Brexit, at its heart, is a con job. The referendum was narrowly won on a pack of lies and a set of aspirational statements that broadly proclaimed that the British could enjoy all of the benefits of being in the EU without the annoying political bits or the membership fee, freeing the money for more pressing British priorities. It was summed up by Johnson’s claim that he was “pro cake and pro eating it”. The UK was assured that “they need us more than we need them”; German car manufacturers and Italian Prosecco firms would force the EU to give the UK a good deal; we held all the best cards; a deal would be the easiest in human history and so on. Enough people fell for the rhetoric that the decision to leave was taken. The “remain” campaign was so badly run that they never pinned the other side down to any specifics about Brexit, the hows, the whys, the plan or any detail, let alone proper financial projection – it was as easily sold as the magic beans in the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.
Johnson has continued along the path of the shameless, glib salesman of Brexit. Whilst proclaiming that he wants a deal and insisting that people are working “very, very hard” to achieve just that, details are missing and comments emerging from the EU side suggest that whilst contact has been taking place, nothing of substance has happened. Having accepted a “blistering timetable” of 30 days from Angela Merkel to lay out his solutions to the intractable problems of the Irish border conundrum, he has failed to deliver. The odds of a “no deal” Brexit have slipped from his initial odds of “a million to one” to being “touch and go”. Despite the law of the land requiring him to ask for an extension to article 50 notice unless he secures a deal that parliament approves or gets specific backing for a “no deal” exit from it, Johnson insists that the UK will leave the EU at the end of the month, “come what may”, “do or die” – yet detail is utterly lacking.
Johnson has tried to cajole parliament into calling a general election, but they have not risen to his bait. He is posturing to make the eventual, inevitable poll about “the government and the people” against parliament and the establishment that want to “thwart Brexit” – naked populism. He is setting the EU up to be the party that refuses his deal, forcing him to leave with “no deal”, blaming them, parliament, rebels and his own party and even the courts as the responsible parties for the Conservative government’s abject failure to deliver a Brexit deal that its own MPs could universally accept, let alone opposition MPs.
The latest roll of the dice is to deliver to Brussels the government’s plans for a solution which allows the UK to leave the EU as a whole but magically allowing Northern Ireland to remain within the Single Market (partially) whilst leaving the customs union. This piece of legerdemain is supposed to obviate the need for customs inspections on the border (by moving them away from it!) in Ireland whilst requiring some checking of goods entering Northern Ireland from the mainland UK – breaching the reddest of the DUP’s red lines. It is impossible to imagine that this could be acceptable to the EU nor that UK politicians would give it majority support. Probably, that is the point.