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Wed Oct 9, 2019, 04:04 AM

So, it comes down to a flash UK election.

... There are complex technical reasons why the Downing Street plan was a non-starter in Brussels, but the broad outline is simple enough. It would impose a new customs border in Ireland that would be both intrusive and unenforceable. It would give a veto over every aspect of Northern Ireland’s future to the DUP, making a fragile peace settlement hostage to a party that rejected the Good Friday agreement.

Was this plan even meant to be the basis for a negotiation, or was it pure provocation – a phoney offer designed for rejection, setting the Europeans up as the Brexit bad guys in an election? There are certainly Tory MPs who are stupid or uninterested enough in the detail to believe that the government offer was serious. There is also a pro-sanity faction inside Downing Street, led by Eddie Lister, Johnson’s chief of staff from his London mayoralty years, that believes in complying with laws and maintaining relationships with continental allies. But that side of the operation competes with the revolutionary set around Dominic Cummings, who has imported the single-minded fanaticism of the Vote Leave referendum campaign to No 10. In a race to set the terms of debate, there is an advantage to the side that has no interest in diplomacy and no hesitation in setting fire to things, even when one of those things is Britain’s reputation as a rational actor on the international stage...

... Sanity might intrude far enough up Downing Street to allow grudging submission to the law that obliges the government to seek an article 50 extension in the absence of a deal. It isn’t clear how that can be choreographed to spare Johnson the shame of breaking his “do or die” pledge to meet the 31 October Brexit deadline, but his electoral fortunes need not be ruined by the breach. He would present it as a Dunkirk moment for the forces of Brexit – heroic retreat before a Churchillian finest hour standing alone, unbowed against the foreign aggressor. Johnson can count on most of Fleet Street to help narrate events in those terms. Newspapers that gleefully boosted Nigel Farage to torment David Cameron and Theresa May will turn that dial back down for a Tory leader who shows suitably Faragist zeal. The Brexit party is bound to get a boost from article 50 extension, but not perhaps on the scale that Johnson’s enemies would like...

... The past three years have proved the impossibility of turning the fantasy of easy, heroic release from EU membership into a practical policy. There is no alchemy that satisfies leave voters without inflicting harm on the country and diminishing its standing in the world. But for their different reasons neither Johnson nor Corbyn wants to admit that. So they’ll fight an election, not to solve Brexit, but to sustain the fiction that a solution lies just around the next bend down the same infernal road.


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