Brexit: is a snap election part of Boris Johnson’s strategy? | FT

Boris Johnson says he doesn’t
want a general election, and he does want a deal with
the European Union on Brexit. Can both be true? Here with me to discuss
this is Sebastian Payne, our political reporter. So I think Boris
Johnson doesn’t want to be seen to be having
a general election although, in fact, he knows
it’s quite inevitable. Ever since he went into
Downing Street just a month ago he had a working
majority of one to three. And when you’ve got
numbers that small there’s no way that you
can really do anything. And there’s so many splits
within the Conservative party, from BrexiterS, who actively
want no deal, to Remainers on the other side, who
really want something like Theresa May’s deal, or
potentially, an even softer Brexit. So although Mr Johnson
came out this week and said no, I don’t
want an election, by Wednesday or
Thursday he may well have publicly changed his mind. So let’s just unpack this. Boris Johnson says
that he’s committed to leaving the European
Union by October 31st. Is there any possibility
of a general election before that date? Or is the likelihood that
it will come afterwards? Well, this is what senior
people in the government are saying, that if parliament
votes to take control of the Brexit
process, as they did under Theresa May, when they
forced her to delay departure twice. And taking control
means another delay. Exactly. It would be saying
to Mr Johnson, we’re going to force
you to go back to the EU and ask for yet
another extension. Senior people in the
government say if that happens, Mr Johnson will slap
down a resolution to dissolve parliament and
have an election on October the 14th. That’s in about
five weeks’ time. So in theory that would happen
all before the next EU Council and before Brexit’s happened. But there are people who
don’t trust Mr Johnson, because he could say
that to parliament… I wonder why. There may be some record
that people don’t entirely say that he does
what he promises to. But Mr Johnson has to hop
on a plane up to Balmoral and ask the Queen to
dissolve parliament. He could potentially
change that date till after Brexit and people
around the prime minister have said our ideal
date for an election would be the days after
Brexit, early November. But the fact is, he’s
insisting, and senior people in the government are saying
it would be October the 14th. So yes, an election
before Brexit. And that election would be
a rerun of the referendum. Now let’s come to a benign
scenario, whereby Mr Johnson, out of a magic hat, reaches a
deal with the European Union on Brexit leaving
terms at the summit, which I believe is on… The 17th. The 17th. Then he would be in a very
strong position, wouldn’t he? Well then he’d have to
run at breakneck speed to get that deal through
parliament, because he’s made it his raison
d’etre that we will leave on the 31st of October. Even if there’s a deal he
will not countenance a delay. So if, somehow, the Irish
border backstop disappears and these alternative
solutions emerge, parliament would have
to sit morning, noon, and night, weekend, to get
that deal through in time. But isn’t this semantics? I mean, if he gets a deal at the
European summit which actually assure an agreement between
the European Union, he can say, look. It’s signed, sealed. It’s just not quite delivered. Well, that deal as
well, let us forget, will be Theresa May’s
deal, with some tweaks. It’ll smell, sound, and feel
like the deal that was voted through three times before. Because we know,
from the EU, it’s not going to fundamentally change. But what Mr Johnson wants is
some tweaks here and there, to make it sound and
look like a new deal. Yes, he can say it’s all done. But a lot of people in
parliament, and particularly the Conservative party,
won’t be convinced. Now, I’m going to put you
on the spot here, Sebastian. A general election, what chances
are there of Boris Johnson winning a majority? Or are we likely
to see a deadlock, as we have at the moment? A deadlock is very likely. If you look at the opinion
polls and election experts they essentially say that we
get a result not too dissimilar to what we’ve got now. Because the Conservatives
would lose a lot of their seats in Scotland, to the
Scottish National party. They’d lose a lot of their seats
in the more Remainier parts of the country. The Liberal Democrats
would pick up those metropolitan
liberal seats that were won under David Cameron. But then, on the flip
side, they would pick up some Brexit supporting seats
in the north and the Midlands. So the Conservatives may end up
quite like where they are now. But the key factor
is Nigel Farage, the man who scares the Tories
more than anything else. Because if he runs, and runs
on a very hard Brexit platform, saying that it’s no-deal,
that’s all that matters. And he will take away
the Conservative vote, and potentially let in
even more Liberal Democrats in the south-west, say, and even
more Labour seats in the north and what have you. So really, I think
it’s very hard to see how the Conservatives
are going to get through this. But the campaigns
are very volatile. We remember 2017
when Theresa May went in with a
commanding position, and came out having
lost everything. So an election is really
going to depend on what happens to
the Brexit party, and what Brexit message
Boris Johnson runs on. And finally, what happens to
Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, particularly after our
three part series this week on the Corbyn revolution, which
sets out vast spending plans and a wholesale reversal
of the Thatcher revolution. Thank you, Sebastian.

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