Richard North, 25/09/2019  

There's a great deal that's already been said about the Supreme Court judgement, and little to be gained by rehearsing issues already done at great length. As of now, however, it takes us no closer to a Brexit resolution and, if anything, it complicates something which is already fearsomely complicated.

In particular, allowing parliament to resume does us no favours. This is an institution which is part of the problem. It has rejected the only deal that could be acceptable to the EU, it has sought to block a no-deal scenario (and may have succeeded in so doing), and is pushing Johnson to secure yet another Article 50 extension which ostensibly serves no other purpose but to delay Brexit those few months more.

In the view of the Financial Times, Johnson's political strategy for delivering Brexit now lies in disarray, pulled apart by parliament and now the courts.

But, while his team is undoubtedly considering his options, the term "boxed in" readily springs to mind. I looked at what was available yesterday and there seems to be no clear (or any) path left.

To that extent, we are dealing with a unique political situation – a problem which, when viewed from any angle, seems insoluble. At the risk of repetition, one has to observe that every avenue seems blocked.

For the rest, the situation is unreadable. Factions in parliament, one assumes, will be planning their own moves but, as this is far from a homogeneous institution, it hardly knows its own mind, and the outcome of any action it might take (if any) is unpredictable.

From what we can ascertain, Corbyn is blowing hot and cold on a general election, and thus being ambivalent about a vote of no confidence. With the same lack of enthusiasm amongst the so-called "rebel alliance" for Corbyn as a leader of an interim government, there is no certainty that this move can succeed.

If the opposition go off at half-cock, though, a vote would end up triggering a general election, leaving Johnson still in Downing Street with parliament dissolved. With the date of the election in the gift of the prime minister, this would give Johnson a free pass in devising his own path to a no-deal Brexit.

For those reasons, it looks as if it is unlikely that we will see a vote, creating a bizarre situation where an unpopular minority government is locked in office without the wherewithal to run its own agenda.

As to progress towards a deal, there simply isn't any. Johnson met Varadkar in New York, as planned. Accounts of the meeting differ. Johnson resorts to his usual mantra. He is "cautiously optimistic". Varadkar, on the other hand, said he "got into some more details" with Johnson, but stressed nothing concrete had been agreed.

Of course, the parties are "very keen" that there should be a deal, but there is no meeting of minds. The gap is as big as it has ever been.

With no developments here, this leaves us on the countdown to the European Council where the likely outcome is that the "colleagues" take note of such developments as may have occurred, but come to no conclusion. And, by the 19th, with no deal in place, we are supposed to see Johnson apply for injury time. Whether that will happen is anyone's guess.

And here there is a looming irony. Having fronted a campaign boasting the slogan "take back control", it could end up being entirely in the hands of the European Council as to whether the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. The Council can certainly make it happen, simply by not agreeing to extra time.

Conventional wisdom has it that, if asked, the Council will approve an extension, simply because it will not want to be seen to be precipitating the UK's exit. Its departure must come by its own hand.

However, if parliament has closed down Johnson's no-deal options – and it remains to be seen whether that is the case – then we have the UK's head of government applying for something he doesn't want, to a European Council that doesn't really want to give it to him.

Given that the application comes the day after the Council meeting ends, all the "colleagues" have to do is engage in constructive inactivity, allowing the clock to tick down to 31 October when the no-deal Brexit kicks in.

Somewhere in all that, there also resides the possibility of parliament trying to push Johnson to revoke the Article 50 notification, calling off Brexit. If the MPs want a low-grade civil war on their hands, that is the way to go. But in all probability, the voting numbers are not there – and there may be legal hurdles which prevent such action being taken.

Given then that Johnson is forced into what appears to be the only avenue open to him – the Article 50 time extension – and the "colleagues" hold their noses and agree to it, we could see a different scenario emerging.

At that point, parliament might regain its enthusiasm for a general election, committing us to a November contest under the worst of all possible conditions for Johnson. Not having left the EU, despite his promises, Farage's party will be rampant, siphoning off votes from the Tories and opening the way for a slender Labour victory, or even a Lib-Dem Labour coalition.

Such an outcome would not represent the happiest of events for the Brexiteers, especially if this ended up with another referendum, the terms of which are at the moment uncertain. If we are presented with a "deal versus remain" contest (and this is allowed by the Electoral Commission), it would be a brave man who could be certain of the result.

One of the great uncertainties would be the designated campaign for the "deal" proposition. One could hardly see Vote Leave reconstituted for the event, in which case there might be difficulty pulling together a coherent campaign, especially if a Labour government opposes its own deal.

For the moment, though, we have the sound and fury of the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court judgement. Johnson is returning early, and expected to make a statement in the resumed House tomorrow, which would be a daunting prospect for any prime minister. Under the circumstances, it will test Johnson's mettle to the limit.

With the FT writing the obituary for Johnson's political strategy, John Crace in the Guardian is doing the same for his credibility. In his response to the Supreme Court judgement, Crace has this to say of Johnson's performance:
The Sulk was running on empty. His eyes dead and his brain scrambled. He spoke but made little sense. Gibber, gibber, gibber. Like a murderer returning to the scene of a crime, he couldn’t help implicating himself. He respected the decision but the judges had got it wrong. He, the Incredible Sulk, knew more about the law than 11 of the country’s top judges.
The Guardian was never going to be Johnson's friend, but never in the field of British politics has a prime minister delivered so many free hits to his detractors. Even his fanboys in the Telegraph are struggling to put a brave face on it, telling us that their favourite son will try for another election vote on Thursday. It seem Johnson is determined to maintain his 100 percent record for losing Commons votes.

The Telegraph leader, though, reassures us that "Boris Johnson is merely trying to carry out the democratic will", and will be seen as "the champion of the people against an establishment determined to stop Brexit". Never mind that he was instrumental in getting us to the current impasse. When your hero is in trouble, anything goes.

Perhaps they need to recall that, in his alter ego as the Hulk, the madder he gets, the stronger he gets. With no obvious way forward, it could be that only a maddened Hulk can break out into the open. The mere mortal is in a maze, blocked at every turn.

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