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6 September 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 2:04pm

How Boris Johnson stands to profit from May and Corbyn’s enduring Brexit talks

By Stephen Bush

The year is 2521. Talks over Brexit are still ongoing between the ruling Conservatives and the Labour Party. Between lunches of Soylent Green sausage rolls and repurposed onion bhajis, ministers described discussions as “cordial”, but a Labour Party official urged Theresa May to leave her cryogenic chamber and “rip up her red lines” to keep the United Kingdom in a customs union.

Can anything save the United Kingdom from that future? The political dynamic of the Brexit talks – neither side wants to look like a wrecker by walking out, but neither side can give or offer the meaningful concession they’d need to get enough votes from the other without losing votes in parliament and probably in the country as well, so they just go on forever – remains unchanged.

Although, as Steve Hawkes reveals in the Sun, a serious plot is underway to rewrite the Tory party rulebook and allow an early challenge to Theresa May, the fundamental problem for the Conservatives remains unchanged: they can remove the politician who lost them their majority, but that won’t necessarily get them their majority back.

It would mean that they could go into an election without a leader who, in the minds of most Tory MPs, is a certain loser. But as it stands, if the polls are to be believed, another election would produce another hung parliament – albeit one in which Jeremy Corbyn attends the cross-party Brexit talks at Downing Street as the host rather than the visitor.

Essentially, the worse it gets for the Conservatives in the polls, the better the prospects for Boris Johnson’s leadership bid. Even among Tory MPs who talk about a Johnson government as if it were a nightmare, they still believe that the former Mayor of London has an electoral appeal beyond that of any other candidate.

Now, it’s true to say that if you look at the polling, Johnson is the best-known and least-liked candidate to replace May among the public at large. Talk to any election strategist without an axe to grind, or any political scientist, and they’ll tell you the same thing: the Conservatives would be much better off taking a punt on an unknown quality who can run on being fresh and new, rather than betting on a shopworn Boris Johnson.

But that’s beside the point. As far as a crucial section of the parliamentary Conservative Party is concerned, the Faustian pact that a Johnson leadership represents is this: they aren’t at all convinced he has it in him to be prime minister, but they are absolutely certain of his ability to become and remain prime minister.

And the worse things get, whether in European elections, local elections, or just the polls, the magnetic pull of the one politician regarded as a sure-fire bet to get a better parliament than this one is only going to increase.

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