OPINION
03/09/2019 16:46 BST | Updated 03/09/2019 16:47 BST

This Could Be The Day Hardline Brexiters' No-Deal Dreams Died

Tonight, Boris Johnson faces defeat at the hands of his own MPs. His strategy is looking increasingly like a case of the 'Emperor’s new clothes', writes former No10 advisor Chris McShane

Press Association
Press Association

At the start of August, The Sun adorned its front page with a picture of the new PM as a glowing sun, headlined ‘Boris Promises a Golden Age’. Last night, he furtively emerged from Downing Street to read a statement that said nothing new. From the cocksure politician that bagged headlines at last month’s G7 to a Theresa May tribute act within five weeks.  

Clearly shaken by shouting protestors crying “stop the coup,” a rattled Johnson looked exposed, his funnyman persona suddenly evaporating. 

“There was more than a hint of the Theresa May underwhelming regular lectern performance about that,” Sky News correspondent Lewis Goodall tweeted afterwards. 

Johnson’s time in the sun has been briefer than a mayfly’s. Briefly, he believed in the hype aimed at his much-discussed advisor Dominic Cummings. But their increasingly desperate plan to silence Parliament, crash out of the EU and manipulate  an ensuing election shows the shine is coming off the Cummings/Johnson machine. 

A devastating report in today’s Telegraph revealed there is no actual plan to force Europe into giving Johnson a deal. Downing Street’s strategy is looking increasingly like a case of the Emperor’s new clothes.

Far from staring down the EU, this PM’s real standoff is with parliamentary colleagues on all sides of the House. Philip Hammond’s anger on the Today programme, pointing out that Cummings as an entryist who isn’t even a party member, is the clearest indication yet that the battle for Brexit has now become a battle for the soul of the Conservative Party.

Johnson and his team based their high-risk strategy on three things. 

Firstly, that Tory MPs  would do whatever he wanted because, unlike May, he was a ‘winner’. Secondly, that Corbyn would have to grant him an election. And, finally, that those opposed to no-deal would be so divided they could never win it.

Johnson assumed he could quieten any recalcitrant MPs by dangling the prospect of a last-minute deal.  But by going to Defcon1 and proroguing Parliament, Johnson has instead united the opposition and galvanised widespread anger across the country.

Writing in the Times today, respected political scientist John Curtice laid out Johnson’s challenge. The inescapable arithmetic is that Johnson’s early election is a Catch-22. He can’t go to the country promising a no-deal Brexit. But if he doesn’t promise a no-deal Brexit, he doesn’t win over the Brexit Party voters he needs for a majority. 

He’s been snookered by his own advisor. As Times comment editor Simon Nixon put it this afternoon: “Cummings appears to have landed Johnson in the most gigantic hole and it is not at all clear how he is going to get him out of it.”

Tonight, Johnson faces defeat at the hands of his own MPs. His plan to call for an early election will be rejected by Labour who will – rightly – see it as a trap.

That would leave Johnson forced to bypass the Fixed Terms Parliament Act and pass a one-line Bill requiring a simple majority to force a vote. But amendments by Labour and government opponents will likely add on a no-deal block anyway.

The top has stopped spinning. Seasoned political journalists are now even calling out Cummings and Johnson as liars.

There’s still a long way to go – and the opposition parties determined to stop no-deal will need to remain united – but the decision to shut down Parliament may go down in history as the day that Boris Johnson went too far.

It’s become much, much bigger than Brexit. But today might – just might – have been the day hard-liner hopes of a no-deal Brexit died.

Chris McShane is a former Downing Street special advisor