There is always light at the end of the tunnel. But not this time for Boris Johnson.
The latest Brexit poll is intriguing and captures the mood of the British public. The poll conducted by ComRes and reported by The Telegraph shows that 44% of the public agree that the prime minister ‘needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping it’, while 37% disagreed and 19% did not know.
The finding was billed as 54% supporting the move after stripping out the ‘don’t knows’.
But even after dissecting the figures, it is still those encouraging Brexit at any cost that are in the ascendency.
This should be welcome news for Johnson, who beat off Jeremy Hunt and won the Conservative leadership election because of his ardent no-deal stance.
But rather it adds to the complexity of the situation and reinforces the notion that there are no supreme options available for the prime minister.
Indeed, the same poll shows that 39% agree with the statement that ‘Brexit should be halted if problems over the Northern Ireland border threaten to split the union’, whilst 25% don’t know.
It is well known that one of the many deeply destructive side effects of a no-deal Brexit is the rupture of the United Kingdom, which issues with the Northern Irish border would almost certainly trigger. It would also spell the end of free movement of goods and people and potentially pave the way for a rebirth of social and economic tensions between the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In addition, a new poll regarding Scottish independence exhibits that for the first time in two years, those in support of a new referendum have the lead and a majority of 52%.
To compound matters, another majority of 52% believe the yes campaign is likely to win, including a third of voters who rejected independence in the 2014 referendum. This demonstrates just how profound the consequences of a no-deal could be for the union.
But the damaging effects of Brexit are not limited to just the division of the union. Recent figures show that the British economy is shrinking for the first time in seven years. The contraction comes as the global economy slows and fears rise that Britain could crash out of the European Union on Halloween. Observers and government forecasts have suggested Brexit may plunge Britain into a recession.
Additionally, the pound has sunk to its lowest level against the dollar for 31 months, in the joint worse fall since the financial crisis in 2009.
This is worrying for Boris Johnson. The breakup of the United Kingdom coupled with another financial calamity by virtue of a blind Brexit would almost certainly earn him the label of the worst prime minister in history and would spell electoral suicide in the next election.
Therefore, the consequences of a no-deal Brexit suggest Johnson should veer away from it and seek a safer and more sensible approach.
But he knows he can’t. Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party are breathing down Johnson’s neck and ready to pounce if there are any signs that a no-deal Brexit will be jeopardised. In fact, Farage has outlined his viewpoint clearly, resolutely proclaiming that he will ‘destroy the Tories’ if they fail to deliver Brexit on the 31st of October.
The recent Brecon and Radnorshire by-election presented glimpses of the kind of effects the Brexit Party can have on the Conservatives. Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems candidate overturned an 8083 strong Tory majority to win the Welsh constituency, as Boris Johnson’s majority was reduced to just one.
The winning margin was just 1426 votes, meaning had the Brexit Party not stood, the Conservatives would have comfortably won. The Brexit Party candidate, Des Parkinson, amassed 3331 votes, which would otherwise have gone to the Conservatives. Thus, it was an instance of the pro-Brexit vote being split between the two parties.
In a general election, that trend may well continue. So in order to prevent Conservative voters – 61% of who voted to exit the European Union – fleeing to the Brexit Party, whose main policy is to withdraw from the EU with no deal, Johnson cannot afford to alter his stance, despite the disastrous ramifications, because he will lose his core voters to Farage.
However, this prompts a separate electoral problem because it then alienates those supporters who are more dubious about a no-deal Brexit. This could easily benefit the Lib Dems, who have started drawing up a new aggressive election strategy targeting more Conservative seats to woo moderate Tories.
The latest polls show that in the 20 seats to be fought between the Lib Dems and the Tories, there is 14.1 percentage-point slump in Conservative support and an overall swing of more than eight points to the Lib Dems compared with the 2017 election.
That leaves the prime minister in an uncanny position. He either defies a significant portion of the population but protects the union and Britain’s future by preventing a no-deal Brexit, but in the process loses a plethora of Conservative voters who will hold sentiments of betrayal as they flock to the Brexit Party.
Or he hurtles to the abyss on the 31st of October, fends off Nigel Farage, increases his popularity amongst his core voters but condemns the United Kingdom to division, conflict and economic adversity.
Doomed if he does, doomed if he doesn’t. No pressure, Boris.