In all my wonderings about what Boris Johnson will do when he becomes prime minister, until very recently I hadn’t considered the soft Brexit option at all. I sort of ruled it out, leading to a very narrow set of options for Johnson on Brexit. I will admit that this possibility was opened up to me by a Tory friend of mine, who feels this could be the road BoJo travels.
“But won’t the ERG object in the strongest possible terms?” I asked him.
“They won’t even know it’s a soft Brexit,” he said.
Admittedly, I had to concede that such a thing was possible. Johnson could probably use the Jedi mind trick on Mark Francois and get away with it. This is the same bunch that didn’t even understand what the backstop was for almost a year. Yet there are still many obstacles.
One is the backstop itself. It would still be there, unless Johnson committed to rolling transition periods and then sold this to his parliamentary party as something that wouldn’t take that long to negotiate (which, given we’re talking about an off the shelf option, is possible). It involves Freedom of Movement being maintained – but as my Tory friend pointed out, he can sell a version of this to everyone where it looks like he has managed to get some concessions from the EU. “We now have the freedom to demand that people have a job within three months or they are deported! Everyone from the EU27 coming here to work needs to register first if they want to stay!” Of course, Johnson doesn’t need to mention we already had the power to do this and just never bothered. We’d have to submit to the EFTA court, but Johnson could sell this is as “not the ECJ, is it?” I guess.
As to whether or not Johnson has the bottle to front this out – of course he does, this is his one superpower as a politician, unbridled hubris. Who knows, perhaps this is what Johnson has up his sleeve. Would be interesting to see him try. Anyhow, I don’t see any other way of him getting Brexit over the line other than what I’ve just described. It’s soft Brexit or no Brexit, and only BoJo could ever possibly deliver soft Brexit due to the insane political capital he wields, at least for now.