous majority – does another 10 vote minority slip really matter? Are we to believe that talks are ongoing and constructive given the backdoor leaks suggesting talks are going absolutely nowhere? Even if they are, he still needs to get the Northern Irish sacrificial lamb deal through a parliamentary vote, which has little chance in my view.
  2. Given the Scottish courts have declared his proroguing of Parliament to be unlawful, the battle of Brexit enters its final frenzied dance. Johnson is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court next week so Parliament will remain closed for now. Rebel alliance leader Dominic Grieve won a vote late on Monday night to force the government to release all private messages on the proroguing of Parliament. It is unclear what Cummings’ reaction will be when Parliament reconvenes. The mind boggles. If Johnson’s suspected reason for suspending Parliament is exposed, then he must surely have to fall on his sword for misleading the Queen. His well documented history of lying and getting away with it is not perhaps in President Trump’s league, and it certainly does not seem to affect his (im)moral fibre, so I see little chance of him falling on his sword for this one.
  3. Johnson fails to make any progress in talks with the EU and, despite his insistence of “rather dying in a ditch” if the UK does not exit on Halloween, he pushes through a last minute extension on Article 50. This volte-face on the “do-or-die” bravado he enthusiastically spouted when entering No 10 perhaps can be justified, in his mind at least, by the pesky opposition who have forced him into this position. Quickly following this, a likely General Election will see a re-enactment of the 52% - 48% split all over again.
  4. Boris may just hunker down in his bunker alongside Cummings and allow the UK to tiptoe into a no-deal exit on 31 October through some dark arts tactics – ignoring the requirement to get an extension and battling through the courts or asking just one EU ally (sympathetic to Brexit), such as Victor Orban of Hungary, to block any extension agreement, etc. Ignoring an ineffective opposition seemed to be a genuine policy for team Johnson but the voting results of the last two weeks do seem to suggest he is now effectively hobbled by an increasingly more effective opposition – the irony. Faced with the stark reality of crashing into the abyss, it never ceases to amaze me what politicians can agree on for the common good at the last minute.
  5. Labour’s policy of re-negotiating the exit deal and then offering the electorate a referendum on it, while campaigning to remain, seems abstract even by their standards. Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has created another gordian knot by demanding a second referendum before any General Election is called. I take back the previous comment on an effective opposition, as yet again we find ourselves with self-interested parties all fighting in a paper bag of which they cannot get out.

How this plays out is really anyone’s guess, but we may need a bigger boat.

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