Boris Johnson is enduring Brexit chaos – but could that chaos be working in his favour?

Boris Johnson is enduring Brexit chaos – but could that chaos be working in his favour?

Boris Johnson has easily had the most turbulent first few weeks as Prime Minister in recent history, quickly losing his majority, being compelled by Parliament to potentially surrender to the European Union, and even (dubiously) found to “acted unlawfully” by a Scottish court. Since taking the helm in June, he has faced obstacle after obstacle from a Remain-dominated Parliament that knew he was serious about leaving the European Union on October 31st, with or without a deal.

Not only have his lawyers now had to defend his decision to advise the Queen to prorogue Parliament to the Supreme Court, he also faces the extremely difficult task of possibly having to circumvent the legislation introduced by Hillary Benn. His Bill, which has become law, compels the Prime Minister to seek an extension of Article 50 until 31st January 2020 if MPs have not approved a Withdrawal Agreement or No Deal by 19th October. The EU, however, will be able to propose their own alternative extension date. It could be three months; it could be a year and three months.

With no majority in Parliament, and insufficient MPs willing to vote for a general election before No Deal has been ruled out, the Prime Minister has been backed into a corner. Remainers believe there is now no way for him to avoid requesting another extension unless he is willing to break the law; but what if Boris Johnson was planning this all along?

When the Conservative Government advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, they allowed a period of two weeks before Octover 31st where Parliament would sit as normal. If Boris Johnson wanted to avoid interference with a no-deal Brexit altogether, he’d have pushed the prorogation to the limit, shutting down Parliament for even longer in order to guarantee our timely exit. Instead, he offered a brief buffer before October 31st, demonstrating his genuine and honest desire to push through a deal last-minute.

The Prime Minister must have known that in the days Parliament sat before prorogation – and within the two weeks following prorogation – Remain-focused MPs would do everything in their power to rush through legislation that would tie his hands. And they did exactly that. Within days, the Benn Bill – the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.6) Bill – was drawn up, ratified by both Houses and approved by the Queen. Along with this ‘Surrender Bill’, Remainers took to our television screens, gnashed their teeth and growled at the public over Johnson’s increasing support in the polls. They made it absolutely clear that this was now war, and that they would do everything in their power to hamper the Prime Minister’s ability to follow through on the instructions the electorate gave the government in 2016.

Could it be that he knew this would happen, and wanted Parliament to show its true colours one last time before attempting to initiate a snap general election?

Even in their rejection of an election, our Remain Parliament was shown up for its hypocrisy after labelling the prorogation of Parliament a “coup” – while denying the voters the opportunity to go to the polls. Some coup.

While the Prime Minister is in no enviable position, he appears to have played his cards right so far. Not only has he established himself as a solid Brexiteer and cut the Brexit Party’s support in half, but he’s also positioned all other political parties in Westminster as firmly on the side of Remain. No longer are the politicians talking about a moderate deal that might appease both sides. Labour, the SNP, and the Liberal Democrats are now explicitly in favour of Remain, and the Tories are the only major established force advocating for Brexit. Again, this bodes well for Boris Johnson if a snap election takes place soon.

Questions could also be asked as to why pro-Brexit Tories in the House of Lords didn’t filibuster the Benn Bill when they had the chance. It was widely expected that once the Bill reached the Lords, Tories who understood the Bill to be extremely damaging would do everything they could to delay it until prorogation. That would have blocked Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to stop No Deal for at least five more weeks, but it didn’t happen. Why?

At first glance, the passing of the Bill was a disaster for Boris Johnson, but I think the absence of any strong and concerted push back from allies in the Lords is suspect. Is this part of a larger game plan?

Even the loss of 21 of Tory MPs could be seen as advantageous, particularly if the Government believe they still have the opportunity of delivering Brexit by October and calling a general election. Without committing the obviously very serious offence of voting to give power to the Opposition, what real grounds would Boris Johnson have had to expel them from the parliamentary party and prepare to replace them with candidates more loyal to the cause in time for the next general election? Their decision to vote to surrender control of the Commons agenda and then to vote for this Bill was the best reason the Prime Minister could ever have had to get rid of troublemakers in his ranks while, as a bonus, another agitator in the form of Amber Rudd left of her own accord.

Boris Johnson was initially framing a pre-October 31st election as the choice between Brexit or no Brexit. It would have been the Tories versus the establishment, and it offered the promise of a thumping Conservative majority. Should this election be held after October 31st, Johnson will have proven his ability to lead and his dedication to taking on the swamp. Either way, it’s a win for him, presuming he’s capable of pulling off any kind of Brexit next month.

How does he do that? Well, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has already made it clear that the Government plans to test the limits of the law. Without question, Johnson will right now have people examining every word and comma of the Benn Act, looking for ways in which he can technically comply with the law but without stopping the possibility of No Deal at the end of October. Some even speculate an #OperationCheckmate could be on the cards, though nobody seems to know what that really entails – it simply shows the optimism and support thrown behind Boris Johnson’s clear commitment to delivering on the will of the people.

From an outside perspective, these are dangerous times for Boris Johnson, but who knows what’s going on inside the Government? The Prime Minister’s advisor Dominic Cummings is known for being provocative, but ultimately judicious and informed. He will be playing a huge part in the strategy, behind the scenes. Together with Nikki da Costa, No. 10’s Director of Legislative Affairs, a plan could well have been hatched and on its way to being implemented already. Friends say da Costa has a particular fascination with Parliament and believes in strengthening the executive’s power to “get business done”. If anyone was going to help Johnson get over this legislative hurdle, it would be these two.

Whether the law will be interpreted in different ways, or an entirely new scheme is being developed to circumvent the law, we are yet to see. And in the meantime, Boris Johnson tours the country making promises to forgotten parts of the population that could help bring back working-class voters to his Tory Party.

The bold move to snub a non-aggression pact with Nigel Farage was no doubt Cummings’ doing, and while some have suggested Johnson is shooting himself in the foot, the reality is that Farage has now been put in an impossibly difficult position by the Government: the ruthless Johnson-Cummings machine has left the leader of the Brexit Party with the option of standing candidates against the Tories and losing Brexit to the Remainers or standing down and letting Johnson take a shot at seats the Tories might otherwise never have thought of winning.

It’s entirely possible that this chaos is working in Johnson’s favour. Then again, many of us thought Theresa May had something up her sleeve each time she decided to bring back the Withdrawal Agreement for a meaningful vote. Let’s hope Boris Johnson isn’t making every move as extemporaneously as she was.