Sunday, 26 June 2016

Boris Johnson - A Reluctant Leaver? Has his Plan Failed?

Boris Johnson - A Plan in Ruins?

It’s often said that David Cameron has been a lucky Prime Minister but that his luck ran out over the EU referendum. Prompted by some comments over the weekend I wonder if the same can be said for Boris Johnson.

Seeing his body language and what he said as well as the time it originally took him to decide he was going to campaign for the Leave side I think probably shows he isn’t really in favour of leaving the EU and never expected Leave to win the vote. I expect he thought as with the Scottish referendum that when faced with the choice, voters would take the status quo and stick with Remain so the result was as much of a shock to him as to anyone else.

I’m sure his long term (now short term) aim was to be PM and his plan was to manoeuvre himself to be in the best position to lead the Conservative party when David Cameron stepped down before 2020. The delay in deciding if he was for or against Remaining seemed to be time he was deciding what would work best for him rather than having any ideological desire to stay or go. With his background it seems far more likely that he is in favour of European integration if not the imperfect EU structures. Early in the campaign he suggested that a Leave vote could trigger more concessions from the EU which again seems like someone not determined to leave in the way that Farage was.

My thinking is that his original game plan was to be a central part of the Leave side to increase his profile around the country but also to prove his Eurosceptic credentials within the Conservative party for the coming leadership battle. His expectation was that Leave would lose the referendum but he would still have that credibility as a key leader of the campaign to secure votes from Eurosceptic MPs and party members.

That plan has now been blown out of the water with the result and David Cameron passing the responsibility for initiating the process of Leaving to the new Prime Minister, likely to be Boris Johnson. In doing so Boris now has to make a decision he never expected and his relative silence since the result shows he probably realises the difficulty he is now in.

This is probably another example of the Law of Unintended consequences. Rather than just being a useful way to gain the Tory leadership but lose the referendum, Boris perhaps gave the Leave side more credibility and attracted voters that would otherwise have stayed at home or voted Remain. The consequences for him could be severe, will he invoke Article 50? Will he be the PM that oversees the breakup of the UK?

So what will happen next? My next blog will explore possible options

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