Boris likely to seize iron throne, but how can he keep it?

by Hugo Dixon | 24.05.2019

Boris Johnson is favourite to be prime minister by the end of the summer. But winter is coming.

Johnson has waited for years to gain the iron throne in our parliamentary version of Game of Thrones. But just as he seems poised to seize the prize, there’s every chance he will occupy it for only a short time – possibly far less than Theresa May.

To win the leadership of the Tory Party, Johnson will probably make a set of promises that could leave him no choice but to crash out of the EU with no deal.

He may pretend that he can negotiate a better deal than May could. He may argue that, if we take the EU to the brink, it will crack. He may promise there’s no way he’ll delay Brexit yet again – unless it is as part of a “negotiated no deal”. He may say there’s nothing to fear from “no deal”. It’ll just be like the Nike tick – a short sharp shock before we soar to the sunlit uplands.

But the idea that he can negotiate a better deal is fantasy. The only exit deal on offer is the one May agreed. The EU won’t crack because we need it more than it needs us. The idea of a “negotiated” no deal is a unicorn. The EU will only agree to ease our exit from the club if we stick to the promises May made – including the notorious “backstop” designed to keep the Irish border open. And there’s a lot to fear from no deal.

Johnson is not stupid. He knows this. But he may get trapped by his own rhetoric with the result that we crash out anyway.

After all, if nothing changes by October 31, that’s exactly what will happen. And then what? In the ensuing chaos, the government (which doesn’t have a majority) would fall and Jeremy Corbyn would probably enter Downing Street – at least if he comes off the fence and backs a People’s Vote unambiguously. For Johnson, that would be an ignominious end to a premiership that was nasty, brutish and short.

So how can he avoid this fate? Well, one option would be to call a general election before the end of October in the hope of whipping Corbyn’s ass and gaining a majority which will be big enough to allow him to ride out the storm that will be unleashed if we crash out.

But this hope looks pretty forlorn. Sure, Johnson is a great campaigner. But the Tories are tearing themselves to pieces over Brexit and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is rising in the polls. Johnson and Farage could split the Brexit vote and allow Corbyn to seize the iron throne. Indeed, the latest analysis published in today’s Telegraph suggests that the Tories would get fewer MPs and Johnson himself would lose his seat.

He might be able to avoid this fate by cutting a deal with Farage so they didn’t compete in an election. Such a devilish pact might save his skin. But Farage would drive a hard bargain – and it might not even work. Sensible Tories would desert the party, splitting it irretrievably. And even if the ploy worked, we would still crash out of the EU with no deal, something that Johnson probably doesn’t want in his heart of hearts. Remember how shell-shocked he looked on the morning after the referendum?

But there is one more option: call a new referendum. The choice would presumably be between leaving the EU with no deal and staying in. Johnson would campaign to crash out. So would Farage. But there would be no need for an electoral pact between the Tories and the Brexit Party because there wouldn’t be an election.

Johnson might think he’d win such a referendum – and that, if he did, he would have the people’s blessing for crashing out. If he lost, he’d probably have to give up the iron throne. But, hey ho, it would take six months to organise and hold a referendum so his reign wouldn’t be miserably short.

What’s more, if he kicked the can, who knows what might happen? May managed to cling onto power for longer than most people expected by endlessly playing for time.

As Johnson contemplates his next moves, he might just decide that his least bad option is a People’s Vote. If he does, we have to beat him soundly. We have to gear up for that possibility now.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

15 Responses to “Boris likely to seize iron throne, but how can he keep it?”

  • I stopped reading this article when I came to the sentence: “Johnson is not stupid”. In a clinical sense, perhaps not. But politically?

  • Well, the Tories have a chance to elect a sensible leader. There are a few who actually appear to have an intellect and are prepared to use it in the interests of the country, rather than their own careers. But I doubt that it will happen. If Boris is elected, it will signal the end of the Tory party – at least for a generation. But overall, something else momentous is happening and that is the beginning of the end of days for the UK. Only revocation of article 50 will prevent this, and even then, the damage already inflicted will last for a decade or more. If there is no deal, Scotland will hold a referendum, with or without Westminster’s permission and, if necessary, will unilaterally tear up the Treaty of Union should they achieve a majority vote to leave. The next step will be application to join the EU in their own right – and I’m sure they will be welcomed with open arms, if only to piss off Westminster. Belfast will probably seek some sort of accord, if not actual union, with the Republic and as for Wales, when it dawns on them how much dosh they have lost by voting for Brexit, I imagine there may be a movement to leave the sinking English ship, possibly by seeking some sort of partnership with the Scots.

    Never mind about “May you live in interesting times”, these times are positively riveting. And, Oh, David Cameron, what have you done ??????

  • Hugo,

    Would you mind passing this message to Nr. 10 Downing Street?

    I wonder if Theresa May has thought about the following?

    She could call in the Cabinet and the 1922 Committee to a meeting and present them all with the following ultimatum:

    (One for each grouping)
    “I require the whole cabinet (or, the whole committe) to write and sign a declaration which will be made public and will state that I have unequivical support for my premiership until Brexit is finalised”.

    “Without this support I shall call a General election to be set in 4 weeks time”

    “I will prepare a statement to this effect ready for parliament on Monday, 28 May”

    This would certainly put the ‘cat amongst the pigeons’ and reign in all those who have “no confidence” in her!

    This should work. Otherwise a general election really would be ‘armageddon’ for the Tories.

    A case of better the devil you know!

  • A few weeks ago, the cross party group of MPs opposed to a “no deal” end, and presumably ranging from soft brexiteers to remainers, looked like they had wind in their sails.
    Are they up to something?

  • This is all going to get alot messier with the EU, and its all so pointless, because they are not going to re-negotiate the Withdrawal package. Johnson is not going to win any more support in Parliament. He would almost certainly get the backs up of a lot of moderate Tories as well.
    That’s not to say other contenders would be any better. In some ways Raab would be worse still, judging by his conduct as Brexit secretary, Leadsome would make May look quite left wing. As for Steve Baker as PM, you just have to laugh. I once tried to discuss Brexit whilst he was campaigning, but you just can’t talk to him.

    These people are not interested in the welfare of business and individuals seeking to travel and have dealings with Europe. Brexit for them is like a religous dogma that is worth any kind of sacrifice.

  • Hugo- why do you fall into the trap of tempering your piece by saying ‘Johnson is a great campaigner’? Really? Do you believe this? Telling lies and untruths in the referendum campaign deserves the accolade of ‘great’? I think not.

  • John Morrison is right, there are some good people still left in the Tory party. Amber Rudd, and what about Dominic Grieve? Grieve for PM I say, we need someone of principle

  • William, it’s the difference between two meanings of ‘great’. Is Johnson ‘great’, as in acting honestly in the best interests of the country as a whole? Only if it’s the single-person State of Boris. Is he ‘great’, as in good at effective rhetoric? Unfortunately yes.

  • I realise that Alex. But I don’t think we should keep drawing attention to this. Just don’t mention it. Don’t give him any credit for anything, not even through clenched teeth. Abhorrent product of the public school system. Complete anathema to me.

  • Listen, I think you’re all missing the bigger picture. There will be something more momentous happening here.

    On the proviso that Boris Johnson or another Brexiter is elected leader there is a handful of Conservatives who would not serve as a Tory MP under such leadership.

    Logically there will be several MP’s who will leave the party, as a consequence the Tories will be in a smaller minority than at present. Such a rump party cannot govern without compromise and coalition with other parties.

    Since the Tories cannot or will not work with others, the only logical scenario is for the opposition to muster together a no confidence vote and force a general election.

  • This will now be the second time in 3 years that the Tory party imposes an unelected PM on the country. This is simply unacceptable. Has the UK descended to the status of a banana monarchy that this is regarded as normal. We should be demanding a GE NOW! And brexiters dare lecture the rest of us on democracy!

  • I’m afraid Farage has done BJohnson’s work for him so far as getting plenty of people to buy into the idea that there’s nothing to fear from “no deal”.
    About May it can at least be said that insofar as she could remain loyal to her Party (highest priority), she sort of had the country’s interests at heart. Not so BJohnson or Raab. Gove and Hunt are less bad maybe, but the personal ambition of both may well exceed any ambition they might have for the UK and its citizens.
    With the 100K Tory members (many of whom were attracted to membership last summer by Banks who encouraged them to leave UKIP) settling who’s chosen, surely one of these 4 is going to be our next P.M. And one of them is indeed a great campaigner if being such can be measured by one’s powers of getting people to believe what one knows to be false.
    So far as a People’s Vote is concerned: Farage seems to have got plenty of people to believe that such would be a “betrayal”, and contrary to democracy (as May had already taught us to think). So BJohnson might have a bit of explaining to do to bring one on. But then I suppose he thinks he might win it, and would represent that he would.
    Anyway it’s nice that Hugo wants us not to give up hope.

  • The British people never asked to have a referendum on Europe, it was foisted upon them. So logically it is undemocratic and can be rescinded.

  • In the 50s and 60s the average joe had a certain amount of confidence in his government that, overall, they probably knew what they were about. It was, after all, the middle of the cold war and we had to have faith that they weren’t about to plunge us into Armageddon. Then we had the Profumo affair and it was a bit of a shock to realise that these people were actually human. Fast forward 50 years and we now know what absolute self-seeking, greedy, power-hungry toss-pots they all are. I’m sorry to use such language but they are no different from the average third world government and not only have they destroyed the public’s faith in their leaders, they’ve also done a pretty good job of destroying the country’s economy and social structure. We haven’t even left yet and large companies are going to the wall – it’s nonsense to suggest that Brexit has nothing to do with that. And we now have the right wing resurgent in the shape of Milkshake Farage and other would-be Nazis. What’s the alternative ? Corbyn ? Lord have mercy.