Richard North, 06/09/2019  

After three days of frustrating bafflement since the resumption of parliament after the summer break, there may now be enough clues to give an insight into the current intentions of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson regarding Brexit.

Initially, it was my supposition that very early on, he would seek to engineer a vote of no confidence in the expectation that the combined opposition parties would be unable to produce an alternative government, leaving him to choose a general election of his own timing.

With parliament safely dissolved, that would leave him to run down the clock to a no-deal Brexit – thereby neutralising Farage's single issue party - whence he could go to the country with a "leave" majority behind him and win a working majority against a fractured opposition. The polling date would be set for after Brexit but soon enough to avoid the adverse effects from walking out without a deal.

Unfortunately for the prime minister in office, the key players have seen through this ploy. The MP collective has ganged up on him to limit his ability to run down the clock, while Corbyn has denied him a general election, leaving him trapped in the Downing Street bunker with no forces at this disposal.

The only thing left for him is now to concede what amounts to a restraining order in return for a pre-Brexit general election on 15 October, which he will seek on Monday. His hope is that, despite the less favourable conditions, he will be able to win a no-deal mandate with enough time to repeal his current constraints.

The opposition parties, having apparently taken no-deal off the table, can hardly deny him his election without looking weak. They will probably believe that the "humiliation" of his current position will reduce Johnson's electoral appeal, giving Corbyn a free run at the premiership, despite the fragmentation of the opposition message.

Absolutely crucial here will be the role of Farage. If he sticks by his promise not to contest Johnson's candidates, and puts up a robust fight against Northern Labour seats, he can pull away enough Labour votes in key marginals to open the way for the Lib-Dems, thus depriving Corbyn of his winning margin.

And although a no-deal is an anathema to the chattering classes and the metropolitan élites, the average voter is sick to the back teeth of Brexit and just wants to see it over. Johnson's message of preferring to die in a ditch rather than prolong the agony will have considerable appeal to the rank and file. The strength of his position is not to be under-estimated.

Thus, we are looking at a strong possibility of a no-deal general election. On the one side will be Johnson with his band of anti-EU Brexit warriors, offering the pure and beguilingly simple "get out now" message. On the other, we will have a mixed bag of competing opposition parties.

Some, like the Lib-Dems, will stand on an outright "revoke" platform. Labour may plump for the second referendum, but will almost certainly blur their message in an attempt to keep their Northern voters on-side.

That may be enough to give Johnson the game, even though he may lack a clear majority of the electorate. Like the man running from the bear, he doesn't have to beat the bear. He just has to run faster than the man next to him.

The one thing that could scupper his game is the opposition parties exercising a self-denying ordinance, and refusing to take the election bait on Monday – when Rees-Mogg has confirmed a vote will be held. And this is a distinct possibility if the Telegraph is to be believed.

Interestingly, if Johnson's administration doesn't get its vote before parliament closes down next week, it will be caught by its own prorogation and will be unable to mount an election before the October European Council.

In theory, Johnson would then be bound by the "restraining order" and be forced into a fate worse than dying in a ditch – extending the Art 50 period to the end of January, assuming the Council will give him the extension.

That would put him in a very different electoral position, having to fight a November election – psychologically the worst time of the year to have a contest – with all the uncertainty of the delay and having breached his "do or die" promise. Not a few voters will be expecting him to take the corpse option.

Alternatively, Johnson's team may be looking for a way of circumventing his restraining order, looking at legal advice that will tell him that the bill requiring him to extend Art 50 will need Queen's consent – which he will obviously withhold. And then there is the idea of the government launching its own vote of no confidence.

Chasing after either of these ideas may prove to be a forlorn hope but recent experience warns of caution. It ain't over until it's over, and you can never judge what a trapped feral animal will do, especially if you have it penned in a ditch.

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