Boris Johnson: Too Clever By Half

Latest Brexit news. Johnson’s “three letters” strategy for weaseling out of the Benn Act and Letwin Amendment is sure to infuriate Remainers. But how will the Scottish court react, and will Johnson’s two-faced (or many-faced) behaviour gain him political advantage?

No question about it: At the populist level where Johnson currently hangs, this latest brush with unlawful behaviour is seen as a hearty f-ck you to Hilary Benn, Oliver Letwin, the Scottish Court of Session, and Remainers in general. But will the tactic succeed or backfire?

My guess is that Johnson will lose in the Scottish court, and then in the Supreme Court, but may score political brownie points by showing himself to be recklessly obsessed with leaving the EU, thus giving Nigel Farage a run for his money.

Money is indeed what worries me at this juncture. The Tories have always been the party of big money, and I wouldn’t put it past them to find a couple of billion with which to essentially bribe some DUP and Labour MPs to vote for Johnsons’s deal. It might be dirty money, but by the time an investigation uncovers this, Brexit may be done and dusted. (I’m speaking hypothetically here. I possess no evidence of actual wrongdoing.)

The three letters strategy undoubtedly seems clever to Johnson and his cronies, but looks rather bonkers to people outside the UK, as if the Brits have finally and completely lost their minds.

The subtext of Johnson’s letter to EU leaders is: “Just ignore Parliament, just ignore the law they passed. Pretend they’re some crazy aunt locked up in the basement of Westminster. We in the Big Boys Club can manage our own affairs without them.”

This pivots to the underlying legal questions: Is Parliament truly sovereign? If they pass a law requiring Johnson to ask for an extension, does that law make asking for an extension the official policy of the UK? And if so, is Johnson required to carry out that policy with integrity, without attempting to undermine or lobby against it? If he intentionally refrains from signing the letter, and also sends (or causes to be sent) additional letters which discourage the EU from granting the extension, does this frustrate the will of Parliament, and frustrate the intention of the law? Will the courts empower some third party to send a more “official” letter that actually includes a signature?

Just as with his unlawful prorogation of Parliament, Johnson is once again acting like a monarch. But he’s continuing to follow the same populist playbook: People vs. Parliament, with Johnson cast as ardent defender of the Will of the People for Brexit. This is rather sick-making for those who see through all the lies and propaganda.

Sadly, the opposition parties find it difficult to agree on a unified strategy, as this rather bonkers news report vividly illustrates (starting at around 13:20):

It underscores my theory that Brexit is like a monkey wrench thrown into the Parliamentary system, causing it to break down (at least temporarily). What’s happening is not stagnation or paralysis, but rather an extended tug-of-war, or a flushing operation needed to restore normalcy. Remain is the normal, sensible state of the UK in relation to the EU, and the best possible deal that can be gotten. People should not give in to Brexit, which remains (as it has always been) an eccentric project of English Conservatives. Stay strong, and keep flushing the system with the Drano of truth! Don’t give in to Tory sandbagging.

The opposition may be driven over the edge by Johnson’s latest antics, which are not just unlawful but insulting, seeking as they do to relegate Parliament to the position of a potted plant. Paraphrasing an old saw: “Don’t get mad, cooperate!” It’s not impossible that opposition parties may finally agree on a vote of no confidence followed by a caretaker PM (John Bercow???). If Johnson is out as Prime Minister, it seems likely the EU would grant an extension to allow the dust to settle. Still, I admit the Tory steamroller is powerful.

The quote that “Character is destiny” is attributed to Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Political number-crunchers believe the Tories need to woo Labour votes to get Brexit over the line. But the supercilious qualities exhibited by Johnson, Rees-Mogg, et al. tend to frustrate any such efforts.

At the end of Saturday’s main festivities in the House of Commons, the Tories left the Speaker and the Opposition without a flaming flamingo of a clue as to what would be happening on Monday. Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House, was purposely tight-lipped, and unexpectedly did a runner when fellow MPs tried to pry loose crumbs of information.

MPs were equally stymied as to how Johnson planned to both obey the law (as he promised in a filing with the Scottish court), and yet not send a letter requesting an extension to the EU. Tracking Brexit has given me a warm spot in my heart for the Scottish Nationalists, who often come up with off-the-wall jokes about the Tories. Pete Wishart (always good for a guffaw) piped that Johnson could announce his plans on Strictly Come Dancing. One can easily picture a conga line snaking around the studio, consisting of all the people Johnson has b.s.’d over the years.

If you know the plot to The Producers, you know that Max Bialystock got in trouble by promising too much to too many different people. Likewise, Boris Johnson’s trust issues seem to be reaching a zenith with his sellout of the DUP (by putting a customs border in the Irish Sea), and by the incompatible assurances he’s reportedly giving to both the ERG and Labour.

The gentle Sir Keir Starmer metaphorically drew blood with his trenchant analysis of the weaknesses and hypocrisy inherent in the Johnson deal:

Starmer asked why it’s necessary to weaken provisions guaranteeing workers’ rights and environmental protection — unless, of course, you want to deregulate in these areas. Again, it’s rather sick-making when Johnson et al. claim the purpose of weakening these provisions is so that the UK can exceed EU standards. Definite Orwellian territory. As Starmer elucidates so clearly, there’s no law against exceeding EU standards. You only weaken these provisions if you plan to lower standards over time.

Well, so ends another crazy day in Westminster. And you thought things were surreal when every newscast was accompanied by Glockenspiel Man!

Possibly not in the G-Man’s repertoire:

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.


“Boris Johnson’s Saturday drama turns to farce – and it was all his own fault”

“Labour could back Brexit bill if second referendum attached, says Starmer”

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