Whatever happens in an election on December 12th, it could force Boris Johnson to finally compromise over Brexit, writes MARY HONEYBALL.
The “do or die” witching hour will upon us at 11.00 pm on Thursday 31 October. While Boris Johnson has been forced to ask the EU for an extension, Emmanuel Macron has made no secret of his impatience with the British. Given that France is one of the EU’s leading member states, the French president’s attitude matters to the United Kingdom.
Macron’s status in his own country is significant for Boris Johnson. The French president is able to govern in a way which is simply not possible for the current British prime minister. Macron’s En Marche has 305 deputies in the French National Assembly. The next largest party, Les Republicains, boasts 104. Johnson, on the other hand, faces a negative majority of minus 45, and the British system arguably puts more checks on prime ministerial power than the French Fifth Republic imposes on its president.
Macron’s opinion poll rating stands at 34% approval to 64% disapproval. He has recovered from a disastrous slump during the gilets jaunes protests and is now safe in France. Johnson’s ratings, on the other hand, are worse than any other Prime Minister this early in their term, standing at net minus three when disapprove is subtracted from approve according to a Sky Data poll.
Boris Johnson was, moreover, elected only by Conservative Party members. He has never gained a mandate from the British people as a whole.
Yet Johnson has consistently tried to behave as if he were not just president Macron but the all-powerful Charles de Gaulle.
And that is not the end of it. Johnson, never noted for his self-restraint, invariably tells the world before the event just how successful he will be.
The prime minister’s utter confidence that Britain would leave the European Union at Halloween, or would “die in a ditch” is just the most blatant manifestation of this behaviour. No reasonable person would have dared make such a prediction with the bravado and utter certainty shown by Johnson.
Boris Johnson, a prime minister in a hung parliament, appears to believe that if he announces something will take place, then of course it will. His approach and that of his predecessor Theresa May could not be more different.
When Johnson attempted to prorogue parliament for five weeks, he blatantly ignored warnings that it might be illegal. He was even prepared to provide the Queen with potentially misleading information.
This sorry saga, ended only by the Supreme Court, was inevitably conducted under full media scrutiny. Rather embarking on a damage limitation exercise, Johnson was out there at the helm, proclaiming his own self-belief. It is hard to imagine previous prime ministers behaving in what most of them would have considered a foolhardy fashion.
The die was cast at the beginning of Johnson’s term of office. He has to date suffered 11 defeats in the House of Commons in less than three and a half months. Theresa May’s minority government, also grappling with Brexit, was defeated 33 times in two years. May, it would appear, understood the constraints involved in not having a majority rather better than Johnson. Despite her bad press, she now appears to have been infinitely more self-aware than the gung-ho, if I say it will happen, then it jolly well will, Boris Johnson.
The European Union is becoming increasingly fed up with Britain. A new European Commission will come into being during November and the anglophile Donald Tusk will soon be replaced. If Johnson is still prime minister (and it’s a big if) he may be forced to behave more like a serious leader and less like a spoilt child, and face up to the realities of Brexit without a majority in parliament.