Brexit: If he’s sincere, Boris Johnson’s tactics are all wrong – leader comment

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA
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Boris Johnson’s attempts to bully the EU and Tory rebels over Brexit are bound to fail and the Prime Minister’s ‘hot air’ in his supposed address to the nation may simply be a distraction as the clock ticks down to a dangerous no-deal exit.

Boris Johnson says he is trying to pressure the European Union into giving the UK a more favourable Brexit deal – to his mind, anyway – by talking up the prospect of no-deal, insisting that this is what will happen on 31 October unless they cave in to his demands.

One of a number of problems with this strategy is that, according to leading international economists, the Government’s own experts, UK industry and trade union leaders, leaving the EU without a deal could have a catastrophic effect on this country’s economy – as well as serious impacts on the EU and the rest of the world. The stakes are simply too high.

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And so it is hardly surprising that a number of Conservative MPs, including the recently departed Chancellor Philip Hammond, are prepared to break party ranks and oppose him.

In his supposed ‘address to the nation’ yesterday – redolent of non-statements by Theresa May as the wheels came off her premiership – Johnson insisted he did not want a snap general election and that “another pointless delay” would “chop the legs out from under the UK position” in talks with the EU.

It came across as a last-ditch appeal to his own MPs – rather than the nation – to vote against a cross-party bid in the Commons today to force the Government to ask for a delay to Brexit to prevent a no-deal, after threats of deselection of Tory rebels were given short shrift over the weekend. Perhaps it was nothing more than an attempt to blame someone else if he does call a third general election in four years as expected.

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson wondered whether Johnson had planned to threaten an election – saying this had been the pre-speech briefing from aides – but then “changed his mind”, forcing him to deliver “more hot air”. Perhaps the Cabinet meeting held shortly before his speech did not go as expected. “Was that it?” seemed to be a fairly common reaction.

An able politician in Johnson’s position who sincerely wanted a Brexit deal would realise efforts to bully the EU into concessions it believes would compromise the integrity of the single market and bully MPs who believe a no-deal would be a historic mistake are bound to fail. MPs voting today should consider whether Johnson’s real goal is to bring about a no-deal without taking the blame for any resulting damage.