When Boris Johnson was interviewed by The Spectator ahead of becoming Prime Minister, he said that on Brexit, his ‘determination burns with a magnesium brightness to get it done and to deliver’. Less than a week into his premiership and that commitment is echoed by senior No. 10 staff – many of whom come from Vote Leave.
With speculation mounting that an early election is now inevitable as Brussels refuse to take Johnson’s Brexit demands seriously, special advisers and government officials gathered on Friday evening to hear from Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings – referred to by No. 10 staff as the CEO. I understand the Friday 6pm meeting is likely to become a weekly feature (with alcoholic beverages provided for after).
Cummings’ message was clear: this is a government dedicated to delivering Brexit by October 31st. He said they would do this ‘by any means necessary’ – no ifs, no buts. He suggested there would be a no deal budget at the beginning of October. He also dismissed the idea that Johnson could choose to call an early election to seek a mandate for no deal – suggesting that anyone looking for a mandate should look to the 2016 EU referendum result. He said there were 97 days to deliver on this mandate and MPs would not stop it. Cummings also suggested that the tight deadline meant there should be no days off in that period. As for how the new government will work, it was made clear that special advisers ought to understand that No. 10 is their ultimate boss – the aim appears to be to reduce the likelihood of departments working against Downing Street as frequently happened under May.
Now it’s still possible an early election comes. What Cummings’ comments appeared to suggest is that such an election would come only by MPs voting down the government rather Johnson deciding to call one first. Even then that might not be enough to prevent a no deal Brexit. The Times reports that the Attorney General’s legal advice suggests Johnson is legally entitled to take Britain out of EU on October 31 even if he loses a no confidence vote and faces an election.
Attendees of the meeting suggest that Cummings’ approach was a welcome change to May’s senior aide Gavin Barwell manner of handling government aides. One said they actually left with a clear understanding of what the strategy was which seldom happened under the old No. 10. This is because May’s government was focussed on trying to keep the two sides of the Tory party together. It followed that No. 10 often held back on revealing the real strategy in case it sparked a Tory civil war. The Johnson government is clear about its overall strategy on Brexit: to leave by the 31st October with or without a deal. That means they suffer no such problems on messaging.