The Brexit charade continues to play out.
Increasingly shrill, even hysterical threats emanate from what we can only assume to be the new bunker built by Dominic Cummings’ dad under Number 10 Downing Street. The latest one, picked up and amplified by the Spectator no less, involves Cummings threatening EU member states with the Brexit equivalent of excommunication if they allow an extension beyond the Halloween deadline – but now we realise why this portentous date was chosen. In the coming days, expect promises of the dead rising from their graves, and the spirits of the damned being unleashed on Cummings’ enemies.
Does Cummings see himself as a Gandalf on his white charger riding to glory across the plains below Minas Tirith? quite possibly. I see him more as Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, playing with power he has no control over, causing a mess for others to clean up.
Whatever the state of Cummings’ delusions, it seems to me that Johnson is going through the motions of threatening a crash-out scary Halloween Brexit, while having no intention of actually doing it.
As yesterday’s Scottish court finding concluded, there was no need for the court to legally force Johnson to write the letter asking for the extension, as he had written to the court saying he would write that letter. Johnson might get his minions to lie to the Queen, and he may lie about giving favours to his friends, and he may well lie about just about everything else, but lying to a High Court would land him in very hot legal water. So it looks increasingly likely that Johnson will write the letter, and the EU will give a further extension, possibly with a caveat that it will only operate until there is an election or a second referendum.
What then could all this bluster, threats and invocations of the ghosts of Brexit past, present and future, mean? I think what Johnson and Cummings are doing is building the betrayal narrative. The betrayal narrative is a well worn tactic, where when something hasn’t worked out, it’s because of all the dark forces preventing it from happening. In this case it will be
b) remoaners conspiring with the EU
c) traitors in the High Court
d) remoaner civil servants in Whitehall
e) the EU; and
f) the Irish.
The Irish have traditionally played the role of scapegoat in British political pantomime and there’s no reason why they won’t be brought on this time, possibly in a surprise last minute starring role.
This is all preparing the ground for the next General Election, when Johnson can position himself as champion of the people (his hero is Pericles – another champion of the people) fighting against the Elites.
Johnson – Eton and Oxford educated, scion of several European Aristocratic & Royal houses – fighting against the elites……..
The narrative being built is that the elites, the establishment, the deep state and so on, are undermining Johnson – Champion of the People – in his quest for the Holy Grail. Sorry his quest for the one true Brexit. If only all these dark forces (and naughty French kniggets) weren’t conspiring to stop him, he would have found the Holy Brexit by now, and unleashed the golden light of freedom on the grateful people.
Ok I exaggerate for effect but the point remains the same. Which means that there is an election coming, and soon. Johnson will stick to his dream of a crash-out Brexit, or “Freedom Brexit” as I expect it will be rebranded. He has to do this even if he doesn’t believe it. Because if he moves away from the Hardest Possible Brexit, he will lose ground – to the Brexit Party.
Have you noticed how quiet Nigel Farage has been? He knows that Johnson is approaching the time of greatest risk, when, having been forced into requesting an extension beyond Halloween, he is vulnerable to being attacked as an apostate, a fallen believer. Farage’s Brexit Party will have to decide whether they want to accept the Betrayal Narrative and cosy up to the Tories (and risk political oblivion); or reject Johnson’s betrayal narrative as a false one – and urge the Electorate to accept that the Brexit Party’s Betrayal Narrative is the one true narrative.
One problem the Brexit Party has, it that it has no policies other than Get Brexit Done. And Johnson has stolen that from them.
Regular readers may recall that I am a long standing student of the environmental policies of UKIP and now the Brexit Party. Remember the heady days of Dr Earth, for example? Or Stuart Agnew and his problems with gases?
I’ve been trying to find a few clues as to what TBP’s electoral position might be, on things like the environment and agriculture. Needless to say it’s a very confused picture.
TBP MEP Rupert Lowe for example wants farm subsidies to continue after Brexit – including a pay off to compensate for the effects of a crash-out Brexit. But then he would as he owns a very large Cotswold estate and trousers over £50k a year in Euro farm subsidies – oops!
Housing developer and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice wants to see the UK grow much more of its own food – from the current 60% or so, up to 80%. Increasing self-sufficiency to 80% would have a devastating effect on the countryside – as it did the last time the UK approached this figure through the 1980s. Then again Labour has also proposed this target.
Climate denialism is rife within the Brexit Party – as one would expect with the UKIP origins. One suggestion for new National Parks on the Welsh border included a ban on wind farms and solar farms within them, though it’s not clear whether TBP would re-open all of those Welsh coal mines.
Farage is on record as denying the reality of human-induced climate change. But recently he did suggest that “if we’re worried about CO2” (he isn’t) then the answer – lots of tree planting. Farage on last week’s Any Questions, responding to a question about the State of Nature report, suggested that “too many pesticides and insecticides” (insecticides are pesticides but never mind) were used in farming and “we have a problem with habitats, especially wetlands” (Farage is a keen angler).
Bringing all of these clues together gives us a few pieces of the puzzle. It suggests that TBP will reinstate an agriculture policy which pays farmers to produce more food, but possibly using fewer pesticides and insecticides. And there will lots of tree planting as well – and lovely clean rivers for angling. Wind and Solar farms will be banned, because there is no problem with climate change or need for renewable energy.
It’s a mess of course, because it’s just Tice, Farage, Lowe etc shooting off remarks without any further thought.
Given that the environment is now one of top issues for the electorate, according to recent polls (yes of course if you believe them), this would seem to be a big tactical mistake. And it’s certainly noteworthy how the Tories are pushing environmental stories on a regular basis – notably on animal welfare, and international wildlife trade. Expect much more of this as the election approaches.