He’s having a lovely time. Our new Prime Minister is having a really lovely time. Asked, in an interview in today’s Sunday Times whether he’s having “more fun” as Prime Minister than as Mayor of London, Boris Johnson paused. “Um, honestly? Yes,” he says. “I would be totally misleading you if I said I wasn’t. I hugely enjoy the job, of course I do.”
Well, isn’t that nice? Isn’t it great that the man who’s playing a giant game of chicken with our country’s future is having such a wonderful time? Even better, it seems, than turning wine boxes into buses, and having lovers’ tiffs that lead to visits from the police.
Boris Johnson has this week triggered what the (Brexit-supporting) Sunday Times calls “the deepest constitutional crisis” the country has faced for a century by announcing that he will suspend Parliament for five weeks. Some of Britain’s most highly respected historians are seeing parallels with the Weimar Republic. (Simon Schama, for example, and Richard J Evans, in this piece in Prospect.) Senior doctors have warned the NHS to brace itself for the “biggest threat it has ever faced”. Drugs for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and epilepsy are, according to the Government’s most recent research, at particular risk.
That research, by the way, is going to be released to the public, but not exactly in the form that was leaked by the Sunday Times last week. That report, called Operation Yellowhammer, was dated early August, which the Government said was “old”. It said that if the UK left the EU without a deal, it would face fuel and food shortages, chaos at ports and a hard border with Ireland. (Yes, I know the Government keeps insisting it won’t put a border there, but it also insisted that the chances of leaving without a deal were “a million to one” and it has certainly stopped pretending to believe that.)
Isn’t it great that the man who’s playing a giant game of chicken with our country’s future is having such a wonderful time?
The new, improved report, which Michael Gove is planning to release under pressure from the opposition, will be much nicer. All the scary bits are going to be toned down. It will, apparently, be “soft soap”. Practically a bubble bath. “Me time”, with a nice glass of chardonnay and some Classic FM. All very soothing, but perhaps not quite as soothing if, say, you have a lump in your breast and can’t have cancer scan because isotopes can’t be stockpiled.
Project Fear? Well, not according to the Government’s own assessments, or to Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist who was asked to help with the traffic-light system that will be introduced for a no-deal scenario, and not according to the president of the Royal College of Physicians, who has said: “We’re not being honest as a country with the public about the potential risks of a no-deal Brexit when it comes to medicines”. But then these are just experts, not true believers. Oh ye of little faith.
It is, no doubt, all a “candyfloss of confection”, which is what the new Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg called the response to his boss’s decision to suspend Parliament this week. The international press didn’t share his view. Belgium’s La Libre called it a “dangerous coup de force”. Germany’s Deutsche Welle’s English version ran a headline “Boris the dictator” above an editorial saying “What Johnson is doing … is befitting a military dictatorship”. France’s Le Monde has described Boris Johnson as a “cynical and brutal” populist.
What larks, eh? What jolly japes! And now that our Prime Minister has had a taste of smashing up the constitutional conventions, he has found a whole new box of toys. The official view, parroted all over the media, is that his desire to prorogue Parliament has nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit, but with a sudden, urgent need to get on with a “legislative programme” that would pour billions into education, police and the NHS. (The analysis shows that most of the funds will go into Tory and marginal constituencies. What an incredible coincidence!)
And now that our Prime Minister has had a taste of smashing up the constitutional conventions, he has found a whole new box of toys.
When the defence minister Ben Wallace was overheard telling a French counterpart that Boris Johnson had decided to suspend Parliament because “we’ve suddenly found ourselves with no majority” to stop the anti no-dealers, No 10 said he had “misspoken”. Which, in a surreal new twist, seems to be the new word for telling the truth.
In Boris’s new box of tricks, there’s the option to pack the House of Lords with hundreds of peers to defeat any rebel bill produced next week; ask the Queen not to give royal assent if it passes; call a general election; deselect Tory MPs who try to bring the Government down and even, breathtakingly, decide to veto any request to the EU for an extension, on the grounds that the UK is still one of the 28. You honestly couldn’t make it up and Johnson hasn’t ruled any of them out. On an interview on Sky News this morning, Michael Gove strongly implied that the Government might just ignore any law passed by Parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit. He also said that “everyone will have the food they need”. But not the food they want. Bring on the dried egg and spam!
MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit are planning to work together to introduce legislation to stop it this week. They seem to have the numbers, but they may not have the time. And if they find both, it might not make much difference. If the British government actually chooses to ignore Parliament, we’re in weird, new territory. The kind you find in Somalia or South Sudan.
Perhaps our Prime Minister is serious about wanting a deal. Perhaps he genuinely thinks the EU will rustle up a magical, mystery alternative to a backstop at its next meeting in October, one that MPs will greet with tears of gratitude as they wave it through. Perhaps he thinks that Merkel will give in, and so will Macron, and so will the ERG, and so will Tory rebels because he’s – well, because he’s Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, born to conquer and born to rule.
Today the New Statesman’s political team, which was one of the few to make the right call on the referendum, puts the chance of no deal at 64%. Not great for those of us who have, or have had, life-threatening illnesses, but at least the man who has always wanted to be “king of the world” is having the time of his life.