In many ways Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy is essentially the same as Theresa May’s 2017 General Election strategy. The context, however, is different, and Johnson will run a more effective campaign than May.

First published in August 2019.

Professor Philip Syrpis is Professor of EU Law at the University of Bristol Law School.
• He wrote and shared the following story on Twitter a few weeks ago.

This may well be nonsense (it was ever thus...); but PM Boris Johnson seems to have a plan. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but it will be difficult to stop.

The plan is not what some might expect. He is more interested in power than in Brexit. His aim (so I argue here) is to fight, and win, a General Election, and to obtain a mandate for the next five years.

The way he approaches Brexit should not be seen as cakeist and naive. In policy terms it is, but the thing is that his Brexit plan is not intended to succeed. Instead, it is only intended to create the narrative around which a General Election can be won.

First, he will go to ‘our EU friends’, appealing to their economic self-interest, demanding things he knows he cannot get. He will present himself as a ‘can-do dealer’... whose plan has only been thwarted by intransigence in Brussels.

Watch for the sharp shift in tone (which will come when the time is judged to be right). Erstwhile friends in the EU will become public enemy number one. The UK will be strong and confident. In extremis, we go it alone, and leave without a deal.

But the plan is not to leave without a deal in October. That, as he knows, would cause huge disruption, and would not augur well for him as Prime Minister. The plan is to be ready to leave... but then to be thwarted by public enemy number two – the Remainer Parliament.

He will provoke the moderate Tories. He probably knows that they require quite a lot of provoking. He will not seek to undermine the confidence of the Labour Party and the Lib Dems. But he will starve the Brexit Party of political space.

Johnson wants to be able to fight a General Election as the man who is standing up for the British people against the twin evils of the EU and the Remain Establishment. Vote Leave (and Dominic Cummings) have – remember – done this unexpectedly successfully once before.

To win, he needs to neuter the Brexit Party (I suspect that the jury is out on whether to offer some sort of pact or to opt for a more aggressive strategy), and bank on the fact that the ‘Remain’ opposition will remain disunited.

All this points, as I said a couple of days ago, to an Autumn General Election. It is consistent with the UK’s inability to concretise Brexit – both his ‘new deal’ and his ‘no-deal’ will remain stubbornly undefined until after the General Election.

He has a good chance of success.

The difficult task of delivering Brexit is deferred to the far side of a General Election... and by then, who knows what the options may be. He can cross that bridge when he comes to it.

The easiest way to stop this plan is to prevent him from winning the General Election. That depends on the opposition working together. Looking at the relationships between Corbyn, Sturgeon, Swinson and Lucas; Johnson might well calculate that he has nothing to fear.

This is what I have been arguing for (from a strongly Remain perspective). If there is no good Brexit, we can, and should, revoke. Clearly, the various parties are still some way away...🔷

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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 5 August 2019 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech in Manchester. | 27 July 2019. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)