Sam Gyimah was one of the purged. He’d been warned that if he supported a bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit, his political career in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party would be dead. But like 20 other terminated Tories, he put country before career. “No deal would be catastrophic,” he told me. “The Boris project is coming off the rails.”
In just six weeks as Britain’s leader, Johnson has purged, and prorogued, and pontificated, and postured, and pronounced plenty of do-or-die piffle (it looks like die right now). He has lost his majority of one, his brother Jo, Winston Churchill’s grandson, the good will of many Tories and several votes in the House of Commons. As for “the people,” whom he claims to represent, Johnson never had them, having been elected by 92,153 members of his own party, most of them at the far end of actuarial tables. Hubris, thy name is Boris.
Yes, a grotesque hubris for Johnson, with no legitimacy, to think that he can railroad Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 — the most consequential political step in decades, precipitating mayhem in industrial supply chains, airports, ports and hospitals, as well as the possible breakup of the United Kingdom.
But the people voted for this in the 2016 referendum! No, they did not. They voted for the smooth, orderly exit promised by Johnson and his ilk. Chaos at Calais was not on the Brexiteers’ make-believe menu. There is no evidence, none, that a majority of “the people” want Johnson’s no-deal Brexit.
“Johnson’s attempt to subvert Parliament spooked everyone,” Gyimah, a former universities minister, told me. “Most Conservatives were ready to give him time, but this was one provocation too many.”
He was referring to Johnson’s cynical maneuver to run down the clock on a no-deal Brexit by “proroguing” Parliament for five weeks, no later than next Thursday. Britain, as Gyimah and others have now demonstrated, is still a parliamentary democracy. Parliament is not a dispensable inconvenience sitting at the whim of the talented Mr. Johnson.
Now, cornered, Johnson wants an Oct. 15 election, a move rejected by opposition parties. He thinks he can win it through a “people-against-Parliament” campaign with a hard-line Brexit message that will swing supporters of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party to the Conservatives. It’s a risky bet. Johnson has lost Scottish Tories; he needs those seats for a majority.
Daily debacles have defined Johnson’s misrule. His is already a primer in ineptitude — and he hasn’t even tried to buy Greenland. This bumbling has not gone unnoticed in the Britain beyond Little England.
Still, Johnson is right about one thing: Britain needs an election. It cannot, at this point, decide its future for the coming decades — and that’s what Brexit will determine — without the balance of political forces being clarified. An election would in effect be a form of referendum on the 2016 vote. If the “Remainer” parties, principally the Liberal Democrats, do well, the election could be the forerunner of an actual second referendum, based this time on reality rather than fantasy.
The problem is that Mr. Overreach at No. 10, a man borne aloft by the hot air of wit and charm but devoid of the ballast of a moral center, has lost the trust of all but his inner circle of schemers.
So even Johnson’s push for an election — on the face of it a plausible means for the opposition to oust him — meets suspicion that it’s just another diabolical ploy to run down the clock. Hence the current parliamentary push to prevent an election before legislation that will make a no-deal Brexit illegal is locked in. This in turn would pressure Johnson to do what he’s vowed never to do: seek an extension beyond Oct. 31 for Britain’s exit. “I’d rather be dead in a ditch,” he says. That’s what happened to Muammar Qaddafi. ...
The opposition wants to keep the government in place for now, but make sure it’s powerless. The government wants to dissolve Parliament and call an election in a bid to recover power. Brexit is the ne plus ultra of riddle multipliers. That’s because there’s no workable way to do something so obviously contrary to the British national interest.
Johnson once observed that his chances of becoming prime minister were “about as good as the chance of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.” So this gifted buffoon, who could be dismissed as inconsequential if he had not done so much damage to his country, proves that anything is possible. Johnson is now more likely to return to earthly existence as a twig than survive the current storm.
The best outcome for Britain would be an agreement to delay Brexit for several months, with an election in November. Trench warfare between Parliament and Johnson will determine whether that happens. Johnson’s hand is weak. When the British stiffen, they tend not to relent. Those 21 Tories are heroes. Where in Trumpland are 21 Republicans with spines?– Roger Cohen has been a columnist for The New York Times since 2009.