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And Then There was One… Brecon By-Election Hits Boris’ Majority

And Then There was One… Brecon By-Election Hits Boris’ Majority

Four women stand protesting with placardes sating 'No Deal? No Problem!

Our new Prime Minister’s been enjoying an awesome foursome. He’s also set up his very own no-deal war cabinet. And been gearing up to turbocharge the economy, to make sure it’ll all be all right on the night. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, both parliament and public may have other ideas.

If Boris Johnson’s four-nation tour of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England was his idea of a steamy night out he’d have been better off with a good book and a nice cup of Horlicks.

North of the border he was booed and told off all by the key political players. Similar story when he headed west to Wales. And even when he crossed the Irish sea the folk propping up his government were keeping a wary eye.

It’s only thanks to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists that he has a working majority at all in parliament. Which, following the Lib-Dem victory at last week’s Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, was reduced to just one.

Skating on thin ice? And the rest. Because, if Bojo were to even hint at allowing Ulster to be treated any differently from anywhere else in the United Kingdom, his allies in The Province would sink him on the spot.

The sticking point is where it’s always been.

Unless and until a tariff-free trade deal is worked out between Britain and the European Union they are insisting on an insurance policy to prevent potentially provocative checkpoints being set up between the north and south of Ireland. The
so-called backstop.

Boris Johnson says that idea is dead. Brussels says without it there can be no deal. Between that rock and hard place a chaotic departure on October 31 st looms ever desperately closer.

Which is why the government’s already borrowed six billion pounds, and is now talking of another two-point-one billion. To be splashed out, in theory, on things like the biggest public information campaign since the second world war and a
massive recruitment drive in the Border Force.

That second idea shows how bonkers it all is. It’s simply not possible to take on thousands of extra specialist staff in the timeframe available. Or to put into practice most of the other wheezes designed to cushion the blow of crashing out of Europe with no arrangements in place.

Little wonder there’s widespread alarm in Whitehall within the ranks of those tasked with running the machinery of government.

A worst-case scenario put together by the civil service before even Theresa May bowed out paints a frightening picture.

Within the first fortnight, the document predicts ‘potential consumer panic and food shortages’, and an increased risk of serious organised crime including people smuggling.

And within the first month, the civil servants forecast ‘potential law and order challenges’ in Northern Ireland, UK residents in the EU having to return to Britain, ‘unsustainable’ pressure on the police and a potential 25% drop in the value of the pound.

And, even assuming we do somehow reach an accommodation with Brussels and everything goes tickety-boo, the Bank of England governor reckons there’s still a one in three chance of a recession next year.

While a no-deal Brexit will, he says, trigger falls in economic output, a rise in inflation and a drop in the pound that could leave sterling at record lows. Actually – bad news for holidaymakers heading abroad – it’s already slumped, as the money markets have taken the hint.

Speaking truth to power, Boris? Yikes!

Downing Street sources insist the officials’ forecasts were never signed off by ministers. So aren’t government policy. Which is, by the way, to get a deal with Brussels, if at all possible.

Well, jolly good show. It’d also be wonderful if we could have lovely warm sunshine every day of the year and it only rained at night time when we’re all tucked up in bed. With or without the friends of our choice. Nudge nudge, nod and a wink, Bozzie Bear.

Of course all this megaphone diplomacy emanating from Downing Street may be part of a cunning plan.

Some suspect Bojo hopes to sneak the no-deal through by October 31st then call a snap general election, scoop up the entire Brexit party vote and win a handsome Tory majority this autumn.

Given the dire state of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, that is a runner.

And if it came about, the theory goes, Johnson could then tell the Democratic Unionists to buzz off, or dashed well sling their hooks or whatever, and reach a speedy settlement with Brussels which in some way or other does away with the need for border checks in Ireland.

Then again, the government’s gung-ho approach could collide with reality as soon as September 3 rd, when MP’s get back from their hols.

They’re overwhelmingly opposed to a no-deal, and there’s a significant slice of embittered former top Tories now outside the tent pissing in, to quote a former US President.

Not saying they will, but they could at any moment huff and puff and blow Bojo’s house down. Possibly even before Halloween.

Our new Prime Minister is a bookish sort of fellow, doubtless familiar with Voltaire’s seminal quote that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’.

Indeed, in his tousle-headed cheeky chappie way, he sort of lives it. The question is, though, in our polarised Brexit era, which world is the real one?

Tricky one, that.

As the old Beach Boys song goes: ‘God only knows .. what I’d be without you’. A line pounding away, ever more insistently these days, on both sides of the channel.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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