David Davis gave away Boris Johnson’s big secret, live on the Today Programme: the Tory MP set to be our new prime minister has superpowers.
The point is that the former Brexit secretary says he is wholly persuaded that Johnson will take the UK out of the EU, deal or no deal, by 31 October – while also conceding that Johnson has given absolutely no detail on how that can be achieved, against the implacable opposition of a majority of MPs to a no-deal Brexit, and the equally implacable opposition of EU leaders to changing the Brexit withdrawal agreement to meet the concerns of Brexiters like Johnson.
I am only half joking about his superpowers. It was not me who invented this conceit, but close members of his team, who have confided in me that pretty much the whole reason he is getting so much support from Tory MPs is their extraordinary faith that he can break the country-wrecking Brexit deadlock by the sheer force of his personality.
The point is that the Tory party is so terrified of how the combination of the Brexit impasse and the Nigel Farage threat is eviscerating their electoral prospects that it is suspending reason and going for blind faith in a bicycling, shirt-tail flapping, putative comic-book hero.
In modern times there has been no precedent for one of our big political parties putting hope before rigorous analysis to quite such a degree (yes I know there are some Labour MPs who think their party did similar when choosing Jeremy Corbyn in 2015). Brexit has ripped up all the political rules we regarded as iron laws.
On my show on Wednesday night, the meteor of this contest, Rory Stewart – who has flamed and crashed to earth – told me he regretted not asking Johnson directly in the debate on Tuesday something that I have been putting to Johnson’s foot soldiers, namely which of his supporters he is prepared to betray and disappoint.
The point is that Johnson has Brexiter purists in his coalition of supporters – like Andrea Jenkyns who again on my show said she was convinced Johnson would deliver what she thinks of as a proper Brexit by the due date.
But equally he has support from remainy remainers like Robert Buckland, Damian Green, Matt Hancock, Ben Wallace, Oliver Dowden and his own brother Jo, who are convinced that somehow only Johnson can prevent the hardest and most disruptive rupture from the EU, even though he insists such a rupture has to be an option.
As Stewart said, Johnson cannot in the end deliver for both wings of his own band of supporters. One side will ultimately feel misled by his promises.
Perhaps his more remainy supporters think Johnson’s superpower is not the art of persuasion but actually the 180 degree supersonic pivot, because that is what the Chancellor Philip Hammond thinks is coming.
Hammond will argue in the City that probably the only way to end the UK’s Brexit paralysis is to put the question back to the people, in a referendum (or more riskily for the Tories in a general election).
In public Johnson’s Brexiter fans say Hammond is just showing his own Eeyorish doom-mongering superpowers and Johnson will never let them down by allowing another public ballot. Their hero could never abandon them, or could he?
Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared on his ITV news blog.