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Are Things About to Get Gawkward for Boris?

Are Things About to Get Gawkward for Boris?

Boris Johnson at Chatham House

Bojo’s already written the script. At the lectern outside Number Ten, in less than three weeks’ time, he’ll promise to make Britain great again by getting us out of the EU by Halloween. Do or die. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, a clutch of cabinet ministers, including Justice Secretary David Gauke, plan to prevent him.

Though Kaiser Wilhelm 2nd was a bit huffy and puffy, he didn’t really mean to blow everyone’s house down, including his own.

But the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo set uncontrollable wheels in motion.

The world went to war, by accident.

Less hideously, but nonetheless historically significantly, Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal on October 31st every bit as carelessly.

David Cameron pledged a referendum a few years back to buy off the UKIP vote, even though he didn’t think he’d have to deliver on it and most people didn’t give two hoots about Europe anyway.

His outright victory in the 2015 general election was a surprise. To him as well as everyone else. And without coalition partners to hold him back, he had no excuse not to keep his promise.

Still, his thinking went, the Brits are sensible, level-headed people. No way they’re going to throw the European toys out of the pram when they’ve been playing with them for half a century.

Another little surprise. And the upshot? Arrivederci Dave. No conspiracy there, just one almighty cock-up.

Mrs May then spent three years painstakingly negotiating with the EU, but threw the towel in when parliament threw her deal out. Ta-ra Theresa then.

So now the Conservative Party’s 160,000 members are deciding on behalf of around fifty million UK voters the nation’s place in the world for the foreseeable future.

Democracy? Discuss.

Certainly, much of this tallies with the take of the former head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, who says the UK’s having a ‘political nervous breakdown’.

And, though just under four per cent more people voted to leave the EU than stay in it, we’ll never know what proportion of that sliver of a majority wanted to crash out with no deal, with all the threats that poses.

Polls suggest the general public would prefer the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to take over. Though he’s hardened his Brexit line in recent days, he’s still more softly-softly than Boris Johnson.

But the general public can go swivel. The latest Times/YouGov poll says nearly three-quarters of the people who’ll actually choose our new Prime Minister say go Bojo. Because they love him.

On Friday, alongside the postal ballot papers plopping through the letterboxes of Conservative party members, was their daily newspaper.

For many, probably most of them, that would have been the Daily Telegraph, also known as the Torygraph. And, alongside a pic of bubbly Boris, was the headline, ‘This is the Greatest Place on earth’.

In an interview, he promised Britain a ‘great deal .. by having self belief .. and not being so negative’.

Job done then.

So what the secret service is alleged to have thought him such a loose cannon they kept stuff back from him when he was Foreign Secretary. So what, also reportedly, there was something slightly dodgy about the funding for his leadership campaign?

Not as if he’s killed anyone. Though the husband of a British aid worker festering in an Iranian jail blames her plight squarely on his loose and inaccurate talk about what she was doing in the country.

And the sex? And the drugs? A detail. He’ll set the country rockin’ and rollin’, and that’s all that matters.

Ok, Bojo’s got the job then. But that’s where his problems start.

The European Union has said again and again Theresa May’s deal is non-negotiable. Boris Johnson says if that’s the way they want it he’ll walk. But parliament says hang on a moment.

There’s a clear majority of MP’s who say no dice to no deal. And the forces are already mustering. It’s said up to thirty Tory MP’s are ready to stand up and be counted.

David Gauke has been something of a ringleader, but the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, may take charge. He’s already been holding up his hands in horror at all the spending pledges both leadership contenders have been making.

So far they’ve promised between them everything short of free beer for all the workers. And who knows what next? Free cocaine for all the journalists? Groove on, guys, in Brave New Brexitland anything goes!

Seriously, though, Hammond’s reaction to what’s been going on is evidence of the disintegration of our government.

It’s also a guarantee that Bojo will consign him to the back benches at the earliest possible moment. Him and all those other currently senior figures who’re more or less openly plotting against him.

Point of fact, just five Tory rebels would be enough to bring down the government in a no-confidence motion designed to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Only one, the veteran former Chancellor Ken Clarke, has explicitly said he’s up for it. But four more face getting chucked out by their local parties because of their pro-EU views. Meaning they’ve nothing to lose anyway.

Besides, it’s not as if an autumn general election is a guaranteed gateway to a Corbyn government. Another Times/YouGov survey last week put Labour in fourth place. At eighteen per cent, it was the party’s lowest score since polling began.

Against that, in eleven other polls last month, the Conservatives led in one and Labour in four. Tends to suggest the punters have gone as bonkers as the politicos.

And it’s worth noting in passing there’s been a big jump in threatening letters MP’s have been getting in the last couple of years, amid fears they’re being targeted due to their beliefs on Brexit.

Still, at least there’s one mabsoot left standing. Wonderful expression, that. Jewish slang for happy person. Describes Bojo to a tee right now.

But what if he really does get defenestrated on day two of his premiership?

Mabsoots you, sir? Don’t think so …


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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