ANDREW ADONIS on why hard Brexit would be a prelude to a Thatcherite reshaping of Britain.
Now the Johnson submarine has surfaced, the critical issue isn’t his midnight shouting matches but his growing love affair with Nigel Farage. It is increasingly clear that a ‘no-deal, no vote’ pact is evolving between them.
For all his bluster, Johnson has no way of resolving the Brexit deadlock in this parliament. His claim that he can broker a new deal with the EU before the end of October is risible. ‘Boris can bullshit all he likes. We’ve been here before,’ is the view from Brussels.
There is no question of the EU weakening the Irish backstop for the very good reasons that this would undermine the Good Friday Agreement and endanger the prosperity of Ireland, an EU member.
Johnson will be the most dangerous fantasist in No.10 since Chamberlain declared “peace in our time” after returning from negotiating with Hitler in Munich. When pressed to reveal his ideas for a revised Brexit, a parade of unicorns appears. ‘Technical fixes’ are somehow going to avoid customs, trade and immigration controls at an Irish border which becomes the external border of the EU without any legal basis to avoid them.
There is simply no way that no-deal or ‘new deal’ Brexit happens on October 31 with this parliament.
That only leaves three choices. First, Johnson presides over a referendum. He has pledged against calling one himself, but it could be called over his head by a parliamentary majority. This looks an increasing prospect if a soon-to-be enlarged group of ex-ministers led by Philip Hammond vote with their consciences to avoid no-deal and can see no other way of achieving this.
When last put to the House of Commons, a second referendum was defeated by only 12 votes. If the Hammond group shifts, there is a majority.
Option two is that Johnson admits he was lying all along in his opposition to Theresa May’s deal and tables it for a fourth time, in a haze of waffle about better intentions.
However, I doubt that the entire ERG and DUP will recant as easily as the congenital liar soon to occupy No.10. In particular, Arlene Foster and the DUP don’t want any form of Brexit, while pretending they do. They know their hard-line unionism will be eviscerated in Northern Ireland if Brexit actually happens.
All of which is pushing Johnson towards a tantalising ‘get out of jail free’ third option: an election on the basis of a pact with Nigel Farage. This would be on ‘no deal, no vote’ plus a splurge of populist Thatcherite tax cuts alongside Corbynite spending increases. Unicorn economics alongside unicorn Brexit.
Farage would be keen on such a pact, completing his takeover of the Conservative Party. “I will work with the devil if they’re committed to getting us a genuine Brexit,” are his exact words.
Johnson and Farage are birds of a feather. Describing women wearing burkas as “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” is of a piece with decrying ‘Romanians moving in next door’ and ‘HIV migrants leeching off the NHS’. They share the rare privilege of praise from the president of the United States and contact with Steve Bannon.
The terrible twins are not just Brexiters but extreme Thatcherites. Not for nothing was Johnson Thatcher’s favourite journalist, while Farage declares his mission in politics is “keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive”.
Brexit has always been a project of the Thatcherite far-right, “a chance to complete the Thatcher revolution,” as Nigel Lawson, the godfather of Brexit, puts it. The agenda of this alliance would be hard Brexit as prelude to a further Thatcherite reshaping of Britain.
All this calls for massive mobilisation of Labour and other non-Tory parties. We cannot repeat the division of the European elections. If hard Brexiters join forces, so must those of us who believe in an open, democratic, European Britain.
An alliance needs to be met by a popular front. And if that sounds a bit 1930s, I’m afraid that is where we are at.