This blog argued on 4th February that Johnson’s established behaviour pattern was one of ”speak loudly and carry a white flag”. That having thrown his Unionists allies in Northern Ireland under the bus to achieve the Withdrawal Agreement, his next step, already presaged in the Political Declaration, would be to do the same with the Hard Brexiters by concluding a trade agreement which in substance would leave the UK tied legally and economically into the EU but which Johnson, in pursuing his strategy of “bluster and bend”, would claim as a great Brexit victory. The question is whether that prognosis now looks more or less likely and how, if at all, the intervening pandemic may have impacted on it.
Mid-summer, the No.10 machine was still saying that a Hard Brexit was manageable and would be a perfectly acceptable outcome. The truth, we were told, was a behind the scenes calculation by No10 that the havoc caused by the natural disaster of Covid19 would provide a smoke screen for the chaos caused by the government choosing a No Deal Brexit. But things may have changed. Fair or not, the pandemic is no longer seen so much as a natural disaster but as a demonstration of the Government’s and especially Johnson’s incompetence, with even the Tory press and backbenchers turning hostile towards No.10 and its chumocracy. The result may be that, rather than providing cover for a Hard Brexit, the pandemic has set up Brexit as a last chance for No.10, Johnson and his pals to show their competence. Hence, with the public and the press now also focused on Brexit, while being reminded daily of what a mess No.10 is allegedly making of the pandemic, it might be thought that Johnson will do whatever is necessary to deliver a Deal and minimise the disruption on 1st January.