Tommy Sheppard

MP for Edinburgh East

Will Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain be forced on Scotland?


The wait is nearly over. By next week the Tory party will have a new leader. And then they will foist him on the country at large. With most of the votes cast it seems that the clown prince is unstoppable. Barring a miracle Boris Johnson will be our next Prime Minister.

And then what?

Well, I don’t know any more than the rest of you. But whilst we’re waiting here’s some idle speculation.

Johnson will want to start with a bang. He has a team working on hitting the ground running. Expect loads of shiny policy announcements over the summer. Some unexpected, and not all likely to bear the reactionary stripe of Telegraph readers in the Home Counties.

But lots of whizz, bang, wallop won’t disguise the fact that – even with DUP support - Johnson has a majority of four and a very small window to get things done. And the thing he most needs to get done is Brexit. Having pandered on every prejudice to get where he is the new PM will need to deliver.

It won’t be easy. He knows that he won’t get leaving without a deal through parliament so, essentially, he has two possible plays.

First he can get his retaliation in first. Rather than allow parliament to stop him, he can call a general election and ask for a new mandate to get Brexit done his way. To do this he really needs to go early before the impossibility of his no deal approach becomes clear. So, general election on 17th or 24th October.

Technically, parliament could deny him this as it does need a two thirds majority to call an election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, but realpolitik dictates than opposition parties won’t. The merit of this approach is that he can attempt to put Farage back in his box and hope the Brexit party voters rally back behind the Tory cause. The risk, of course, is that he’ll lose a lot more centre-right voters appalled by this new direction who will decamp to the Liberal Democrats en masse.

Johnson’s only other play is to get some sort of deal stitched up with Brussels and squeeze it through the Commons. It’s not as if this hasn’t been tried. Perhaps there’s a way to finesse the peace guarantee in Northern Ireland but in reality that will involve a lengthy transitional period.

He’ll be hoping this allows him to put Brexit behind him, straggle through to 2020 and then call an election on the basis that rather than being an exemplar of political extremism the Tories are actually the bulwark against it.

A lot of people will take a lot of convincing. And as he struggles through the winter the Brexit party will be presenting themselves as the true voice of English euro-scepticism and inherit the prejudices Johnson has so effectively stoked.

Boris Johnson may never be in a stronger position than he will be in September. If he waits his popularity amongst Tory voters dissipates and he risks losing any control of the timetable. He could at any time find himself being dragged kicking and screaming to the ballot box rather than it being his own noble initiative.

In all of this the views of Scotland and the people who live here will count for little. We are essentially bystanders in an English political debate. But the coming election – it will not be more than ten months at most - will provide us with an opportunity to take control of our own destiny. This general election will be about whether the elected Scottish parliament has the right to consult people on a different future from Johnson’s Brexit Britain. More than anything, it will be about Scotland’s right to choose. I’ll see you on the doorstep.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 18th July 2019

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