Can Boris Johnson tame the Brexit monster?

Johnson appears to have decided that the best way to deal with the 'monster' is to give in to it and adopt its agenda.

Boris Johnson has set an impossible pre-condition which he knows must lead to a no-deal Brexit, writes Geoff Kitney.

So far, so good for Boris Johnson.

The decision he made to use Brexit as the vehicle to carry him to his destiny to become Prime Minister of Great Britain has done what he hoped it would do. Strip it to its bare political essentials and you have to concede that Johnson has pursued his strategy to become leader of the nation ruthlessly and masterfully.

Theresa May was never going to survive Boris’s masterplan to replace her. She tried to do two impossible things – negotiate a Brexit deal which satisfied her Conservative base and the European Union.

Boris Johnson had a much less complicated plan – deliver Brexit and to hell with the EU.

Calculating that the Labour Party would never vote for May’s deal, he saw that all he had to do was court the Conservative Brexit hardliners. Knowing there was always going to be a parliamentary majority to block May’s deal with the EU, Johnson calculated that May would be forced to resign and that his support among the Conservative base almost guaranteed he would replace May when her time ran out.

Johnson laid the groundwork for his accession a long time ago, starting in the days when he was a journalist in Brussels writing fiction about the evils of the EU and its faceless manipulators inside the Brussels bureaucracy. Murray Ritchie, an eyewitness to Johnson’s exploits, detailed the story in his recent article on Chief-Exec.com.

Johnson was an influential figure in the long campaign by a large slab of the English Conservative establishment to demonise the EU and undermine British public support for it.

There was never a concerted effort by successive British governments or political leaders to counter the anti-EU forces. Not even Europhiles such as Tony Blair had the courage to speak consistently and loudly in support of the case for British membership of the EU or the case for a politically unified Europe in which a tincture of sovereignty was traded for security and prosperity.

For a nation which always preferred its exceptionalism over European collectivism, Brussels was a convenient whipping boy for UK politicians.

Get ready for a massive rhetorical attack by Johnson on the failings of the EU and triumphal boasting about how he will lead a free and sovereign Britain to a glorious future at least as great and almost certainly greater than its glorious past.

But for those who understood that membership of the EU was in Britain’s best long-term interests, there was a complacency about British public opinion. It was always assumed that, despite all the anti-EU talk in the British public conversation, Britain’s underlying best interests would always ensure that it remained a member of the EU.

What was not recognised, what was disastrously not seen, was that a day might come when a political leader might emerge who might be able to mobilise those gripes and growls into a potent political movement.

Then along came Nigel Farage.

Farage might never have been other than a fringe player and, in fact, was for almost a decade after he became high-profile leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party.

What turned him from an almost comic outsider into the most dangerous politician in the UK was the transformation of the European Union of which its founders would be most proud – the expansion of its borders to include the former Communist countries of central and eastern Europe.

That opened the borders of the European Union – and its fundamental freedoms to travel and work anywhere – to millions. And it opened the door for Farage to transform into the nation’s leading anti-immigration populist.

A toxic mix of racism, xenophobia and fear of the other on top of existing prejudices against the EU almost overnight produced a political monster.

The irony of this is that it is a monster that threatens to destroy the political party which long gave succour to the anti-European Union English nationalists.

The question now is can Boris Johnson tame the monster that he played a significant part in creating?

Farage will accept only one outcome of the battle now tearing Britain apart – total victory against the European Union. And make no mistake, to Farage and his ilk, this is nothing short of war against the forces of evil. There is an unmistakable mood of hatred for the EU amongst Farage’s hard-line supporters, who include a significant rump of the Conservative Party.

Farage has shown he is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his objective, even to the point of accepting funding from some of the wealthiest American tycoons for whom the prospect of a free-trade deal with the UK offers tantalising opportunities to further enrich themselves. So much for Brexit being about the great principles of British independence regaining British sovereignty!

Boris Johnson had a much less complicated plan – deliver Brexit and to hell with the EU.

Johnson appears to have decided that the best way to deal with the monster is to give in to it, to adopt as his agenda its agenda.

This is clear from his opening, blunt and non-negotiable demand as a precondition to any withdrawal agreement with the European Union – that the Irish Backstop be ditched.

It’s a demand to which he knows the EU can never agree.

In other words, Johnson has set an impossible pre-condition which he knows must lead to a no-deal Brexit.

His plan is clearly to use the EU’s refusal to budge on the Backstop to blame the EU for the breakdown of negotiations and the inevitability of no-deal.

Total victory for Brexit Britain is now Johnson’s obvious goal which he must achieve to prevent the Farage-led monster consuming and destroying the Conservative Party – and with it what would be a brief and inglorious prime ministership.

Get ready for a massive rhetorical attack by Johnson on the failings of the EU and triumphal boasting about how he will lead a free and sovereign Britain to a glorious future at least as great and almost certainly greater than its glorious past.

It is, of course, quite likely that the looming show-down with the EU will be followed by a show-down with Parliament and, subsequently, a general election. The first polls since Johnson took over the Tory leadership will encourage him to prepare to go to the people.

That would be a bitter and deeply divisive contest.

But it might be the best – indeed, the only – chance of giving British citizens a second chance to vote on Brexit. That would confront the Labour Party with the challenge it has so far utterly failed to confront – choosing to stand for a future in Europe or for Brexit.

The stakes in the Brexit saga seem only to grow ever bigger.

 


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Headline image credit: Jan Mika / Shutterstock.com

 

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