The right-wing newspapers still crow about how brilliantly Boris Johnson is doing; yes, it may look to the casual observer as if he’s lost every vote since becoming PM and seems to be visibly disintegrating in the chamber, but no. It’s all part of an ingenious plan to crush the saboteurs.
Back in reality, I am struggling to see how Johnson hasn’t put himself in check. I really don’t see a move that he can make that gets the prime minister out of the hole he’s willingly jumped into. He can only be saved by a major error from Labour – which, to be fair, isn’t out of the question – but he has no manoeuvres left. His fate lies in the hands of his enemies.
Johnson has at his disposal 300 MPs: the 289 Tory MPs who take the whip, the DUP MPs and Kate Hoey. That’s it. If the opposition stay even relatively united, he’s stuffed. Here’s how it is almost certain to go from here: the Benn bill will pass the House of Lords tomorrow and then get Royal Assent, becoming law. Labour will not give him a general election this side of the prorogation period. This means that Johnson is going to be forced to ask for the extension in mid-October, or be given it from the EU anyhow given that it is British law, taking us past the hard October 31st deadline he made for himself. Johnson at this point either has to resign in protest or try and push ahead, despite October 31st coming and going with the UK still in the EU.
Then, the opposition will call no confidence in the government and there will an election during the extension period, one in which the Brexit Party have been gifted Johnson’s broken promise. Unless Labour screws this up, this is how it will play out. Johnson has no means of stopping this from unfolding as I’ve just described himself. The only thing truly in his power to do is resign if he wishes.
Yes, say his supporters, but then we’ll have an election and Johnson will crush all. Well, I can’t rule it out, obviously, but there are a lot of flaws in that thinking. Johnson playing the victim isn’t as strong a gambit as many assume. With the moderates being very publicly marched out of the party and the Brexit Party handed a huge boost in the October 31st deadline elapsing, Johnson suddenly looks like he may well get trapped in a pincer movement. They hope to trade heavily on Corbyn having avoided an election, but I doubt this will have any traction because one, Johnson himself said publicly he didn’t want an election and two, as Johnson himself pointed out, most people don’t want an election anyhow.