People keep asking me why I haven’t been writing about Brexit recently. This makes a change: they usually ask me why I keep banging on about it. The answer is quite simple: I have no idea how it is going to end and I see no point in speculating when so many known and unknown factors could come into play between now and Halloween.
It seems to me that Boris Johnson has set out his stall and he may, or he may not, deliver. The odds are stacked against him. He has no clear majority in Parliament; his own party is divided; Europe says it won’t budge on the Irish backstop; and some powerful forces are determined to find any means to stop the country leaving without a deal.
Johnson has three strong factors in his favour. Leaving on October 31 without a deal is the default position in law; the Labour Party appears to be committing suicide in public; and he is not Theresa May, which tells Europe that he is neither weak nor bluffing.
Meanwhile, some laughable scenarios are being projected: that a government of national unity might be established if Johnson loses a vote of no confidence – consisting apparently of Remainers and possibly led by that arch-Remainer Kenneth Clarke, now 79. It is hard to see how such a group could unite the country when more than half of the public vote was in favour of leaving Europe.
Another fantastic future is proposed by Jeremy Corbyn: that he should become caretaker Prime Minister in the event of the Conservative government falling. I could see Corbyn as caretaker of a school perhaps, but hardly as caretaker PM, or as PM at all come to that. The hints that he would then propose a second referendum would split his own party even more than it is split already.
The obstructive roles being played by that egregious pair, Philip Hammond and John Bercow, are quite disgraceful. It is one thing for a backbench MP like Dominick Grieve to oppose his own government’s policy: it is quite another for a Chancellor to undermine it within the Cabinet.
Hammond sabotaged May’s negotiations with Europe by letting it be known that he thought no deal wouldn’t happen – and did his best as Chancellor to ensure that money was not made available for no deal preparations – and also said Europe should be paid the 39 billion Euros being held out as a negotiating counter whether there was a deal or not. Yet he had supported the Tory manifesto of 2017 saying that Britain would leave Europe and voted for Article 50 to bring it about.
May should have sacked him and Johnson should deprive him of the party whip. His constituency party is right to be moving against him.
The same fate should surely befall Guto Bebb, a Conservative MP and former defence minister, who said this week that a Corbyn government would be preferable to no deal. Prolonged exposure to Brexit appears to have made some MPs go slightly mad.
John Bercow is now beyond a joke. He long ago gave up any pretence of being objective on Brexit, thereby diminishing the historical requirement of a Speaker to be politically impartial, yet he insists that it is he who is upholding Parliamentary democracy.
His vow, made at the Edinburgh Festival, to “fight with every bone in my body” to stop Johnson proroguing Parliament to pursue a no deal Brexit is just the defiant rhetoric of a man who, as Disraeli said of Gladstone, is “inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity.”
Only the Queen can end a Parliament and she can only do that on the recommendation of her government. Johnson would still be Prime Minister for 14 days after losing a no confidence vote and would therefore have the power, in those circumstances, to prorogue Parliament if he chose to.
Surveying all the nonsensical posturing over Brexit, I am inclined to agree with the verdict of my late friend Auberon Waugh: “Anyone in England who puts himself forward to a position of political power is almost bound to be socially or emotionally insecure, or criminally motivated, or mad.”