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Boris Johnson isn’t the Incredible Hulk

by Nick Kent | 15.09.2019

Boris Johnson compares himself to the Incredible Hulk in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. But he doesn’t have miraculous powers. We won’t leave the EU on October – even if he gets a deal with the EU.

The Prime Minister claims “real signs of movement” in Berlin, Paris and Dublin over ditching the “backstop” designed to keep the Irish border open. After more than three years of chaos and confusion, this sounds too good to be true. The UK faces a litany of obstacles to get a deal with the EU.

It’s not just that Johnson wants to get rid of the backstop. His negotiator, David Frost, has told the EU that the government also wants to ditch the “level playing field” commitments Theresa May made not to undercut EU rules on workers’ rights and the environment. The French are particularly wary of British attempts to undercut the single market by turning the UK into a Singapore-style low tax, low regulation economy.

What’s more, the Prime Minister is already desperately short of time. And he is making things worse by hanging back from tabling detailed proposals until after the Tory conference at the beginning of October for fear that even more extreme Brexiters in the party will criticise any whiff of compromise.

Still Johnson pretends he’s superhuman. “Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be – and that is the case for this country. We will come out on October 31 and we will get it done.” 

So let’s suppose for a moment he does reach an agreement at the European Council on October 17. The snag is it usually takes months to agree the legal text of a treaty. Crucially, without that text government lawyers can’t write the Bill necessary to incorporate it into our law.  

Parliament then normally takes several weeks to pass the Bill. Talk of all-night sittings and weekend working is all bluff and bluster. The Prime Minister has no majority in either House of Parliament and can’t set the timetable for the Bill’s passage. And, as Brexiters always forget, the European Parliament has got to agree to any deal too. 

Finally, there is the question of having enough votes in the Commons for a Bill to pass. Johnson might persuade some members of the ERG to back him. But if he agrees to modify the backstop so it only applies to Northern Ireland – with the result that there are then customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – he may lose the support of Conservatives who care about keeping the UK together. The DUP would also have to go back on all its promises and talk of 30-50 Labour MPs voting for the deal has been heard before but never materialised. 

Even if the Prime Minister gets a deal, he’ll need to ask the EU for extra time. So either he is planning to ask for a delay while furiously claiming he isn’t – or his talk of a deal is just a smokescreen for leaving without one.  

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Edited by Max Waller

5 Responses to “Boris Johnson isn’t the Incredible Hulk”

  • Some will be using him to get what they want, as with Trump, others are wilfully blind to his obvious defects, yet others are sufficiently uncritical in their judgement but most of all, he’s promising to get Brexit done so they don’t have to think and worry about it all the time. They all have a nasty surprise coming, I believe.

    Fitting, and psychologically significant, that he styles himself as a fantasy figure, though the readership of the Daily Mail is unlikely by and large to appreciate this. Not generally known for its capacity for critical thinking.

  • He and his ministers treat the public as halfwits.
    Pretending closing down Parliament is nothing to do with Brexit;
    Pretending he’s close to concluding a Deal with the EU when all the evidence points to the opposite.
    Now he resorts to childish imagery in the hope it might substitute for telling us what his alternatives to the backstop are.
    His plan is just to humour everyone along, until its too late to stop a No Deal.
    It’s actually an insult to the intelligence of the British public.

  • The reason why Johnson wants the right to have the option of No Deal is only in part to put pressure on the EU. There would come a point around the 17th of October when negotiation with the EU will have finished, as far as he is concerned. At that point the threat of No Deal then would be a useful lever against Parliament itself for them to either have to accept whatever crappy deal he manages to get or crash out without a Deal. Since the majority is for Remain, the possibility would be there that the threat of No Deal could to be used in just this way. If he was true to what he said at the sacking of the 21 Conservative MPs, he would find himself having to sack members of the ERG who would be unlikely to support him. In short, there are good reasons why neither camp should trust him.