UK Politics

Commentators consider Boris Johnson's next steps

Boris Johnson Image copyright Wiktor Szymanowicz/Getty Images

After suffering a string of parliamentary defeats over Brexit this week, Boris Johnson's strategy for leaving the EU on 31 October looks to be in trouble.

A bill designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit, which would require Mr Johnson to ask for an extension to the UK's departure date, is expected to pass into law on Monday.

Here is a round up of what the commentators say about the prime minister's position and his possible next moves.

'Be cool like Fonzies'

Katy Balls, deputy political editor of the Spectator, tweeted that Dominic Cummings, the senior adviser to the prime minister, told a meeting of government aides that they needed to be "cool like Fonzies" as No 10 plots its next move.

The directive is part of a strategy to "wait for others to melt" while the government increases the pressure.

But Rachel Sylvester, a political columnist for The Times, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that cabinet ministers "certainly aren't cool like Fonzies".

"I spoke to one last night who said they've completely miscalculated on Labour's attitude to a election and there's a real fear that there is no plan B.

"It is very hard to see how Boris Johnson gets out of this mess, he seems to have checkmated himself... and it's very difficult to see where he goes without humiliating himself or losing power."

Hidden Trick

Sebastian Payne, Whitehall correspondent for the Financial Times, questioned whether No 10 had a hidden trick up its sleeve.

He told Today: "They could for example, bring a no confidence motion in Mr Johnson himself.

"It would look weird for the Tories to say they have no confidence in their own government, but all it would need would be a straight majority, and if they win that, then we could start the train towards an election."

He added that No 10 had made a "strategic miscalculation" in assuming Labour would "cave in" to Tory calls for an election - and that it was Corbyn's party who were acting "cool like Fonzies".

"Dominic Cummings has decided that the Tories have to become the real Brexit party... In those northern and midlands constituencies that voted Leave, there is a lot of pathological hatred towards the Tories in those seats.

"The question is, does the sheer force of Brexit and Mr Johnson break those bonds? Theresa May tried this in 2017... they thought they were going to win [in those constituencies] and they stayed in their old voting tribes, it's a big risk.

"If it pays off, Mr Johnson could get a nice healthy majority, but the Tories will essentially become the Brexit Party."

From Stormzy to Michael Barrymore

Matthew d'Ancona, editor of the slow-news outlet Tortoise, told Newsnight Mr Johnson had had a "disastrous week in political showbusiness".

"One minute you're Stormzy and the next minute you wake up and you're Michael Barrymore.

"That's what's happened. He was sold to us as this guy who is a winner, he could do all the things that Theresa May hadn't been able to do, and he could unite the party and the country by the sheer bringing of confidence and charisma.

Image copyright Leon Neal/Getty Images
Image caption Could Mr Johnson still be a winner like Stormzy?

"He's like a person pressing the button on the app on his phone in fury, saying why is it not happening the way that he wants it to.

"The reason is that Brexit is fabulously difficult to achieve. We are untangling 40 years of legal, constitutional and commercial arrangements."

Mr Johnson has said that resigning as prime minister if he did not get a deal with the EU by 17 October was "not a hypothesis" he would be willing to contemplate.

But Mr Johnson could tactically resign as prime minister in the hope of getting back in.

Rachel Sylvester called this idea "bizarre".

She added: "The whole point about Boris Johnson, the reason he was elected Tory leader, is that he is supposed to be a winner - and already he's lost four out of four parliamentary votes, and he's looking bizarre even on the election campaign trail, which he has already started out on."

PM could be a 'Brexit martyr'

Tom Holland, the author of Dominion, a new book about the history of Christianity, compared the prime minister's tumultuous week to the "classical history that Boris Johnson's entire education has been marinated [in]".

He told Newsnight Mr Johnson might be drawing on such lessons for his Brexit plans, adding "that there is a kind of heroism in dying on your sword".

Boris Johnson's decision to deselect 21 rebel Tory MPs, is a "brutal strategy", Mr Holland said, adding: "In terms of his reputation and status, he is laying quite a lot on the line."

Resurrect May's deal

Could the prime minister repackage Theresa May's withdrawal agreement and persuade MPs to vote for it a fourth time round, so he doesn't have to request an extension?

John Rentoul, the chief political commentator of The Independent, wrote on Saturday: "Is there a change that could be made to the withdrawal agreement that would persuade 30 more MPs than voted for it last time to do so at the last moment?

"It doesn't seem likely. Johnson cut the ground from under his own feet on Wednesday, when he said that, if the anti-no-deal bill became law, it 'effectively ends the negotiations' with the EU."

But if EU leaders regard another extension as only "postponing the problem", they may prefer to help achieve "an orderly Brexit, with a deal".

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