In which I revivify this blog to tell you why—appallingly, horrifyingly—Boris Johnson might be the best bet we have

Yes, I know. Boris. He’s the worst politician the UK has seen in a very long time. He’s a hideous stream of self-centred cat’s piss, without a single moral bone in his body. He’s despicable. He’s contemptible. But bear with me on this.

There is no way to force a general election before October. And even if there were a general election, there is no reason to believe that it would result in a more sensible government. It’s unthinkable that any party could form a majority at present, but whereas one can envisage the Tories forming a coalition with Farage’s ragbag of shits and racists, one cannot envisage Corbyn accepting a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, partly because we all know he’s a barely-covert Brexiter himself, and partly because he can’t even compromise within his own party. So the likelihood is there will be a Tory PM in October, when the extension runs out.

May’s deal is obviously dead in the water—it was obviously so six months ago, but hey, let’s offer MPs three chances to change their minds while steadfastly refusing to allow the public the same courtesy. Come October, then, there will be three possible Brexit events: no deal (and always bear in mind: this is the default if nothing else is done), no Brexit, or beg for another extension; these possibilities to be enacted under one of three potential Prime Ministers: still May with no elections, a new Tory PM (through internal election), or a Tory PM—whether May or another—following a general election.

I think it truly foolish to presume another extension. If it’s post-general election then we are lost, because the government will in all likelihood be a Tory government in hock to the Brexit party: the request will not be made. In the alternative scenarios, I think that if the request were made, it would not be granted. There were powerful voices against an extension last time, and their case will be bolstered. If there has been no leadership election and the PM is still May, the narrative within the EU27 will be: we gave her an extension, and she spent it trying to pass exactly the same deal that had failed three times already. Why should we let her try a fifth, sixth, seventh time? And if it’s a new PM following a leadership election, the narrative will be: we gave them an extension, and they spent it perpetuating their internal fights. So I strongly doubt a second extension will be granted. It only takes one to veto. The only circumstances under which I can see a further extension being granted is to give the UK the time to conduct a second referendum, because the level heads in the EU27 will see that this is, really, the only way to close this mess one way or another.

So I think that in October we will inevitably have a Tory PM having to make the final decision between no deal, another referendum, or no Brexit. And that’s why, if May is to be unseated, I think Boris might be the right man. But he’s a venal, dishonest, self-serving shite, I hear you cry. Yes. Yes he is. That is why he supported Brexit in the first place. But that is also why he, of all the potential replacements for May, is the only one who might take the actions that would lead to revocation of Article 50.

All the other potential leaders are True Believers. They will take the no deal option. But Boris is not; Boris is a Brexiter of Convenience. And Boris wants to be loved, and has laughably absurd Churchillian fantasies of Greatness. He is also not stupid, merely intellectually lazy. So when he sits (and yes, I shudder at the thought) at the head of the cabinet table, with the choice between no deal and no Brexit before him, is he going to go for the option that will make him hated within his party but cause a huge sigh of relief throughout the country, or will he go for the option that will make him fêted within his party, but then make him PM over the biggest economic downturn the country has ever seen, and the quite likely breakup of the United Kingdom? Either tine of this fork would be very unsavoury for the man who seeks, above all, public adulation. Would this lazy, venal man take this difficult decision? Or would he take the cop-out route of throwing it back to a second referendum which, whatever the outcome, would allow him plausible denial of responsibility for the consequences? It’s precisely because he’s a feckless opportunist, desperate to be adored, lazy as sin, and eager to remain immune to the consequences of his actions, that I think that this is what he would do. With any of the others, there is no chance of that.

The only surefire way of stopping Brexit now is a second referendum. The preferred option to gain this is May staying on: I think when her deal fails again (unless this as yet unveiled “bold offer” is genuinely something new, which seems unlikely given her view of negotiation seems to be “giving you another chance to agree with me”), she will quite likely enact a second referendum—her rhetoric around this is notably less emphatically opposed than it used to be. But if she goes, then Boris is the only alternative who would also implement this.

The thought of Boris getting what he’s wanted for so long is horrendous, but I can suck that up if it means the disaster of Brexit is ended. He won’t last long, anyway—his incompetence and laziness will see to that. But all the other possible leaders in October would reach, unhesitatingly, for the No Deal button; or have their hand forced over it by dependency upon a different, but equally hideous, shower of shites than those they are currently dependent upon.

That’s why, if there is to be a Tory leadership election, my vote is [retches, chokes] for Boris.

Image of Boris Johnson

The man of the hour?

 

The Great Repeal Bill will become the Great Self-Rewriting Bill

The so-called “Great Repeal Bill”—the proposed legislation to transfer all EU law to UK law, and then create mechanisms for it to be progressively amended—has been published and, as many have pointed out (and expected), it represents a stunning power grab in the powers it grants ministers. Section 9, in particular, is deeply disturbing; and to illustrate this I want to suggest a scenario which I do not think is particularly extreme or unlikely.

Clearly, this bill will not pass without substantial opposition scrutiny and amendments. I want you to imagine that the combined forces of the Remainer MPs and those who desire to leave the EU but realize that to do so in the manner we are currently pursuing is suicidal. I want you to imagine that they force an additional provision that requires the final Brexit deal to be put to a referendum—a binding one, this time. I want you to imagine the wholly foreseeable circumstance that another year of plummeting standards of living, increasing prices, and demonstrations of exactly how utterly unprepared even the most ardent Brexiters have been for the process (EURATOM, anyone?) means that, by the time of the expected referendum, public opinion has turned decisively against Brexit.

And then Brexit Minister David Davis decides to invoke section 9. Here are the crucial parts:

9   Implementing the withdrawal agreement

(1) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day.

(2) Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament (including modifying this Act).

Subsections 9(3) and 9(4) limit the powers: they prohibit the creation of a new criminal offence, changes in taxation, making of retrospective provisions, and changes to application of the Human Rights Act 1998; and they limit the application such that new provisions cannot be made after Brexit day.

Now, it doesn’t have to require a foaming-at-the-mouth reality-denying Brexiter such as Davis to realize that the binding referendum enacted by our additional hypothesized provision would halt Brexit. Davis then, surely, would have a responsibility to issue a new provision, repealing the requirement for a second referendum, or removing the binding nature of it. The bill explicitly allows itself to be modified by arbitrary regulations of a minister, as long as the minister (and only the minister) considers the modification “appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement.” Indeed, any braking, cautionary, or fail-safe provisions inserted to this bill as it progresses through the houses can, quite simply, be removed by the minister once the bill is passed as long as section 9 remains intact.

And it doesn’t stop there. Let us imagine that Theresa May is still Prime Minister (the most unlikely part of my scenario, I know), and has one of her regular hissy fits in which she threatens to tear up the Human Rights Act when it doesn’t let her do exactly as she wishes—in this instance because she foresees challenges to the withdrawal under it. Let us imagine that she realizes that she will never be able to pass a Finance Act implementing her proposed taxation changes to handle the economic disaster of withdrawal—massive reductions in corporation tax and bundling the consequent cost onto ordinary working people—and so decides to instruct the minister to repeal the Human Rights Act, and amend taxation accordingly. Well she can’t, can she? Subsections 9(3) and 9(4) prohibit this.

But they don’t prohibit the repeal of, um, subsections 9(3) and 9(4). And, once again, the bill explicitly allows itself to be amended.

Andrea Leadsom—she for whom “patriotism” is equivalent to “not questioning the government”—wants to criminalize speaking out against withdrawal? No problem: delete the corresponding restriction and then create the offence. Boris Johnson foresees public uprisings against this arbitrary use of power following withdrawal and wants to get out those unusable water cannon he squandered £320,000 on when Mayor of London? Again: no problem, as long as the removal of the sunset clause is done before Brexit. Cancel the Fixed Term Parliaments Act under the specious claim that the country needs a “stable period” following Brexit of one government lasting, let us say, 10 years? Easy as pie.

Anything the Brexit minister wants, as long as they “consider” it necessary for withdrawal, they can have. This is, quite simply, a recipe for arbitrary and unrestricted rule. Far from Brexit returning power to the people as its proponents banged on interminably about when they weren’t simply lying, it appears Brexit is, quite simply, to be enacted by fiat.

There is a word for this: autocracy.

Nice continent you’ve got here…

Not content with using the livelihoods of four million Europeans living in the UK as a bargaining chip, Theresa May appears to have upped the ante and decided to threaten withdrawal of security co-operation with the EU as a negotiating stance in her Article 50 letter. It brings to mind an image of an inept gangster, wandering through the EU, saying in loaded terms and a dodgy fake Italian accent: “Nice-a continent you got-a here. Would-a be a shame if anything were to happen to it…” [“Accidentally” pushes Luxembourg off a cliff.]

Just as with her refusal to guarantee the position of EU citizens in the UK, Theresa May was attempting the posture that she is negotiating from a position of strength. The threat has also spectacularly backfired: partly because, of course, we are not negotiating from a position of strength at all: the EU will offer us terms and we will accept them or face the economic suicide of trading solely under WTO rules; and partly because it is a staggeringly callous threat to make: to endanger not just the livelihoods but the actual lives of the entire EU—and of course her own citizens, as a withdrawal of co-operation would be mutually imperilling.

For the record, here is the relevant passage of the Article 50 letter:

The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.

If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.

David Davis has been rolled out to claim that this was not a threat, but the Sun certainly thought it was, triumphantly declaring YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES—the Sun, it would appear, approves of threatening the lives of Europeans, though imagine the raging indignation they would have manufactured should the threat have been the other way round.

Here’s the thing though. That certainly looks like trade-with-menaces. It certainly sounds like Donna May is accidentally-not-accidentally nudging Luxembourg towards that cliff-edge. If that wasn’t the intention—and given the nine months that the government has had to draft the letter—then one despairs at the skill of our negotiators, carelessly making assertions that read, for all the world, like a direct threat. If a simple six-page letter can contain such a thoughtlessly worded passage, what hope for the detail of the negotiations? And what hope for the many, many further negotiations that Great Global Britain will have to make?