10 days in to Boris Johnson’s premiership and the big change is, as I say in The Sun this morning, that the government machine now thinks no deal really might happen.
Those involved in no deal planning meetings say that there is now an intensity to them that there never was before. Rather than querying whether no deal is desirable, officials are getting on with preparing for it.
Ministers are also bound into this strategy. One of those who served in both May’s Cabinet and the new one says that under the previous Prime Minister Sunday’s Cabinet conference call would have led to a long discussion about the merits of no deal. But now all ministers are signed up to leaving on October 31st whether there’s a deal or not, it didn’t. ‘People don’t realise how far down the line to no deal we are’ says one government insider.
Boris Johnson remains confident that the EU will offer up concessions rather than see the UK leave without a deal on October 31st. Within Number 10 ‘Boris is the most optimistic’ about this, I am informed.
Currently, there is little sign of the EU coming to the table. If the EU did make an offer, though, it would cause divisions in Downing Street and the Cabinet. Some think that only if the EU offers to drop the backstop should talks begin. Others argue that a willingness to reopen the withdrawal agreement would be a suitable basis on which to resume negotiations.
There are Cabinet Ministers who would be cross if Boris Johnson rejected such an offer. When I put this scenario to one Secretary of State they replied, ‘I’m going to have to take every day as it comes’.
One of Boris’s allies admits that ‘If the EU did make a serious offer that would destabilise things.’
There is, though, little sign of the EU adopting such a strategy. At the moment, the EU is waiting to see what happens when parliament returns in September. Only if Boris Johnson shows he can overcome parliamentary efforts to block no deal will the EU take his talk of no deal seriously.
Even some of the Cabinet think that Boris will need an election if he is to do no deal. ‘The chance of an election are shooting up: something is needed to break the log jam. It feels like we’re heading for a parliament v the people election’, a Secretary of State remarked to me after the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election.
One of those closest to Boris tells me that the message in the campaign would be ‘The EU and parliament are the blockers. The only way to get Brexit done is to vote for me’.
Boris Johnson’s view is that the EU must make the first move if the Brexit talks are to resume. But even if they do, the government will carry on with its no deal planning. Boris Johnson is determined to have that option.