Given Johnson’s indolent and ham-fisted ineptitude as Foreign Secretary, his incompetence and folly as Prime Minister should not be the surprise that it is. Johnson has done nothing other than play to the gallery during the recess. His bluster rings hollow to many in the UK, and no one on the continent is impressed. He shuts down parliament without MPs’ agreement for his own convenience, precipitating a revolt, which leads him to jettison his dwindling majority.
Splits in the Tory Party sorely gape more than ever, but Johnson has achieved unity amongst the disparate opposition, bringing into law a bill that instructs the Prime Minister to request a further extension to Article 50 in the event that no agreement is forthcoming. As the Irish commentator Fintan O’Toole deftly remarked, Johnson “can be trusted only to be untrustworthy”.
Small wonder that parliament rejected the clumsy bid to stifle the bill by asking it to back a new election.
Johnson has dug the ditch that he would rather die in than recoil from the self-defeating chaos and damage of leaving the EU without an agreement.
More Maoist than Corbyn, Brexiter zealots have embraced chaos and destruction in pursuit of ideology. Small wonder long standing Conservatives demurred.
The question is what next? We know worse is to come but what? Johnson has snookered himself and acts of desperation are rumoured. Johnson could attempt to force an early election by proposing a vote of no confidence in his own government. Opposition parties would not be able to stop this, but Johnson would have to bank on opposition parties failing to agree on a new temporary government as well as suffer the indignity of having to express no confidence in himself.
Even so Liberal Democrats must be prepared. Corbyn might dig in is heels and insist on leading an interim government. Given that he is no less incompetent and as blinkered as Johnson, this would be very difficult. The principle we have to insist on is that the interim PM must not be a candidate for the position in the long term.
It has been suggested Johnson could simply resign with the suggestion that the Queen might then ask Corbyn to form a new government. But this would be unprecedented. Normally a PM resigns when a new government is ready. If a PM died in office, presumably the person who deputises for him would take over, in this case I think this is Dominic Raab. May be the whole cabinet would have to resign, but even so if hypothetically the whole cabinet were somehow wiped out, I still do not think that the monarch would look for a replacement from a smaller Party, so I do not know how such an unprecedented event might work out.
Finally, with his trademark untrustworthiness, Johnson could resuscitate May’s Withdrawal Agreement (he has voted for it before, after all), drop the DUP, who can no longer provide a majority, recast the border for the backstop in the Irish Sea and hope that strong arm tactics on Tory Brexit zealots together with some votes mustered from Labour would be enough to pass the agreement. Whether he could get Brexit extremists to accept this, is, however, very doubtful.
Johnson is in his ditch: with nowhere else to go he might as well keep on digging.