The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, is now issuing threats against the British prime minister.
Making the premature assumption that Johnson intends to break the law by refusing to follow parliament’s instruction to ask the EU to extend the Brexit date from October 31, Speaker Bercow has threatened to use “procedural creativity” to stop him doing so.
That means tearing up parliament’s own rules — which this most outrageously partisan of Speakers has already done to enable MPs to seize control of government business, calling into question the constitutionality of the laws they have passed to do so.
It is only proper and unexceptionable for the prime minster to be required to obey the law – indeed, it is all but unthinkable that he would refuse to do so. But Speaker Bercow is using this clarion call as camouflage. For his real intention is to stop Brexit – which, given the EU’s intransigence, can only truly be delivered through leaving the EU with no withdrawal deal.
That’s certainly how the Speaker’s threats will be viewed by most of the Brexit-voting public, for whom the sound and fury over legal arguments or ministerial resignations or expulsions from the Conservative party, which have utterly consumed all in the Westminster bubble and associated commentariat, constitute merely noise to be tuned out.
What Brexit-supporters perceive instead is just one big thing – that a Remainer parliament, possibly now aided by the courts, is determined to rob them of their democratically expressed wish for Britain to leave the EU. They see Boris Johnson, who is championing the people against parliament, now being trapped and bullied by both MPs and the Speaker in order to destroy his power to do so. And their fury is at boiling point.
That’s why I’m picking up an extraordinary political shift that appears to be taking place in nothing other than Labour’s most deeply tribal heartlands.
It is accepted wisdom that working-class Labour voters will never, ever vote Tory. Those who voted for Brexit are thought more likely to vote in a general election for Nigel Farage and his Brexit party as the only acceptable alternative to Remainer Labour.
But I’m now hearing astounding stories from hitherto rock-solid Labour constituencies in the north of England: the kind of places, some of them old colliery towns, where voting for the Labour party is in their DNA and it would be unthinkable for people there even to consider voting Tory. At the last general election, they voted en bloc for Jeremy Corbyn. Now, though, many say they intend to vote for Boris Johnson. The unthinkable is being thought.
In one such place, for example, people watching parliamentary proceedings on TV in a working men’s club booed when Corbyn appeared on the screen – and cheered Boris Johnson when he spoke.
One long-standing MP was astounded not to have been invited to an annual event in the town where he would normally have been an honoured guest, and to be told by way of explanation: “Corbyn and Starmer [Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman and a key Remainer] have left us no choice but to desert Labour”. All those former Corbyn supporters, the open-mouthed MP was told, were now planning to vote for Boris Johnson.
In a memorable comment, another erstwhile diehard of the Labour tribe observed: “If we cannot vote communist we’ll vote Conservative”.
It’s been obvious for some time that the Labour party’s ambiguous stance on Brexit is a disaster. Trying to keep on board both its largely Brexiteer working-class faithful and its largely Remainer metropolitan middle-class voters, it has managed to upset both sides.
But now it has come out for a second referendum and is part of the attempt to bring down the prime minister in order to stop Brexit, the outrage in the Labour heartlands has exploded.
Even that, though, doesn’t explain the emergence there of a stunning intention to vote Conservative. After all, isn’t Boris Johnson, a metropolitan rake educated at Eton and Oxford, a classic object of working-class hatred?
Not quite – because a distinction is drawn in such circles between upper-class “toffs” and the rest of the ruling class. There’s a sneaking regard for toffs, not just someone as obviously dishevelled and clownish as Boris Johnson but also the toff-beyond-caricature that is Jacob Rees-Mogg.
There’s a kind of instinctive recognition that such toffs are no threat to working-class people. This is partly because they are felt to possess a sense of communal obligation that used to be called “noblesse oblige”, and partly because they are seen to have nothing against working people.
Working-class hatred is directed instead at the Blairite, managerialist, culture-controlling ruling class of illiberal-liberals. The people who tell the lower orders what to think and who bully or insult them when they think the wrong thing.
These are the Keir Starmer/ human rights lawyer/organic-knitted-yoghurt-transgender-#MeToo-climate-activist classes: the Islington dinner party set who talk down to working people and hold them in contempt, who regard them as a threat on account of their socially conservative attitudes and who accordingly slander Brexiteers as racist, xenophobic and stupid.
And this brings us to the supreme irony and agony of the Labour Party over this issue.
It is a staple of hard-left politics that the EU is a capitalist club that harms the interests of working-class British people. That’s why at heart hard-left Corbyn is a Brexiteer.
You’d therefore expect Momentum, the hard-left grouping that has taken control in the Labour Party, to hold exactly the same view.
But Momentum has an entirely different demographic from the Labour heartlands. Momentum acolytes may be revolutionaries, but they are mainly young, middle-class and socially liberal. They don’t identify with and have no concern for the traditional working-class. They view Brexit instead as nationalist and Trumpist.
So they actually have much in common with the Blairites for whom Remaining in the EU is an article of liberal universalist faith.
Blairites view Momentum as hard-left extremists who have hijacked the party. Yet when it comes to Brexit, these mortal enemies have turned out to be the Blairites’ allies.
As a result Corbyn and his chief henchmen, John McDonnell and Seumas Milne – the three of them hard-left, instinctive Brexiteers who have been deserted on this issue by their hard-left Momentum constituency – find Remainers to the right and to the left of them and are therefore stranded in political purgatory.
Which is why, when Tony Blair – who has been helping orchestrate the Remainer/EU coup against the British people – told Labour it had to fight a no-deal Brexit through a legal route rather than a general election, Corbyn and McDonnell meekly fell into line. When it comes to the EU, they’re all Blairites now.
Which is why Labour’s heartlands are concluding they have been abandoned by the party that was created, in a different world, to represent their interests.
So while the middle-class are appalled by Corbyn as a far-left extremist setting out to destroy capitalism, the northern working class are appalled by Corbyn as a reincarnation of Tony Blair. If the situation weren’t so desperate, the emergence of Jeremy Blair would be hilarious.
But wait – another twist, long feared by me, is now looming. We read today that the Democratic Unionist Party has agreed to relax its own red lines over the Northern Ireland backstop to help unlock a deal.
Since Johnson has only ever identified the backstop as the obstacle to a deal, that means — as I have previously warned – that he would agree a backstop-free version of Theresa May’s atrocious deal, which even without the backstop would be Brexit-in-name-only.
And if that happens, we’ll all end up not only with Jeremy Blair but Boris May.