No one can pretend to know what the outcome of the general election will be. But a perfectly possible scenario is another hung parliament, perhaps one in which Boris Johnson is again the head of minority administration, maybe dependent on a few votes from independent ex-Conservatives and perhaps the DUP. They might support his general policy programme, allowing him to form a government, but deny him his Brexit deal.
If so, imagine being in his situation. You’ve got your Withdrawal Agreement ready to “go in the microwave.” But yet again you’re snookered by a pesky parliament that can use obscure procedures to get in your way and, it turns out, even having a different speaker doesn’t make much difference. A general election isn’t an immediate option—you’ve just had one.
Now imagine having Johnson’s personality. You’re impatient in general, and impatient with detail in particular. You like dramatic gestures, and you much prefer campaigning to governing. In fact, you have an inviolable belief in your campaigning skills. You’re not overly wedded to principles or consistency, and have no problem with performing U-turns if you see the advantage.
Take these things together, and it’s possible to see that, for Johnson, pivoting to propose another referendum—“my deal” versus Remain—could become an irresistible temptation. And not just to Johnson but to his chief adviser Dominic Cummings. Cummings, after all, lives by the maxim of doing what your opponents least expect, and is on record as saying that the Leave side would easily win another referendum.
This would clearly be a high risk strategy. Opinion polls have shown a consistent preference for Remain for months now. But only by a small margin, which could easily be overturned during a campaign, as happened in 2016. Everyone’s fed up with hearing about Brexit now, especially as in this scenario the election was meant to settle things, so dusting off the “just get it done” slogan from a few weeks ago might well work. Still, it might not, especially if the Remain campaign were this time to be more effective (“just make it stop” might be its best line).
Against the risk, the potential pay-off would be huge. If Johnson held and won such a referendum then he would not only be…