So Boris Johnson is willing to resile in the event of No Deal from parts of the Withdrawal Agreement that he signed. What would have happened if he hadn’t done so in the first place?
Your guess is as good as ours, as ever, but here is ConservativeHome’s take. We are back in the Commons last year with a Johnson premiership, no majority, no Agreement – and Philip Hammond, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve, Amber Rudd and all the rest of them.
Jeremy Corbyn is still Labour leader, Keir Starmer is pressing for a second referendum, and the Liberal Democrats plus the SNP are waiting in the wings.
Our judgement is that there would have been a big Commons push for a second plebiscite, Labour’s opponents of a Norway-type option having ruthlessly killed that off. But we are not at sure that there would have been the numbers for it, at least immediately.
The effect of No Deal would have been, very crudely, to reduce the potential Conservative vote in Remain-leaning London and its hinterlands, while pushing it up in Leave-backing provincial England.
Such is our take, but we can’t be sure – and nor would MPs. The enthusiasm of Tory MPs in Remainland for a poll would have lessened substantially. Jeremy Corbyn was always keen to fight an election because he always believed that his brand of socialism could win it.
The SNP would have seen No Deal as a chance to hammer the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats would have seen it as an opportunity for them in Remain country. The Brexit Party would have agonised about standing down.
You must make your own assessment of whether the rise in support for an election among Labour MPs would have cancelled out the fall among Tory ones. Letwin and company would have opposed it. So would the Independent Group for Change (or whatever it was calling itself at the time). Plus most of the odds and sods.
If Johnson had got his election, the logic of a strong Conservative vote in provincial England and a strong Labour one in London and its outposts would have applied.
The SNP’s position vis-a-vis the Tories would doubtless have been improved. So would the Liberal Democrats’ – who would not have been saddled with Labour’s absurd policy of a Labour deal or Remain as second referendum options. Grieve would perhaps have been competitive in Beaconsfield; Gauke in South-West Hertforshire.
How would all that have panned out? In our view, with either a smaller Conservative majority or a hung Parliament. And Johnson under fire from the residual Remainers his own benches.
And if he hadn’t got his election? Impasse. The Commons would have struggled on for a while no majority for anything. If it really wasn’t prepared to move towards an election, it would eventually have shifted towards the only remaining option – a second referendum.
Johnson’s winning card at the election that did happen – Get Brexit Done, with his deal signed and the offer of closure – was ruthlessly played by Isaac Levido.
It duly won him a big majority, as predicted by Dominic Cummings. So one can see why Johnson was always so keen to agree a Withdrawal Agreement – one which was better than May’s deal for Great Britain, because it left it with more room for economic manoeuvre, but worse for Northern Ireland, because it left it closer to the EU.
Conservative MPs, the European Research Group, the Tory press, this site, even Nigel Farage (up to a point) – all were willing to give the Agreement a thumbs-up.
Which helps to explain where we are today. Such have been our counter-factuals on this Sunday morning. We will turn tomorrow to what, in our view, Conservative MPs should do next.