Why Boris Johnson's Consistent Inconsistency Could Work

The PM's early honeymoon shows no signs of wearing off in the polls. A further, short Brexit delay may not matter if he then wins a snap election.

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Back in the hot, heady days of August soon after Boris Johnson became prime minister, he installed three Brexit countdown clocks in No.10. One in the PM’s outer office, one on the mantelpiece in his ‘den’ and one in the press office. They were all set to 11pm (midnight Brussels time) October 31.

After today’s market-moving court evidence in Scotland - revealing the PM “will send a letter” seeking an extension to the UK’s EU membership if forced to - will the timers now be re-set once more? Well, insiders tell me the clocks certainly haven’t been paused and are still very much ticking away to Exit Day in 27 days’ time.

Brexiteers like Steve Baker were swiftly calmed by government sources assuring them that this was all just legal technicalities, that the court papers were simply a re-statement of the mantra that the PM will ‘comply with the law’ ie the Benn Act. To offer further reassurance to any jittery backbenchers Johnson himself tweeted tonight “new deal or no deal - but no delay”.

No.10 still have things up their sleeve to try to get out on October 31. Yet as I wrote earlier this week, there are some around Johnson who now reluctantly admit that he may be forced into an extension to Article 50, as long as it paves the way for a quick general election soon after.

So, can you say one thing to the courts and another thing to MPs (and to Twitter) and get away with it? Well, in Johnson’s case that’s like asking ‘can you say one thing to your wife and another to your mistress?’ You kinda can.

Here’s some evidence too. A new YouGov poll today found that just 26% of voters think Brexit will happen on Halloween, down a huge 19 points since those heady days of the summer.

Yet the same poll finds that Johnson isn’t getting the blame. Some 64% (+4) of Leavers say delay is not his fault “at all”. Among 2017 Tory voters the figure is 65% (+6). And, crucially 78% (+17) of Brexit Party supporters say it’s not his fault. It may well be ‘Remainer’ MPs and the EU who indeed get the blame.

So although Nigel Farage will rail about lies and betrayal, it looks like Johnson could be cut some slack by the voters he needs. Yes, he’s spent £100m on a public information campaign telling us all to get ready for no-deal on October 31, but it seems the only people who’ll get upset at that are those who were never going to vote for him anyway.

What is ironic however is that the people ‘running down the clock’ right now are Brussels, not the Brexiteers. The EU27 know the best way to avoid the blame is to say that while the Johnson Brexit plan has real problems, they will engage with them while stressing they need more time to consider what are brand new proposals. Thanks to the Benn Act, they can indeed let events play out in the hope a snap election will produce some clarity.

Of course, it was MPs’ fear that the PM just could not be trusted that forced them to draft the Benn Act in the first place. And many Tory rebels will feel vindicated that today’s court document at least showed it was worth using legislation to tie his hands.

Yet when it comes to that inevitable snap election, many of those Tory rebels just won’t be on the battlefield. Rory Stewart’s decision to quit parliament and fight London as an independent shows once more that Conservative ‘moderates’ are all but extinct now - and that the Benn Act may be their last, dying hurrah.

I may be wildly wrong, but to me Stewart has no realistic chance of becoming Mayor of London. He risks getting mauled by brute electoral and political facts as much as the Tiggers did back at the start of this year: you need money, you need activists and most of all you need a ‘machine’ to get the vote out.

Stewart may not need any leaflets because if he wins the endorsement of George Osborne’s Evening Standard, he could effectively get a million free leaflets every day thanks to positive coverage. But he will find it monumentally difficult to get enough troops on the ground or the raw voter data vital for identifying supporters street by street, block by block.

Stewart’s biggest obstacle however is the fact that he will be a pro-Brexit candidate. He will lack the Lib Dem Siobhan Benita’s simple revoke message and Sadiq Khan’s second referendum message. In a city of 70% Remainers and 30% Leavers (many of whom are now probably no-dealers), telling voters you’re the man who represents Theresa May’s fudge is not exactly a recipe for success, no matter how many boroughs you walk through.

In the City Hall race next year, the harshest lesson for Stewart could be that he is hamstrung by the very compromise and consistency he so eloquently espoused in the Tory leadership campaign. And when it comes to the more pressing election, don’t bet against Johnson proving that his unique mix of a lack of consistency and a lack of compromise can win the day. Even if the clocks have to be reset a few weeks more.

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“He will send a letter in the form set out in the schedule by no later than October 19, 2019.”

Government submission to the Scottish court on how Boris Johnson will comply with the Benn Act.

Boris Johnson will write to the EU requesting a delay to Brexit if he cannot strike new withdrawal deal, according to court documents submitted to Scotland’s highest civil court. The PM then tweeted there would be ‘no delay’.

Rory Stewart said he would stand as an independent candidate to be Mayor of London - just hours after he quit the Conservative Party and said he would not contest his parliamentary seat in Cumbria.

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley told his party’s conference that the Home Office should be scrapped and replaced by a new Ministry for Sanctuary to oversee a “fairer” immigration system.

Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price said there will be a referendum on Welsh independence by 2030, stressing it will be “definitely in the next decade”.

Businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri told the Mirror (in a car park in LA) that she didn’t have any sexual relations with Boris Johnson. “The reason why Boris would stopover was because of the clusterf*** of emails. And he was like, ’Jen, what the f***’s a Google hangout? Where are you at three o’clock? I can, you know, stop over.” She’s reportedly trying to sell her full story to the highest bidding newspaper.

A damning new report found that Scotland Yard officers agreed to tell the media they believed “Nick”, the main witness in an alleged Westminster VIP paedophile ring, even though they had not seen his evidence. Former High Court Judge Sir Richard Henriques said a letter from Tom Watson may have “instigated a state of panic” among officers who were “fearful of media criticism and public cynicism”.

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