Ex Downing St Insider: What Boris Johnson really wants

"Do or die" may not mean what you think it does, says our undercover Westminster lobbyist.

by Anonymous
Last Updated: 25 Jul 2019

Boris Johnson doesn’t stroll around the corridors of Westminster, he strides. Our new prime minister is a man with a purpose, and it is no secret among those who’ve had dealings with him over the years what that purpose has always been: to win power and, now that he has power, to hold onto it.

This trumps all other considerations, and all Johnson’s actions should be viewed from that standpoint, rather than any ideological attachment to Brexit, whether with a new deal or no deal. However, while a full domestic agenda is what will ultimately excite the new PM, for his first 100 days Brexit will be the only game in town, and his primary consideration will be slipping out of the Houdini knot that he’s created by rejecting May’s deal, refusing the backstop in any form and ruling out an extension.

His essential challenge is that there is no simple and easy way to escape, with a House divided, a microscopic majority and antagonisms running high on both sides of the aisle.

Johnson’s new cabinet and advisor group is informative as to how he intends to proceed. Firstly, there’s been a complete takeover (for now) by the hard Brexit wing of the Conservative party, which the PM has fully bound to his cabinet and therefore his strategy.

Secondly, Johnson has appointed trusted deliverers from his London mayor days to help prepare for a hard Brexit (note his old City Hall colleague "Steady Eddie" Lister has been appointed on a temporary basis of less than a year) and trusted comrades from his Vote Leave days such as Dominic Cummings to prepare for a return to the campaign trail.

The plan, I suspect, is to attempt to leave with no deal, but immediately agree with the EU to move onto transitional terms. This will in effect deliver his Brexit promise but crucially avoid a hard Irish border and the economic damage that a no deal would bring.

If successful, Johnson would then spend the cash that Philip Hammond set aside to cover a hard Brexit, on symbolic goodies such as £350m a week for the NHS, and then push for a quick election. Hard Brexit would see off Farage, the Lib Dem appeal would be greatly diminished ('stop Brexit' is a much stronger rallying cry than 're-join the EU') and Labour would still be in its total mess over anti-Semitism and the rest.

Various things could get in the way, not least the EU and Tory hard remainers refusing to play ball. Johnson’s plan B could be an attempted prorogation of Parliament to force his die-hard opponents onto the sidelines while the clock ticks down to a default no deal, or go back to the electorate with either a Brexit election or a second referendum on a no deal or Brexit basis (hence the appointment of Cummings).

None of these is a straightforward option. Ultimately, Johnson’s leadership will be defined by its boldness: build a hard Brexit team, push for a deal that sees us leave without any short term damage, do it with energy, passion and conviction and see if he can carry enough MPs with him to avoid a rebellion. It’s a full takeover by the revolutionaries. Let’s see if they can win.

Image credit: Noelle Otto/Pexels

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