Wednesday 31 July 2019 4:27 am

A box office approach to leadership could yet break the Brexit deadlock

A week into Hurricane Boris, and the impact of its arrival shows no signs of abating, nor does its box office appeal. 

Godfather style, a trail of bodies litter the Conservative backbenches, victims of the “Night of the Blond Knives” as one newspaper called it. 

The ancien regime has been largely replaced by Vote Leave revolutionaries summoning up the spirit of Spartacus – or at least those willing to sign up to the ultimate expression of this agenda – typified by the appointment of Dominic Cummings, the eminence gris of the referendum campaign, as a Number 10 adviser.

The panjandrums of the European Union have been placed on notice that no-deal really is back on the table. The new mantra is that the apparently inviolable Irish backstop needs to be junked and the untouchable withdrawal agreement reopened if the EU wishes to avoid a charge into the unknown. 


Given that the EU has suggested a firm “non” to this idea in the past, the scene is set for a definitive Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. 

Meanwhile, a Mr Deeds-like policy spending blitz is underway to turn the pledges made on the campaign trail into concrete reality. 

Beginning with the recruitment of 20,000 police officers, the idea is to show that the new government not only means business, but is going to bring lasting change to the lives of millions.

And while it may not quite be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Boris Johnson’s determination to make the Union of the United Kingdom a focal point of his premiership has been given a shot in the arm by his early travel schedule to the home nations in his first few days in the job.  

With his critics still reeling from the sheer energy of his multi-pronged offensive, the shock therapy meted out by Boris and his team appears to be working. 

Dissident Conservatives have been despatched to their constituencies for the summer. By the time they return to parliament in September, the game they were expecting to play out may have been radically altered.

The Labour party’s opinion poll ratings have gone into meltdown, with maverick parliamentarians like Lord Mandelson and expelled members like Alastair Campbell bemoaning the failure of Jeremy Corbyn to respond to the new Prime Minister in any effective way. 


The Liberal Democrats may well make a by-election gain tomorrow in Brecon and Radnorshire. But they are reliant on electoral engineering with Plaid Cymru and the Greens standing aside to let them have a clear run at the Remain vote, in a manner not open to those favouring Leave. 

Meanwhile, the Brexit Party’s support has fallen diametrically in line with the buoyancy shown by the Conservatives in post-Boris polls. It turns out that seeking to deliver on your pledges and being unafraid to invoke the spectre of no-deal as part of a negotiating stance has proved rather popular. 

The Faragist bogeyman may yet recede from whence he came. 

Most significantly, there are the first signs of dissent within the EU to the possibility of a different deal. Importantly, these are coming from Ireland, which has been in the vanguard of an EU approach to a deal that has failed three times to pass in the House of Commons.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Ireland. A recent report from Merrion Street warned of a potential £6bn cost to the Irish economy and an estimated increase in unemployment of 50,000-55,000. 

Yet for months, all we have heard from Taoiseach Leo Varadhkhar has been the constant refrain that there is no alternative to the backstop from the perspective of both the Single Market and the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement. 

The ground may now be shifting from under his feet. A weekend poll in Ireland showed for the first time that under half of the population agreed with Varadkar’s megaphone diplomacy Brexit strategy, with elements of the Irish commentariat piling in to demand a change of course. 

EU unity may soon be undermined by a dose of Irish realism.  

It could of course all yet end in tears. The spending splurge could end up being the money pit. The Union tour might eventually resemble National Lampoon’s Vacation. 

And Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did not fare too well in their final outing, as the EU negotiating team will doubtless be itching to remind us. 

But for now, the Prime Minister’s Dirty Harry-style approach looks like reaping dividends. 

While he is unlikely to march in to the Council of Ministers with a .44 Magnum and yell “You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”, Boris has shown that he has understood a different strand of Clint Eastwood’s brand of wisdom: “It’s a question of methods. Everybody wants results, but nobody wants to do what they have to do to get them done.”

Squeamishness about means must therefore be set aside. With a can-do Prime Minister and a will-do Cabinet, the ends in this Brexit process look tantalisingly in sight.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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