Mr Johnson’s utterances have never been known as a reliable indicator for anything much; his behaviour tells its own story: as UK Prime Minister, he is setting out his stall for a General Election as soon as he can.
As with any habitual liar, it is none too clear how far he believes his own fabrications. The man who had responded with “fuck business” now responds similarly to the Good Friday Agreement, for it is the Good Friday Agreement that is protected by the backstop or safety net that Johnson would jettison.
Johnson ought to know that the EU’s treaties, its Single Market rules and the Good Friday Agreement itself cannot be brushed aside with bluster. His demands could never be conceded since they imply opening up and changing both EU treaties and the Good Friday Agreement. In any case with the Presidents of the Commission and the Council stepping down and the EU Parliament in recess, Johnson is not banking on a volte-face from EU leaders. His intent is to try to maintain a bluster that casts the EU as the villain. What else would we expect? – Johnson has made his career out of this sort of behaviour. Johnson and co are playing a game, but it is as much against the UK electorate as against the EU. If the public can be induced to believe a ‘no deal’ Brexit is a reality, a sufficient proportion might be strung along to ignore the prospect of a dire economic fallout.
An early election ensures that Johnson would be facing the worst rated UK leader of the opposition ever recorded and at a time where he could hope that the novelty of the new PM had not worn too thin. Moreover, an election might even provide the pretext for cadging a further extension to Article 50.
Of course with plummeting support in Scotland and other parts of the country and with the Brexit party still on a sizeable portion of the vote, it is a high risk strategy, but not, I submit as high a risk as going to the electorate in the wake of a chaotic exit where the government would be at the mercy of events. The prospect of shortages, panic buying and empty supermarket shelves in the midst of an election could hardly be conducive to re-election.
Make no mistake the Conservatives are gearing up their media campaigns, they are unleashing a swathe of public spending projects, commitment that they would aggressively castigate from any other party; they could be successful. With their dominance of British newspapers and their ability to influence social media, they are hard to fight. It is of little help that from a distance Johnson is considered a charlatan, his rise is a matter of scornful bewilderment; like Trump his lies and deceitful character have been accepted as a norm by many conservatives who would otherwise express outrage to see the same in another political figure. Nevertheless, this does impose some kind of ceiling on his potential support, and implies that Johnson’s Conservatives can be stopped by perhaps some sort of coordination amongst the opposition on a constituency by constituency basis in seats that are vulnerable to the Tories, and by targeting younger voters who are overwhelmingly anti Brexit and with whom the Tories struggle to connect.
Liberal Democrats and other opponents of Brexit have to be on red alert for an election; these are dangerous times. Those who follow the Brexit saga will know that it can always get worse. Johnson may well push through an election for mid-October. I am not sure, but with Johnson urging on a crisis, it might even be possible to recall parliament from recess, to hold a vote for an even earlier election.