If in a crowded room you asked the real Boris Johnson to stand up, several men in crumpled suits with a haystack of blonde hair would jump spluttering to their feet, along now with one smartly coiffured cove who remained mute.
A lifetime would not be enough to work out what really motivates him, or them. So in trying to anticipate Johnson’s next Brexit move I have a shortcut that hasn’t failed me yet: simply calculate what is most in the personal interests of one Boris Johnson, then wait.
It is what he decides on Brexit that matters. The tabloids might rake up stories about his private life, but that is absolutely no business of mine. I am only concerned about the legitimacy – or otherwise – of his Brexit policy. Uniquely for a politician, he uses questions about his private life to shield him from questions about politics.
The only time so far in the campaign he has evaded his minders – you could almost hear them in the background, scrabbling with the duct tape and the leg irons as he shambled towards the BBC microphone – he said something extraordinary. So extraordinary, the surprise is most commentators missed it.
So how, he was asked, would he solve the thorny issue of the Irish backstop? Cue ruffling of hair, narrowing of eyes and a few ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ as he took in the sheer underhand cunning of this horribly unfair question.
Eventually he answered that goods would be policed at point of sale. So to avoid a border in Ireland, customs officials – or perhaps he really did mean police – would be stationed at every corner shop, Chinese takeaway and call centre working out what product had been imported from the European Union. And this, presumably, would have to extend across the UK because so much produce from Ireland ends up on the mainland.
And this army of officials would all have to be in place by October when Johnson claims he will take Britain out of the EU.
It can’t be done. He knows it. Mark Francois would say it lacked credibility. I would say it’s a lie. Yet this is the nearest we have to a Brexit solution from the figure who is not only the architect of Brexit, but the single most likely agent of Brexit. If he is that determined to leave in October, he should have the honesty – if nothing else – of the newly departed leadership hopeful Dominic Raab, who advocates no deal and shutting down parliament.
Anyone who hopes Johnson won’t commit a Brexit calamity is basing that on his dishonesty. And he is indeed capable of yanking up the handbrake on the Brexit bus and committing a massive, shameless u-turn. But we cannot rely on him for that or indeed anything else.
Which is why a Remain Alliance is needed in Parliament, anchored around the Liberal Democrats – the only major national party to call for a People’s Vote from the get go and now with the democratic legitimacy of having beaten every other party in Parliament in last month’s European elections.
This Remain Alliance must first stop a no-deal Brexit. From a Humble Address to Her Majesty to passing a new law requiring a vote of MPs before the UK could leave the EU, we must examine every option to stop Boris. And we must be ready to use Parliament’s ultimate weapon – a vote of no confidence in a Johnson government.
This need not lead to a General Election – though we in the Liberal Democrats would relish that opportunity – but to put the country before party. I would instead propose a temporary government of national unity in such a situation – a non-tribal, cross-party effort to stop Brexit. A government that would legislate to enable a confirmatory referendum on a Brexit deal – with the option for people to choose to remain in the EU.
The government of national unity option is the only way to win a vote of no confidence in Boris. Jeremy Corbyn knows Conservative MPs are unlikely to vote for an election that could dump them on the dole queue, and make him prime minister. Without that as the main alternative to Boris, a disastrous no-deal Brexit could happen.
If Corbyn backs the idea of a government of national unity led by a genuinely unifying MP – an Yvette Cooper, say – then some Tory MPs might be willing to bring down Johnson. Before this buffoon brings us all down.
Ed Davey is the Lib Dem MP for Kingston and Surbiton, and a candidate to be the next party leader