Johnson needs Brexit 2.0 – it’s all he’s got to save his s(t)inking ship

Rusty hulk sinks in the ocean...Johnson's Brexit
Photo by Timur M on Unsplash

Get Brexit done! Remember that old chestnut? The catchphrase which landed Johnson and his cabal an 80 seat majority and the power to really get stuck in to dismantling our democracy and economy? It was a con, of course. He and his bellicose sidekick, the inappropriately-ennobled Lord Frost, rushed to sign a deal that, it now appears, they had neither read nor understood. This scarcely concerned them, mind you, since there was never any intention to stick with it in any event. No. The eyes were still fixed on the ‘no-deal’, beloved of Brexit extremism – the bomb that would crater the economy, from which a zombie, rogue, global laundromat for all things dodgy and dirty could emerge.

Brexit 1.0 really worked for Johnson as he was billed as the hero who had honoured the ‘will of the people’ (well, an undemocratic 37 per cent of the electorate). It all made for great publicity. Triumphal stances, double thumbs up, Trump-style. But the trick has worn thin and the scam is visible to all but those determined not to see it, either through slavish ideology, self-interest, stupidity or shame. Covid provided a very useful cover for a long period, but now Johnson finds himself in the awkward position of needing it to continue as a smokescreen whilst simultaneously pretending that it is all over. As a result, we have the worst of all worlds … a virus (probably merrily mutating away) still running rampant, but barely reported on by Johnson’s lackey press. When they do report, it is to make disgusting statements like this from the Telegraph:

“Only six healthy children with no underlying health conditions died as a direct result of catching the coronavirus during a 12-month window, NHS analysis has revealed.”


That’s alright, then. It’s mainly killing the already weak. It is hard not to view the government’s strategy as less about herd immunity and more about a cull of anyone who might be a cost to the rapidly-emptying public purse.

Back to Brexit … one of the very many things that has worked for Johnson but been disastrous for everyone else. Never mind that he failed to understand its consequences for the nation. That matters not a jot when a political career, personal wealth and an authoritarian agenda (possibly sponsored by, or at the very least encouraged by, a foreign power) are at stake.

Pause for a moment to grieve over the damage arrogant ignorance and narcissistic ambition has done to this country.

It is no accident that Conservative HQ is allegedly mapping out a general election campaign which has Brexit front and centre again. But how can that be, you ask? How can Johnson square the circle of getting Brexit done but also needing to, er, get Brexit done … again?

Well. Frosty has a cunning plan. Simples. Keep prodding and poking the EU (for whom Brexit is, legally at least, very much done, and now just plain boring or maddeningly annoying because of Frosty’s war-mongering) until they snap. Here is Maroš Šefčovič, gearing up to warn the UK’s Brexit minister that Downing Street needs to “take a step” towards the EU for the talks to be “meaningful”.

“There is growing concern in Brussels that Boris Johnson has already decided to trigger article 16 of the protocol on Northern Ireland in the coming weeks in order to suspend the post-Brexit arrangements and impose his own vision.

“Brussels is preparing a ‘ladder’ of retaliatory options, up to suspending the trade deal agreed last Christmas Eve, while seeking to convince the UK of the virtues of its approach.”

“We think that the objectives set out by the UK are unattainable,” said a senior EU official. “The UK position is that the role of the EU’s institution needs to go … As long as that remains the UK position, I don’t see what we can do.”

Business Matters magazine

Johnson and Frost desperately want the EU to start imposing sanctions for breach of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement because then it can be all their fault. Nasty, nasty EU! And not only do they get to put the EU firmly in the spotlight, but they even get nasty Joe Biden in the frame, too! The US has made it clear that triggering Article 16 because the Brexiter government and the DUP don’t like the Northern Ireland Protocol (because it works too well for Northern Ireland and reminds the Northern Irish people how right they were to vote to stay in, because of how fab it is to be in the single market) will threaten the Good Friday Agreement, and that the Biden administration will not tolerate. One assumes it’s also all helpful stuff at the margins for Trump and his Russian and fossil-fuel donors.

Johnson understands only too well how effective the divide and conquer strategy can be; he must have been having kittens over the erosion of dogged positivity for Brexit. Only conflict and a resurgence of the worst of the Leave/Remain polarities can help him now:

  • he’s stuffed on levelling up, as people twig that it’s levelling down;
  • he’s stuffed on the old greenwash thing, as everyone sees through the blah, blah, blah;
  • he’s facilitated the looting of the nation’s wealth in order to funnel money into private pockets through dodgy PPE contracts and a truly stonkingly massive waste of public funds on the failed test and trace;
  • he’s presided over a tidal wave of metaphorical and actual sh*t, in the party and on the beaches; not to mention
  • being under investigation himself, for breaches that he himself says should result in sacking.
  • And then there’s the tragic matter of the Covid dead…

The promised bounce-back in the economy has not happened and he has run out of long grass into which to kick the customs checks, etc, that would finally make ‘Brexit being done’ just about true.

He needs Brexit undone because his party is stuffed now with Brextremists, desperate for the battle to be restarted so they can march around and wreak havoc in the carnage. Blood lust unsatisfied, they’re turning on Johnson, and to escape, Johnson needs Brexit undone … and preferably by the EU. He knows that only that will rally the disaffected fans around him again. And if the EU refuses to be provoked because they are too professional, too grown up – goddamn them – then he’ll have to tell Frosty to pull the pin on the Article 16 grenade whilst shouting “Look what you made me do!” to the EU. And then he can call an election and start the whole thing off again.

Except there’s a problem. Despite their very best efforts, the Conservatives have been unable to goad Starmer into making his election strategy all about stopping Brexit and re-joining. Johnson had such a lovely lot of slogans ready, berating Starmer for undoing all the sacrifice and investment the plucky Brits have poured into Brexit; calling Starmer a traitor for wanting to surrender the sovereignty for which Brexiters have fought so hard and for so long to regain (omitting to admit that it was never lost in the first place); showing how, if it hadn’t been for Covid, the NHS would have had all the money it needed, etc, etc; and suggesting that now the bastardy, dastardly EU has gone and wrecked everything and Starmer wants to help them.

Only Starmer is refusing to play that game. ‘Make Brexit work’ Starmer says, thereby making it crystal clear that, currently, it is not working. It must be doing Johnson’s head in; it’s not the right response! Johnson needs Starmer firmly, openly on the other side. He needs enemies. He needs ‘others’. His fans need others: others to fight, others to blame, others to destroy.

But above all Johnson needs another term to finish shutting down dissent, closing more courts, peopling the institutions of scrutiny and enforcement with his men. He needs to stay in power and stay out of gaol. He needs Brexit 2.0. and it looks like he’ll do pretty much anything to get it.