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    Boris Johnson, a leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Party, speaks during a hustings event in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 2, 2019

    Boris Johnson Faces His May 1940 Moment

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    Neil Clark
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    Barring earthquakes, or a giant asteroid hitting central London on Monday afternoon, Boris Johnson will be announced as the new British Prime Minister on Tuesday.

    His victory over Jeremy Hunt  (or should that be Jeremy Fox-Hunt?) in the Tory leadership contest looks a foregone conclusion. Boris is the darling of Tory Party members and should win by a country mile.

    But here’s where it gets difficult. Johnson’s big problem in making good his ’do or die’ promise to deliver Brexit by October 31st is not so much the EU, but his own Tory MPs. To get a better deal than the one Theresa May got from Brussels, Johnson has to prepare for a No Deal. Make no mistake, the EU would make concessions if they seriously thought the UK was prepared to leave without an agreement. We’ve heard a lot of talk from Remainers about how disastrous a ‘No Deal’ would be for Britain - and that might indeed be the case - but it would be even worse for the EU. Here’s why. The Union has a massive trade surplus with Britain. In 2018 it stood at £64bn. The surplus on goods was £93bn. In other words the EU sells £93bn more worth of goods to Britain than Britain sells to the EU. Let than sink in for a moment.

    Out of all the EU countries, the one which the UK has the biggest trade deficit with is Germany. That stood at £21bn in 2017.

    No wonder German manufacturing is so worried about the current trading arrangements being changed. You would be too, if you were netting £21bn a year from someone.

    FILE - In this Friday, June 24, 2016 file photo, Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson arrives for a press conference at Vote Leave headquarters in London
    © AP Photo / Mary Turner
    FILE - In this Friday, June 24, 2016 file photo, Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson arrives for a press conference at Vote Leave headquarters in London

    Johnson’s prospects of getting an improved deal from Brussels though are being undermined by MPs, including those from his own party, who are determined to take the ‘No Deal’ option from the table and send the British PM naked (figuratively that is), into the negotiating chamber.

    Some Tories have gone so far as to say they would even vote against a Boris Johnson-led government in an Opposition-tabled vote of no-confidence rather than back 'No Deal'. It’s reported that Chancellor Philip Hammond is at the helm of 30 Tory MPs who are determined to stop a No-Deal Brexit.

    But if 'No Deal' is removed from the table it’s very hard to see how Johnson will be able to get a better offer from the EU than the one his predecessor got. And we already know ‘that’ deal isn’t going to get through Parliament. So where does this leave Boris?

    Last week, his option- albeit a rather drastic one - of proroguing Parliament, was ruled out as MPs voted against it.

    He could still call a snap general election, but that is decidedly risky with recent opinion polls showing Labour in the lead. If Boris takes this route, he would need to agree an electoral pact with the Brexit Party, otherwise the Tories would be odds-on to be defeated. But two days ago he ruled that out, and Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, doesn’t seem keen either. 

    Perhaps, threatening to call a general election would suffice. The Establishment, as we know, is terrified of the anti-war Jeremy Corbyn coming to power, and Boris could play on that to try and get ‘rebel’ Tories to fall into line. Alternatively, he may be able to get his Brexit plans through with the help of a number of Labour MPs who said they were keen to honour the result of the referendum. Even with their support though, it would still be a close call, if the Tory Europhile rebels dig their heels in.

    © REUTERS / HANDOUT
    Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

    All things considered, it‘s hard to remember a new Prime Minister coming to power in such inauspicious circumstances. Lose a vote of no-confidence and  Johnson could end up being Britain’s shortest-lived Prime Minister of all time, relieving 119-day man George Canning of the record.

    The closest parallels one can find with the position he finds himself in, are ironically enough with Winston Churchill, who acceded to the Premiership in the dark days of May 1940. I say ’ironically’ because Johnson is a huge Churchill fanboy and even wrote a biography of the iconic WW2 leader. In 2019 Johnson doesn’t face the threat of an imminent Nazi invasion, but his prospects look no rosier than Churchill‘s did. Like Johnson, Churchill had to deal with a Tory party which included a faction- centred around Lord Halifax- who felt he was on completely the wrong track. Like Johnson, Churchill was a divisive and controversial figure who a lot of people felt was totally unsuited to the job.

    To successfully navigate the very choppy waters that lie ahead, Johnson will need to take inspiration from the man who defied the odds back in 1940.

    Can he show Churchillian qualities of leadership to get Brexit over the line, or will he prove to be a pound-shop Winston?  

    We’ll know by the end of October.

    Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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