by John Ward
A clear Team Boris synthesis for success is becoming clear. The populist thesis of Boris ‘I’m well ‘ard, me’ Johnson was followed by the Boris ‘I’m ever so ‘umble’ Johnson antithesis he presented during three days on the continent earlier this week. The dialectical outcome will be No Change: Boris the Spider – still the élite-friendly corrupt fixer, yet still fooling enough of the people enough of the time to stay in power. Britons are battle-weary, and memories are short. The odds may well be in favour of BoJo pulling off a slightly superannuated BRINO and selling it as the triumph of Brexit over the bosses. But the Gods will not be kind to the divided and neutered Britain that emerges.
I have a good friend in Athens who once gave me her take on why the average Greek always says he can do something, even when he knows full well he can’t.
“Hundreds of years of being under the Ottoman thumb,” she said, “has conditioned the Greeks to say ‘Of course we can do it’ because, in the period given in which to do the impossible, at least there is time to make a run for it. If one said ‘no’, then beheading would immediately follow”.
It has taken the United Kingdom just forty-four years under Brussels to reach the same point.
The media assumption is always that Britain is in the wrong, in the weaker position, the pupil being given the homework by the master, and a nation that jolly well ought to be grateful for the chance, so there.
The Whitehall conclusion is, given our innate (and no doubt genetic) frailty, the only safe place is under the EU duvet: it might be sleepy under there, but it will protect us from the US/Russia/China.
And the political class – with half a dozen admirable exceptions – starts from an erroneous belief that if we just do as we’re told, things will soon sort themselves out….and we can spin small crumbs and a few raisins into three-tier wedding cakes.
The tone of Britain’s press over the last seventy-two hours has been at best pathetic, and at worst infuriating. The Times:
New hope for Boris Johnson as Emmanuel Macron says Brexit deal is possible
Why does Johnson need hope? Why are we playing Oliver to France’s Gradgrind here? The Daily Telegraph:
Boris Johnson demands fresh Irish border plan as he seeks ‘turbocharge’ search for Brexit solution
Bojo is apparently making the demand of his Ministers. Why isn’t he making any demands of the other side?
Merkel says “we might just open the WA to insert a backstop fudge”. Macron gives him a hug and offers all the support he needs during his 30-day exam. And Boris the Duracell Jackrabbit zooms back to London punching the air.
“We have movement! It is a sign!” he bellows (as only the bellicose can) “I have the Treasure map – there is no ‘X’ on it, but it is a clue! We must now be turbocharged and come up with the answer…”
There is absolutely no justification for Johnson’s Uriah Heep cringing over the last few days….and even less for air-punching vainglorious optimism once out of school.
He has not confirmed the cremation of the WA. He has listened as unsere geliebte Geli said an alternative to the backstop might get inserted. He has smiled and doffed his tonsorial topping as Macron said “any change in the WA is going to be very minor indeed”.
On both days, EU officials gleefully leaked at Full Ahead Both, saying (variously) “It will be a miracle if something can be agreed”, “the 27 will listen, but remain solid in their refusal to negotiate a new agreement”, and even “we will demand payment of the £39billion with or without a deal”.
The Prime Minister sees movement in all this. If so, his feet must be some sort of unique cross between a water diviner and the world’s most sensitive seismograph.
I doubt very much if he is deluding himself. Johnson’s game, it seems to me, is to create an illusion: an illusion of a reopened WA (opening ashes is going to be fun) and an alternative to the Backstop (looking to replace something thrown overboard will require at least an equal measure of delicate creativity).
Let us reexamine the theory that BoJo is ‘boxing clever’.
Is it clever to look and sound grateful for being handed a bone devoid of meat to lick? Is it inscrutable to smile affably before returning home to bully the luckless Backstop boffins? Is it tough to say nothing while Europe’s two most influential politicians are urinating in turn on his only two firm Tory leadership election promises? Is it playing things cool to get out of the limo in Downing Street and punch the air as if he might be Spartacus returning in triumph from sacking Capua?
In every one of his actions, he has played the suppliant Greek begging for time from the murderous, all-powerful Ottomans. Given his percentage of Turkish genes, this isn’t behaviour befitting a Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson clearly enjoys the classical references of ancient history. But genuine ‘Sovereign’ Leavers (long smeared as ‘hardliners’ and ‘fanatics’) are far too long in the tooth to buy into anything less than reality. The Spectator outlined the 40 bear traps in the May WA last year. Changing the wording of one of them to placate the Irish isn’t going to cut it for them. (By which I mean “us”)
The only questions remaining now are exactly how many are informed Leavers who can tell constipated turds from sugar lumps, and probably equally important, how many ill-informed grudging Leavers are simply so sick and tired of the entire farrago, they just want it over and done with.
I now suspect that this is the calculation Team Boris-Brexit has made. This is turn bears some examination.
Nobody has ever suggested that the 2016 vote to exit the EU was a landslide. It was just under 4% – and although most General Election swings require less than that to bring about a change of government, it was a relatively slim margin.
During 2017-18, as the obduracy, venom and patronising insults from Barnier, Juncker, Schulz, Macron and Verhofstadt streamed at regular intervals from Europe’s mainland, various opinion polls gave more than a hint of some former Remainers in the electorate deciding enough was enough, maybe we should just go. Equally, the more stonewall Brussels became, the more some uncommitted Leavers seemed to yearn for a quiet life and just go with the flow.
But if Britain is as irredeemably split today as it was in 2016, some changes have occured that can’t be denied.
Some 1.6 million new (first-time) voters have been added – and at the median level over that time, 73% of them say they would vote to Stay in a Second Referendum. Ergo, 1.2 million likely Remain voters have come of age.
Further, 1.8 million people have died. Around 80% of them were over 60, and 65% were Leave voters. Roughly, a million likely Leave voters have gone where they don’t play politics.
Taking a turnout level at 80%, 1.76 million net Remain voters have been added.
In theory, that would be just enough to overturn the 2016 majority vote to Brexit. But this time, the margin really would be wafer-thin: under 500,000.
In short – as our imported national treasure Henning Wehn keeps pointing out – a Second Referendum would solve nothing.
However, Team Boris-Brexit (TBB) isn’t likely to accede to any such thing. Their calculation is one not of votes, but of attitude.
There are degrees of Remain, degrees of Leave, and 12% who continue to be undecided. The gamble probably being taken by TBB is what deal would be acceptable to a clear majority of that spectrum?
My strong suspicion is that what TBB will offer – should they get it – is a People’s vote on the Deal.
Their assumption is that such will indeed attract a clear majority. Sadly, I fear they’re right.
The subsequent Bojo narrative isn’t hard to predict: “I have ended a split in the Conservative Party, I have neutered Labour, I have the Irish onside, I have all but removed Farage’s raison d’etre, I have avoided No Deal, and I have called the EU’s bluff”.
A snap People’s Vote produces a final decision. This time, the margin is enough to shut up the naysayers on both sides. The EU is seen to have struck a tough deal, the UK can claim to be independent and Glorious Blighty is once more united.
Not even the arrogant mediocrities in the House of Commons would dare to go against The People’s Vote.
There is glass on the road that lies ahead of this Boris Battle Bus. But most if not all of it can be avoided.
I continue to maintain that Farage is likely to be not so much broken glass as a busted flush. As a result of his own egotistic approach, he will make the very strong (and entirely justified) point that MayWA is barely distinguishable from JohnsonWA. But he will lack the Oldies to make it tell in a People’s Vote…and he will lack the seats to have any leverage in the General Election that follows. Nigel will be the agent of his own undoing.
In many ways, the same can be said of MP eurosceptics. In the scenario I’m describing, I estimate the maximum number of Tory, DUP and Labour potential troublemakers would not exceed forty legislators. If it looked at all likely that they plus SNP and Labour Remainers could force a General Election resulting in the loss of even a Brino-Brexit (and the imminence of No Deal) how many from any of these groupings would risk electoral annihilation for the sake of ideological purity? We’d be down to the fingers on two hands. Lest we forget by the way, north of Hadrian’s Wall, the SNP does not have the majority of Scots on its side for secession from the UK.
By the close of Friday, Britain’s Establishment FCO diplomats were piling in on the side of Brino, urging Team Boris not to cut off Britain’s nose to spite its face. All this is playing to BoJo’s likely agenda….and remember, until relatively recently, he was Foreign Secretary.
Meanwhile, what of the pro-Brexit politicians both in and beyond the Cabinet?
Dominic Raab has said nothing for nearly two weeks. By contrast, Bill Cash has made it clear that the WA merely without the backstop is not enough, and former Brexit Minister David Davis has said there is “far more wrong with the Agreement than the Irish issue alone…..We will be governed for a number of years by the other 27 member states under the existing draft withdrawal agreement even with the backstop removed.”
Steve Baker, however, has avoided anything controversial on Twitter. And among the ERGs, there is little beyond murmurings that they “might” not support a WA Deal whose sole revision was the backstop.
So to sum up, Boris Johnson stands every chance of steering enough MPs into a position either forcefully behind such a deal, ready to accept such a deal albeit with reservations, or grudgingly preferring it to no deal at all. In any General Election that may well follow such a deal, Nigel Farage would not be in shape to make serious seat gains, Labour and the LibDems would not be in a credible position to play any further on Project Fear, Tory Brexiteers would not find anything like enough support, and the SNP could not credibly claim dangers for Scotland among an electorate that still lacks a majority for independence.
A WA with very minor Backstop alterations would, however, be the worst deal possible for clean, Sovereign Brexit lovers. It would without question keep us tied to and under the control of EU institutions. It would pull us under with the SS Eutanic when fisco-economic issues come to a head. It would be far less attractive to other countries keen to trade with us. And yet at one and the same time, it would remove any membership rights of resistance to future controlling EU federalism.
British citizen Leavers are tired of the fudge, the lies, the spin, the fear, the bullying, the insults and the perpetual nonsense about the UK’s “weak” position. But they are also, I detect, exhausted by the process – and in many cases reaching the conclusion that they cannot win without giving succour to people they like even less than the EU.
It is going to take a lot of Conservatives to move a long way from their current position in order to give the new Government a serious wake-up call. For different reasons and in different ways, Johnson and Farage have played their hand very badly from a genuine Brexiteers point of view.
Can they be changed in time? I have grave doubts about their awareness of the need to do so, let alone their willingness. I suspect the TBB mantra remains, “Weigh the odds and placate the Gods”.
And me? I can only repeat what I said during the first three months of 2019 Mayhem: I’d rather stay an EU member than be imprisoned and powerless in purgatory on the road down to Hell. The British People need to ask themselves this weekend: is leaving on 31st October a worthwhile objective just to achieve one tweak in the infamous Withdrawal Diktat?
I say “No!”. But I have the growing sense of being in a minority.