Will Boris Johnson Break The Law Or Is He Bluffing?

This article was first published on 9th September 2019, for betting.betfair.com

There is nothing original in noting the similarities between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and another can be found in the betting. Even before Trump’s inauguration, large bets were placed below odds of 4.0 about him failing to survive that first year. 2019 is currently trading around the same mark in our Exit Date market and was matched earlier at just 2.5.

No doubt – on the day parliament is prorogued – the PM is in an awkward position. He’s said he ‘would rather die in a ditch’ than fail to deliver Brexit on October 31. Parliamentarians have legislated for the PM to seek an extension to Article 50, in the overwhelming scenario that a deal is not forthcoming.

A moment of truth awaits at the EU Council Meeting on October 17, after which Johnson will probably have to choose between resisting parliament and breaking the law, or ruining his fledgling premiership by betraying his supporters.

Naturally, there is shock and outrage amongst politicians and the media at the mere thought of law-breaking. Every threat from a minister or Johnson outrider triggers another shriek of disgust. The response is legitimate but it is also, in my view, precisely what he wants.

Johnson is copying the Trump playbook

As somebody who has spent the last four years even more transfixed on the story of the century in Washington as the European version, the similarities are blatant. Team Boris are following the same playbook and the media are still playing catch-up.

To be fair, comparisons between the two men can be overstated. Yes both lead the main conservative party, but whereas Trump’s racial politics were always way to the Right of the mainstream GOP, Johnson was a relatively liberal London Mayor. He won’t fat-shame a Miss Universe contestant during an election, tweet nonsense incessantly and hasn’t spent a lifetime doing business with organised crime.

Strategically though, this is a replica. Johnson has taken advice from Trump’s guru Steve Bannon. His main advisor Dominic Cummings is an admirer of Vladimir Putin’s so-called ‘Puppet Master’ Vladislav Surkov and his concept of political theatre. Trump even broke precedent to intervene in the Tory leadership contest – knifing Michael Gove by falsely claiming to not know the one candidate who could have beaten Johnson.

Grim future for moderate conservatives

The logic is that voters, particularly on the Right, want a strongman – 54% recently told the Hansard Society that they wanted ‘a strong leader prepared to break the rules‘. That they have little concern for constitutional norms. Trump’s 90% approval among Republicans proves that. After years of warning in despair, Conservative intellectuals like George Will, Bill Kristol and David Frum have abandoned the GOP in its current form.

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