Report: "It's all starting to sound a bit like Black Adder and Baldrick having a cunning plan"
Just what is going through Boris Johnson's mind as he wrestles with the complexities of Brexit, the British parliament, the backstop, the Conservative Party, what night to leave out the bins and all the rest of it? Does he actually have a plan? Simon Usherwood is Professor of Politics at the University of Surrey (and host of the A Diet Of Brussels Brexit podcast) and he joined David McCullagh on This Week on RTÉ Radio 1 to attempt to assess where the British prime minister's head is at right now.
"I think Boris Johnson is serious about a deal", said Usherwood. "He is trying to find some way through the mess. While the current proposal has a lot of problems, he is trying to find something which has more of a chance of getting through the British parliament.
"He's got the opposite problem to Theresa May: she found a deal and worked with the EU but didn't work with parliament. Now, Boris Johnson has a deal which might work with parliament but which isn't looking like it will work with the EU."
The Conservatives couldn't be sure of getting a majority in parliament after the election and that's the real challenge.
So is there a way of getting around the Benn Act which requires the prime minister to seek an extension to the Brexit withdrawal date in certain circumstances? "It's all starting to sound a bit like Black Adder and Baldrick having a cunning plan", said Usherwood. "I'm not sure that anyone has found a way that the government can comply with the Act and not ask for an extension.
"This is the problem and it has become very clear in the last week that parliament are going to press very hard for compliance and getting the government to seek an extension even if that means having to take the government to court and getting someone else appointed to write the letter then so be it. It's hard to see how the government would have a leg to stand on on that front."
There's also the issue of a looming general election on the horizon. "The Conservatives want to be able to say that they were forced into doing this very much against their will and that they fought with every sinew to leave at the end of October. They want to parlay that into a people vs parliament election campaign with all the tensions that brings as a narrative.
From RTÉ's Brexit Republic, RTÉ Europe Editor Tony Connelly, London Correspondent Seán Whelan and Deputy Foreign Editor Colm Ó Mongáin round up the latest bout of what-aboutery
Whatever about achieving Brexit, opinion polls indicate that Johnson's strategy is working with the voters, with a weekend poll in The Observer showing a 15 point lead for the Conservatives over the Labour Party. "There's a lot of volatility in people's voting intensions", believes Usherwood, "and that's the key message here. Even with that spread of intentions, the Conservatives couldn't be sure of getting a majority in parliament and that's the real challenge.
"While they have a Labour Party who look completely muddled on Brexit and have an even more unpopular leader than the Tories, the Conservatives will be very cautious about how they proceed. A lot of people think the general election might be the unblocking of the system that is needed but more than likely, you'll find that an election just poses more questions than it solves."
So if Usherwood has to call it, what does he think will happen now? "It's unlikely that the UK will be leaving the EU on October 31st as the Benn Act is fairly unescapable and the EU don't want to be the ones to cause a no-deal so they'd say yes to an extension."
Listen the piece in full below (item starts 6 mins in)