In the coming general election, those of us who are true Brexiteers are facing a potentially nightmarish decision.
If we want to a) get Brexit finally and properly delivered and b) prevent the Labour party from gaining power, for whom do we vote? Because these two aims may well be incompatible with each other.
This is why.
Boris Johnson will be going to the country as the leader who will Get Brexit Done. Expect a bravura performance, with him posing as the heroic defender of democracy and the sovereign right of the British people to have their decision to leave the EU put into practice, raising his standard against the appalling and anti-democratic Remainers who prevented him in parliament from delivering Brexit and who are determined to stop it altogether and thus kick the British public in the teeth.
He’s right about the Remainers’ shocking behaviour. But as I have written here, the deal BoJo negotiated with the EU would not deliver the UK from the clutches of the EU at all.
It would bind the UK into compliance with EU regulations so that Britain could not conclude trade deals with the rest of the world that would be to its advantage. It would strip the UK of sovereign power over its own defence and foreign policy. And it would leave the UK in the parlous position of remaining tied to the EU but with no power to influence it.
If BoJo goes to the country promising to deliver this deal, he will be promising merely a hologram Brexit, a chimaera Brexit, an Orwellian-Shrodinger’s-cat-Humpty-Dumpty-saw-the-lady-in-half-Peter-Pan-in-Neverland-legerdemain Brexit – which, thanks to the spineless so-called “Spartan” Brexiteers in parliament, he can pass off as Getting Brexit Done.
But if the public vote for such a manifesto commitment, they will be voting for it not to be done other than in name only, and instead to propel a permanently weakened and supplicant UK into a difficult and deeply problematic future.
If Boris Johnson adopts this position, there is of course one particular leader, Nigel Farage, and one particular party, his Brexit party, which will be telling the country the truth about this deal and standing for a real, clean-break Brexit.
But voting for Farage’s party threatens to split the Conservative vote. And although the Labour vote will probably also be split by the newly-resurgent uber-Remainer Liberal Democrats, eating into the Conservative vote may bring a minority Labour government or coalition to power.
So Brexiteer voters would face a potentially agonising and invidious choice — voting for the Brexit party and thus possibly handing the keys of Number Ten to Jeremy Corbyn’s lethal, treacherous and toxic Labour Party which would leave the UK damaged, diminished and demoralised; or voting for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, which would deliver Mrs May’s “worst deal in history” mark four sanitised for the credulous with a few improvements, which would leave the UK damaged, diminished and demoralised.
Of course, there is a way out of the dilemma – if Boris Johnson were to make an alliance with the Brexit party, an option he has so far dismissed. Such a pact seems unlikely, not just through the bad blood that exists between Camp BoJo and Camp Farage but because the latter is wholly opposed to the Johnson deal.
And of course there’s another option: if Johnson were to throw off not just the shackles of this rotten parliament but also the deal he made under the most difficult of circumstances, in order to make the case instead why leaving with no deal, however imperfect, would be better for the UK than any deal the EU would ever do.
He presumably thinks that a no-deal platform would frighten away all those Remainy and “soft”-Brexity voters whom he hopes to tempt over to his side because they are so terrified of a Corbyn government. But this merely underscores the inescapable fact that a Brexit deal which Remainy types feel safe in supporting cannot be Brexit at all but must be instead a disguised version of Remain.
If he were brave enough to campaign for no-deal, he possibly wouldn’t even need an alliance with the Brexit party because he would win the election outright. But if he sticks to his deal, he will face potentially damaging questioning about its many drawbacks — not to mention about his own record in excoriating May’s proposals that he is now putting forward as his own – as well as facing the electoral salami-slicer wielded by Nigel Farage, the most formidable and effective leader of a political insurgency this country has ever seen.