A comment from Anglichan on my previous blog post asks: ‘I wonder now who is actually going to lead us out. Is Boris Johnson the only viable choice?’
For the moment, Boris Johnson looks like the inevitable next prime minister. But that does not mean he will lead us out of the EU. You have to remember who is coming in his wake: Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of Vote Leave, and a man not known for either accuracy or good manners. Or for any gut-level desire for Britain to leave the EU. He is just a kind of technocrat.
For a taste of Cummings, here is how the Spectator wrote about his appearance before the Commons treasury committee last April.
Now the reason – or rather, one of several reasons – his closeness to Johnson is a cause to worry is that his original strategy was to run the referendum with this sales pitch to the voters: it is safe to vote Leave because Brussels will then come back with a better offer on membership, and we could have a second referendum on the better offer.
I myself heard Cummings lay out this plan, so it’s no rumour. Yes, he really was planning a campaign that would ask the voters to vote Leave, on the guarantee that they wouldn’t actually leave.
I did point out that Ireland had run EU referendums twice, and let’s just say it didn’t work out so well for them. Cummings – and to be fair, the other three people at the meeting, all English – brushed this warning aside with a superior ‘This is not Ireland.’
Which, given that the banking crisis was, and is, still pretty fresh in my memory, all I could do was think of two phrases in response to that: ‘Too big to fail’ and ‘This time it’s different.’
Luckily, somebody talked Cummings down from that ledge and the two-referendums strategy was not part of the Leave campaign.
It does however illustrate how far from the reality of the EU Cummings can drift. He is therefore just the sort that could embrace the idea of ‘associate membership’ which Dan Hannan, another Tory Leave ‘winner’, was yet again suggesting on Radio 4 today. (See my previous blog on Hannan’s first go at mentioning it yesterday. Once is a comment, two is a plan.)
Also, let me include this, nothing I want to be held to, but an idea. Another plan being put about is that the new leader of the Conservative party must call an election, then during the general election campaign present his plan for Brexit. This is so he has ‘a mandate’ for the relationship he wants the UK to establish with the EU.
This of course introduces the danger of the ‘associate membership’ emerging from a Boris Johnson Number 10 as the plan.
But more, think of this.
Everyone assumes that a Conservative party led by Johnson (or, indeed, led by almost anyone) would win the election, and then carry on with a Commons majority. That is because Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour party, and he is the most easily beaten Labour leader anyone could image.
What if Labour get a lot more clever than one suspects, and manage to parachute a far more attractive party leader in before the election? If a Labour leader were able to form a coalition government with the SNP and other anti-Brexit MPs, he could overturn the referendum result – and I am the first to admit that the Constitution would allow the Commons to do just that.
Political dynamite, yes, but possible. Therefore, a general election would be a very dangerous undertaking.
And while you are ruminating on that doom-ish possibility, here is a small glimmer of light. Or at least, a glimmer of humour, since one has to ask how it is the Economist has come so late to the party.
Here is what they have written in response to the Leave vote, on what the new prime minister should do now: ‘We believe that he or she should opt for a Norwegian-style deal that gives full access to the world’s biggest single market, but maintains the principle of the free movement of people.’
Somewhere in the blog-o-sphere I can hear Richard North saying, ‘Oh, do keep up.’