September 24, 2021

The Hulk? No, MPs have trapped Boris Johnson like Gulliver… writes STEPHEN GLOVER

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Boris Johnson memorably said three weeks ago, though it seems like an age, that he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than delay Brexit beyond October 31.

The truth is that he’s already in a ditch. Politically speaking, he is not exactly dead but he’s certainly incapacitated.

Is it conceivable that he can haul himself out of the predicament he’s in, dust himself off, deliver Brexit and preserve the country from the insanities and idiocies of Corbynism?

The many moods of Boris Johnson: The Prime Minister memorably said three weeks ago, though it seems like an age, that he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than delay Brexit beyond October 31

There is surely little doubt that by proroguing Parliament, when to do so offered absolutely no prospective political gain and a great deal of potential damage, Mr Johnson is partly responsible for putting himself in the mess he’s in

Can he, like Jonathan Swift’s fictional hero Gulliver — or, to use Boris’s own recent image, the Incredible Hulk — break free from the bonds wrapped around him by lesser men?

There is surely little doubt that by proroguing Parliament, when to do so offered absolutely no prospective political gain and a great deal of potential damage, Mr Johnson is partly responsible for putting himself in the mess he’s in.

Boisterous

He is a bit like a drunk who takes an unnecessary short-cut and stumbles into a ditch when there was a perfectly satisfactory orthodox route — letting MPs sit for a few more days before being packed off to their party conferences for three weeks.

But it’s far from being all his fault. He has been trussed and bound by Opposition parties in Parliament. Now they have got him where they want him, they will try to lace him up even more tightly.

He is not allowed to call an election and, despite his taunting of Labour in a feisty statement in the Commons last night, and his challenge to call a vote of No Confidence, there won’t be an imminent change of heart.

Unless he is prepared to break the law Parliament has passed (and Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox indicated yesterday in a boisterous Commons performance that he isn’t), Boris will have to go to Europe to beg for an extension. He can’t even have a party conference on his own terms.

Labour’s plan is to so weaken and humiliate Mr Johnson, by forcing him to miss his October 31 deadline and do their bidding, that by the time he is finally permitted to call an election he will appear to voters as a bedraggled and compromised figure.

It’s a good thing he’s a bullish fellow because many politicians finding themselves in his apparently desperate position would probably roll over in their ditch and give up the ghost.

(Incidentally, amid all the gloom I couldn’t help laughing yesterday over the response of Jennifer Arcuri, the American businesswoman and pole-dancing ex-model, who received thousands in public money after befriending Boris. She insists he only visited her flat for technology lessons!)

(Incidentally, amid all the gloom I couldn’t help laughing yesterday over the response of Jennifer Arcuri (pictured with Johnson), the American businesswoman and pole-dancing ex-model, who received thousands in public money after befriending Boris. She insists he only visited her flat for technology lessons!

To return to more serious matters. I don’t believe Mr Johnson’s situation is hopeless. Despite his many wounds, there is still cause for optimism — though he will have to be much more disciplined and sinuous than he has so far been.

I can see two ways out of the morass. The first is that he comes up with a deal which will somehow squeeze through the Commons with the assistance of a platoon of principled Labour MPs.

The conventional wisdom is that the so-called Benn bill requiring the Prime Minister to seek an extension, combined with his loss of credibility after the Supreme Court’s unanimous judgment against him, will convince Brussels there is no point in offering a compromise.

This may be true. But I cling to the belief that EU leaders are not all cynical sado-masochists who yearn to punish Britain and its Prime Minister at the expense of their own countries’ wellbeing.

On Monday, the leading vehicle manufacturers across Europe issued a joint statement warning that a No Deal Brexit would have a ‘seismic’ impact on the car industry throughout the Continent.

Remember the perilous state of the EU. Germany faces a recession, Italy could tumble into another one. The European Central Bank is embarking on a new round of printing money, along with a cut in its key interest rate to minus 0.4 per cent, in a frantic attempt to kick-start the eurozone economy.

Is this really the ideal moment for EU leaders to insist on a punishment beating for Britain? Not in a rational world. Moreover, European leaders are fed up to the back teeth with this awful saga (aren’t we all!) and long to bring it to a close.

I know. I know. All this has been said before. But that doesn’t mean that at five minutes to midnight there can’t be a sensible compromise, with the EU perhaps offering a take-it-or-leave-it final deal that will inevitably fall short of what some Brexiteers want.

Last night in the Commons, the Prime Minister gave an upbeat account of negotiations and suggested that the EU was prepared to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, which he had been told was irrevocably closed.

Victim

Would a modified deal get through Parliament? Only with the help of Stephen Kinnock and his group of decent Labour MPs who respect the result of the 2016 referendum. Only if most Tory members of the hardline ERG soften. It might happen.

And if it doesn’t? Well, then there is one last possibility for Mr Johnson. He could fight an election on the platform of the People (plus Boris) versus the Establishment.

Since the Opposition parties won’t agree to an election now, this could only happen after he had missed his October 31 deadline. The received wisdom is that in such an event he would be political dead meat.

Would a modified deal get through Parliament? Only with the help of Stephen Kinnock (pictured) and his group of decent Labour MPs who respect the result of the 2016 referendum. Only if most Tory members of the hardline ERG soften. It might happen

I’m not so sure. He could represent himself as a victim of conniving Remainers frustrating his every move, even to the extent of making him write a letter to the EU seeking an extension he doesn’t want.

Asked in a YouGov poll earlier this month to what extent it would be the Prime Minister’s fault if Brexit didn’t take place by October 31, 68 per cent of Conservative-leaning voters said it wouldn’t be his fault ‘at all’.

And in a Survation poll published in today’s Mail, a surprisingly large 52 per cent of respondents agree that ‘the Establishment want to stop Brexit’, while only 28 per cent disagree.

Champion

In other words, his failure to meet his deadline could be profitably pinned on his political adversaries, and Boris might successfully represent himself as a champion of democracy.

Such an approach would be a gamble and would become destructive and divisive if Boris, egged on by ‘psychopath’ (David Cameron’s description) Dominic Cummings, targeted Supreme Court judges as Establishment stooges.

By the way, we should stop picking on his adviser Mr Cummings. The buck stops with the PM. What does a responsible owner do if his vicious Alsatian attacks every dog in the park? He puts it on a tight leash. He buys a muzzle. If these measures fail, there is always a last resort for irredeemably dangerous dogs.

For myself, I’d prefer an honourable last-minute deal to a high-stakes People v the Establishment election in which Boris charged around like a bull in a china shop. Better for the heart.

Can he pull off a near miracle and, Gulliver-like, escape his ties? I’m not overflowing with optimism. But for all his errors, he remains the only person who can save us from the madness of a Corbyn government and a shameful betrayal of Brexit.

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