It’s “Brexit or bust” for Boris

Margaret Thatcher © Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Margaret Thatcher: decidedly not middle of the road

Boris Johnson’s strategy is straightforward – to make sure that he’s “the people’s choice” at the inevitable upcoming general election.

When an electorate is polarised, it makes political sense to pick a side. As Margaret Thatcher once said: “Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous – you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides”. The Labour party’s plunge in the polls should make that clear enough. By contrast, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken a persistent and commanding lead since he firmly committed to delivering Brexit by 31 October, “do or die”.

But now it seems that his attempt at a deal is dead, shunned as too unworkable even to begin the formal negotiating process. That leaves only the option of leaving without a deal at all – which the Benn act seeks to postpone by forcing the prime minister to ask the European Union for a three-month extension to the current Halloween deadline. How can Johnson now square the circle without breaking his promise and surrendering his lead in the polls?

One suggestion is that failing to leave might not hurt him too much, if others can be blamed for forcing him to do it. Recent surveys suggest that 83% of British voters would blame Parliament for any such delay. But more than half would still blame the prime minster – and why not? He’s been in charge where others have stepped aside to argue among themselves, or merely virtue signal their protest. He had it in his power to get a deal, didn’t he?

The People versus The Establishment

Our MP-by-MP analysis of Parliament has always concluded that a deal would remain elusive. Johnson has clearly reached a similar conclusion, happily expelling 21 of his own MPs while engaging in increasingly vitriolic parliamentary debate. The reality is that securing a deal is merely a sideshow against the glittering prize of a majority. This is what lies behind much of the current theatrics – the inevitable upcoming election. This vote will be a battle: “The People versus The Establishment”, with Johnson portrayed as a plucky David in the face of a colluding “Stop-Brexit” Goliath.