“Get ready for Brexit on the 31st October” is a message that has been hammered home by the prime minister, his cabinet and an expensive media campaign for a good few months now.
Boris Johnson said he will “die in a ditch” if we don’t leave by the bewitching hour on Halloween – however, I’m not expecting the former London mayor to keep that promise anymore than he has kept to the many ‘commitments’ he has made during his colourful past.
The 31st October date will be missed. Johnson’s high energy, aggressive approach to the process has taken him little further than his predecessor Theresa May, although he can point to the fact that his ‘deal’ did win a majority at ‘first reading’.
The reality is, he knows that this was a pyric victory. It is in the later stages of the bill when the parliamentary votes matter and, far more worryingly for hard Brexiters, amendments moved.
The most likely change to the governments proposed deal would be to extend the continued participation of the whole of the UK in the Customs Union – as is currently recommended for Ireland only.
Such a move would equalize status across the United Kingdom and would therefore get the backing of the DUP – who Johnson has abandoned for the sake of his soundbite.
So, what next? There are many in Johnson’s cabinet and on his backbenchers, who believe that he should take the additional extension the EU are likely to offer and get ‘a’ deal through. It would not be his deal at the end of a scrutiny and amendment process, but he could at least then go to the country as the man who delivered Brexit.
That, of course, wouldn’t satisfy the ERG Brextremists, who have found it increasingly difficult in recent months to hide their genuine motive which is for a crash out Brexit.
The other concern less fervent Brexit supporters have is that, whatever deal is agreed, parliament will insist that it is put back to the people for a confirmatory vote. As much as that may suit Remainers like me, I doubt it would happen. There isn’t the appetite across the Parliamentary Labour Party for that to be delivered.
The other option is a general election. There are two problems with this. Firstly, again, the appetite to secure a vote to allow for an election would seem slim. As much as Johnson is trying to blame the Labour Party for his failure to get the commons to approve an election there are many on his own side who don’t fancy their chances in a pre-Christmas poll.
The other issue is that such an election may do little or nothing to the overall arithmetic of the current parliament. We could end up going through an election campaign only to find ourselves ‘hung’ again – and what then?
The Tories believe they would win a majority. But for every vote they gain from Labour, how many will they lose to the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Brexit Party? And will those traditional Labour northern seats really turn from red to blue at a national poll? I’m not so sure.
Three years and three prime ministers later, the Brexit debacle looks set to run and run. That 31st October pledge is looking pretty daft right now – although to be fair to Boris, he didn’t say what year!