Boris Johnson’s tactics amid the Brexit chaos are designed to frame the expected general election as a ‘people vs parliament’ showdown, writes Ian Swanson, but his “Get Brexit done” slogan is as meaningless as Theresa May’s “Brexit means Brexit”.
Chancellor Sajid Javid was promising to splash the cash – on everything from buses to broadband – when he addressed the Tory conference in Manchester. There have already been pledges on building hospitals and homes and cracking down on crime. It’s not hard to tell the Government is planning for a general election.
But no one knows how soon that election might be or exactly how it will come about – and, of course, it all depends on the latest Brexit manoeuvrings.
The 2016 referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU revealed a divided UK – 52 per cent backing Brexit and 48 per cent voting Remain.
Ruthless and defiant
But rather than try to bridge the divide or bring the country together, Boris Johnson’s strategy appears to be to polarise the two sides even further.
In his ten weeks as prime minister, Mr Johnson has been ruthless and defiant at every turn.
In reshaping the Government at the start of his premiership, he excluded from the Cabinet anyone not willing to sign up to the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
When 21 rebel Conservatives, including some of the party’s most senior figures, voted against him in a bid to prevent no-deal they were all unceremoniously kicked out of the parliamentary party.
Despite losing vote after vote in the House of Commons, he has effectively ignored the will of parliament. When Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray asked him whether he would seek an extension of the Brexit deadline as required by legislation parliament had passed, he had a one-word answer: “No.”
Mr Johnson has also caused fury with the language he uses – branding that legislation “the Surrender Act” and dismissing MPs’ concerns as “humbug”.
The totally unprecedented and unanimous finding of the 11 justices of the Supreme Court last week – that he had acted unlawfully in suspending parliament – would normally be enough to force a prime minister to resign immediately. But Mr Johnson remains in office, saying he accepts the judgement, but at the same time repeatedly describing it as “wrong”, “novel” and “peculiar” and continuing to argue it was a political matter which the court should not have been involved in.
The prime minister’s behaviour appals many people inside and outside parliament. But his opponents need to be alert to the fact that, however disgraceful his conduct might be, it helps him to pose as the voters’ champion in an election he will frame as a battle of parliament vs people.
If somehow he can secure a form of words which he can present as a last-minute deal with the EU – and get it through parliament – he will hope to be hailed as the hero of the hour and go on to win an election on the basis he has delivered Brexit as promised.
If there is no deal and he finds a loophole which allows him to avoid asking the EU for an extension, he will also tell voters he has fulfilled his pledge of taking Britain out of the EU by the deadline he insisted he would abide by and hope to be rewarded at the polls.
But Mr Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit done’ mantra is as meaningless and deceptive as Theresa May’s ‘Brexit means Brexit’.
Even if Britain does leave the EU on October 31 – with or without a deal – the UK will then need to negotiate its future trading relationships with the EU and other nations across the world.
Brexit will not be “done”. In some ways it will only just be beginning.