No matter how many times BoJo’s ambition of becoming PM is pronounced dead and buried by the Westminster lobby, it somehow manages to rear its head again. This time in the form of several polls, one of Tory councillors, the other of Tory voters, both of which put Boris way ahead in terms of first choice of next leader. Sure, he would have to get enough MPs to back him to get to the final two, which is no mean feat given how many of them he’s managed to alienate over the years, but if he managed that it seems like he’d win pretty much any face off and become the leader of the Conservative party and PM.
This is often painted as an apocalyptic possibility by Remainers given Boris’ “no deal, no problem” schtick. But they fail to recall that Boris says huge volumes of stuff he doesn’t really mean (even in the Trump era, it is hard to think of anyone who has done this as often as Johnson), and that the best way to try and guess what Boris would do if he got into Number 10 is to think about what would be in the best interests of Boris Johnson when he got there. A question people sometimes ask in Westminster is whether the liberal-ish Boris who was mayor of London is the real Boris, or if the no deal Brexit, Bible-quoting ERG chap is the real Boris. The answer is obvious: neither.
If Boris became PM, I think his first order of priority would be calling a general election. He’d want to establish his own mandate within the Conservative party, get it out of the way so he had at least five years in Downing Street to play with, and would want to get all that done as soon into his honeymoon period as possible. I think he’d campaign during this election period not as the no deal guy, but rather as someone who was going to be strong enough to “get what Britain needs” out of Brussels. The idea would be he needs a strong mandate in order to make Barnier et al take Britain seriously again. He would promise that no matter what, we would not end up with lorry queues or sick children going without their medicine – no sir, not under BoJo’s watch. All we ever needed was to have picked Boris back in 2016 and everything would have worked out roses. Now, here’s our second bite at the cherry.
If Boris did win that election, I think the chances of us Remaining, against what every other pundit will tell you, would go way, way up. Boris, having promised that strong leadership in the face of Brussels intransigence was all that was required, all while actually knowing that the chances of getting a new deal out of Brussels was nil, would then need to ensure this didn’t destroy his premiership as it has done May’s. I figure he would go about this one of two ways.
The first would be to employ the method we all thought May was going to use back when she created DeExEU and DIT and got Davis and Fox into those roles. Everyone figured she was being smart in assigning the jobs to Brexiteers, leaving her to get on with domestic affairs. And then, she just took over the whole negotiations anyhow, letting Davis and Fox off the hook completely. Boris won’t be as stupid. He’ll get a trusted Leaver in there to try and negotiate with Brussels – and then leave them dangling in the wind to take the fallout when it inevitably goes tits up. Boris meanwhile will be looking entirely at domestic policy, trying to mention Brexit as little as possible (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if his advisors ban him using the term at all). Put Brexit in the background and let it go wherever it will go. Avoid confrontations with parliament about it. There won’t be a deal, and Boris knows it, and he won’t let no deal happen while he’s in Number 10 either. He knows a no deal crash out would be a disaster – fine for that to happen when May is PM, not when he’s in the hot seat. Under this scenario, eventually Boris revokes Article 50, after years and years of it going nowhere, Boris slowly turning into a Remainer himself and the country becoming 70-30 Remain as Brexit is made to look stupid.
The second possibility is he handles the negotiations himself and looks to revoke A50 very quickly after the election victory. In other words, lance the boil while he has the most political capital to spend on it. Get Brexit out of the way and then let him try and rebuild a “Tory party for all”, focused on mostly being the anti-Corbyn. You’re saying now, he won’t be able to do that? That Tory MPs and activists would never stand for revocation of Article 50? Look at how weak the Tory parliamentary party has been at getting rid of May, a PM who is now notorious for losing votes in the House of Commons by record margins. You think the majority of them will try and oust Boris, months into his role and having just won a general election? No chance, the numbers would never be there for that under these circumstances.
Basically, Boris either spins Brexit out and tries to distance himself from it, knowing in the end it will fail but that he will somehow turn this into a personal victory, or he will try and kill it fast. I just can’t see Boris allowing no deal to happen under his watch and there is no way he will resuscitate May’s deal either. Meaning, there is no other choice but revoke, either quickly or eventually. Any Leaver who thinks Boris would do anything else is, I really think, fooling themselves. It would be completely out of character for Boris to do something rash and silly on Brexit. Boris will almost certainly do what is best for him, as he has always done, and once he is Number 10 with a GE victory under his belt, his best bet is to completely screw over the Brexiteers one way or another.