Version one is that, as soon as Parliament returns in September, Boris Johnson will seek, and obtain, a general election. He will thereby seize the initiative, commit again to leaving the EU by October 31, squeeze the Brexit Party’s vote, and exploit an opposition vote divided elsewhere, in England and Wales, between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Although the Conservatives will lose seats in London and Scotland these will perhaps be offset by gains in the Midlands and North. The sum of this case is that the new Prime Minister must move early before Parliament proves him powerless, now that he has next to no working majority.
Version two is that Johnson hasn’t the credibility, under such a scenario, to squeeze the Brexit Party as much as he needs to. Instead, he must prove his commitment to that October 31 date. And he can only do that by going for it, deal or no deal. Which he must do until or unless the Commons votes that it has no confidence in his Government, or the Philip Hammond/Oliver Letwin/Dominic Grieve/Yvette Cooper continuum, aided and abetted by the Speaker, finds a means of preventing Brexit by the end of October. At which point, the Prime Minister seeks and obtains an election, as above, and tries to utilise the differences between his opponents.
Which version you believe may depend on, inter alia: how quickly CCHQ can get election-ready; whether you think voters would treat any poll as a referendum on Brexit (as in 2016) or a vote on wider domestic policy (as in the snap election of 2017); what the EU does next; what any Johnson manifesto might say – would it unambiguously commit to scrapping the Withdrawal Agreement? – and, above all, whether it would be too late for an election to stop Britain leaving the EU by October 31 in any event. A poll by which date Brexit had already happened would obviously be different from one by which it had not – especially if squeezing Nigel Farage’s party is the name of the game.
The political story of this August, unexpected foreign affairs or other crises aside, will be about these alternatives – an election that Johnson either forces himself or is forced on him. There will be a mass of conjecture and a shortage of facts. This will be intensified by claims about what Dominic Cummings does and doesn’t think, and he is a man who likes to throw his opponents off balance. So for what it’s worth, our advice is to stay cool, hang loose, enjoy the summer – and rule almost nothing out. If you do the last, you may well be imitating Johnson and Cummings themselves, hunkered down as they will be with policy wonks and constitutional lawyers.