James Kirkup James Kirkup

Can Brexiteers trust Boris Johnson to deliver a ‘real’ Brexit?

The current Westminster consensus that Boris Johnson is the next Tory leader and prime minister raises all sorts of thoughts. Among them is to speculate about the sheer terror this consensus should strike in the man himself, given that Westminster consensus has been wrong about basically everything in the last three years. 

For what it’s worth, I also think Johnson is the favourite to replace Theresa May, but I also thought Remain would win the referendum, that May could never be PM, and that she would win her general election with an increased majority. I suspect most of the people now sagely tipping Johnson as a dead cert made similar predictions.  

But we are where we are, and so all the chat around the Commons is about prime minister Boris Johnson. Would he govern as a reckless populist, delighting the Tory membership by driving Britain out of the EU without a deal? Or would he carry out a “Nixon to China” reverse-ferret, pivoting to a softer Brexit position by way of a second referendum or even revoking Article 50 and starting again?  

Rachel Sylvester’s column in the Times today is vital reading here, setting out several of the Theories of Boris that are being discussed among his Westminster colleagues. 

A central theme of those conversations is that Johnson is a man wholly without loyalty: just because the Tory membership made him leader, some say, that doesn’t mean he’d feel bound to give them what they want on Brexit.

Another observation you hear, over coffee in the Commons and on WhatsApp chats, is that while Johnson feels no sense of obligation, he does feel pressure. He is susceptible to – and sensitive to – arguments that he has abandoned the cosmopolitan, open, liberal, positive politics that made him Mayor of London in favour of small-minded nativism.

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