It’s clear Boris has a plan. Our new Prime Minister isn’t bumbling along from seemingly one catastrophe to another without a roadmap. It might look like a train wreck from the outside, but inside number 10, our minority elected leader and, Dominic Cumming, his unelected advisor, clearly have a blueprint on how to win the Brexit debacle. Appearing as though he is fighting parliament for the will of the people is a carefully orchestrated part of the strategy.
It would have been clear from the start that proroguing parliament would whip opponents of a hard-Brexit into action. Giving them a week to act before the suspension was part of the masterplan. The brutality of dismissing MPs who didn’t align with the “leaving, no ifs no buts” mantra is also carefully coordinated. Equally, the election he says he doesn’t want to have has been planned all along. He has been electioneering since his first day in office.
So, what exactly is Boris’ plan? First, to buy time. He doesn’t want to be saddled with the blame for the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, foisted on the population with minimal planning. Sure, there’s the £100m advertising campaign to prepare us for the end of October. But have you seen that campaign? Posters and newspaper ads saying “Get ready for Brexit” directing us to a standard government templated website that looks like it could have been built in a couple of days.
By voting on extra time, parliament has followed the Johnson-Cummings masterplan implicitly. If Brexit is delayed it is because of parliament, not for want of trying on the PM’s part. Indeed, by expelling career politicians who pushed for the extension, Boris will be seen as playing hard-ball. For hardline Brexiteers a little Machiavellian politics can go a long way.
On this first stage Boris has won. He lost the vote to deliver no-deal by the end of October, come what may. A YouGov poll confirms the crowd he was playing to, won’t see it as his fault. Of all leave voters only 9 percent blame him if we fail to leave by October 31st. Mostly it’s seen as parliament’s fault. To them, Boris is still the hero. A YouGov poll this week shows that 80 percent of Tory voters and 87 percent of Brexit Party voters believe MPs who oppose leaving the EU without a deal are not behaving in a way that respects British democracy. These people are prepared to leave at any cost and the Prime Minister is on their side.
The blame now successfully rested on rebel MPs sets the scene for the Prime Ministers next pre-arranged step. The general election. He needs a majority, or close to it, to push ahead with his plan. Importantly, he can’t be reliant on the DUP. To win that level of support he has to silence Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, who could dilute his vote. That’s why he is playing it tough. Ideally, the Farage fraternity will be hoodwinked into believing Boris is all set to deliver a no-deal Brexit. Boris can’t attack the Brexit Party openly, because he wants them to think he’s on their side. In truth, they are his biggest hurdle.
But his plan seems to be working. This week has seen some Brexit party votes shifting to the Tories. More will follow, provided Jacob Rees Mogg doesn’t appear again, languishing on the benches like some over-privileged Roman aristocrat, waiting to be fed EU-imported grapes by lesser mortals.
With enough seats in parliament, the final part of his plan fits into place. He will quickly revisit the first Draft Withdrawal Agreement – the one that saw only Northern Ireland remaining in the EU customs territory. This original draft meant no border was needed on the island of Ireland. Border checks would be moved to seaports and airports on the British mainland. Not immediately, but as a backstop at the end of the transition period should no permanent agreement be reached.
There’s no way the DUP would buy that, but perhaps the majority of Northern Ireland would. After all, 56 percent of people there voted to remain. Either way, if Boris doesn’t need the seats to support a majority government, what does he care? Moving the border removes the need for the whole of the UK to stay in an open-ended backstop scenario.
The sequence of events I have outlined map a logical progression, but it’s a hand that Prime Minister can’t reveal. He can’t have the unionists in Northern Ireland realise they are going to be the sacrificial lambs in the Brexit deal, for fear it will help the DUP gain support. He can’t have Brexit Party voters believe he is about to resurrect the Withdrawal Agreement because they are hell bent on no-deal. Nigel Farage, incidentally, is across this and is repeatedly telling anyone who will listen, that Boris is wanting to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.
How does this end? Even if he can’t claim an outright majority there’s every chance Boris will gain enough seats to push ahead with the plan. In fact, on the night of the election he could come clean as a means to cobbling together enough support to claim a working government.
From that point, the process could be relatively quick. Boris dusts off the original EU Withdrawal Agreement, its agreed at the European Council Meeting 17-18 October and enacted from October 31st. Officially, the UK has left the EU just as Boris had promised.
On day one, of course, nothing changes. The UK enters the two-year transition period. Trading arrangements between the EU and the UK would continue, whilst a plan is worked out about what happens next – a year or two down the track. During this time Boris can show his credentials in arriving at a permanent ongoing trading relationship with the EU, and with other nations around the world. If he fails, and only if he fails, then the backstop falls into place – which means Irish goods shipped into the UK mainland, and vice versa, will be subject to customs controls.
If that’s Boris’ plan, his behaviour makes perfect sense:
- He isn’t negotiating with the EU because, as far as he’s concerned, the deal has already been agreed, and he doesn’t want the NI only plan to leak out.
- Some inside the EU could be in on this. That’s why they are saying no-talks are going on, to give the appearance that Boris is careering to a no deal Brexit, when in fact they know he just wants to secure more seats so the Withdrawal Agreement can be reached.
- He’s running a superficial ad campaign light on detail because its there just for cosmetic reasons. Britain will never leave without a deal, but hard line Brexiteers need to think they will. If you are a hardline Brexiteer you are unlikely to be concerned about the detail so you won’t realise the superficiality of the government website. All you are concerned with is the slogan ‘leave means leave’.
The Achilles heal in the Johnson-Cummings plan is Nigel Farage. If Boris Johnson really did believe no-deal was the way forward he would be forming an election pact with the Brexit Party, so they don’t stand against each other and dilute their vote. The fact that Boris won’t take the bait is further evidence that he has plans to resurrect the Withdrawal Agreement, something he did finally vote for under the Theresa May government.
The irony, of course, is immense. If he resurrects the original document, he is taking us back to February 2018, to an embryonic form of an agreement that was voted against three times in parliament and eventually led to the resignation of Theresa May and his rise to the top job. But, with many now enjoying the benefit of hindsight, and the recognition that a compromise is necessary, Boris could come out as a moderate, not a tyrant, who has achieved the impossible. That’s if Farage doesn’t ruin it for him. And it’s Farage, lets remember, who got us into this sorry state in the first place.