Boris Johnson's blustering strategy to browbeat his rival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and coerce his Conservative opponents has fallen at the first hurdle.
Till a day ago Boris had been warning his opponents of the consequences of opposing his stand on Brexit but on Tuesday his rivals showed him the path. Johnson lost his majority in parliament.
At the back of his mind Boris should be feeling happy that he has strengthened his hold on his party and that hard-Brexit chaos will sustain his premiership.
But the situation is not so rosy as it appears to be. He has been defeated by the opposition and 21 of his own MPs. This is the first shot in a battle for the soul of the Conservative party.
The defeat makes it obvious that six weeks after his taking over as the prime minister, Boris would ultimately have to go back from his promise to leave the European Union by 31 October, “do or die”.
It is unlikely that Boris would succeed in taking action against the rebels. The leadership has already issued whip.
In his personal life and his political career, Johnson has shown himself to be a risk-taker. But while a general election is a huge risk, for him there is a greater risk of inaction. The defeat makes it clear that UK cannot at any cost leave EU by October 31.
The problem for Johnson is that the top job comes with unprecedented scrutiny, and the strategy has already hit bumps in the road. Johnson knows that his only viable electoral strategy is to unite the right behind him. The risk for Johnson is that he has already alienated moderate Conservative voters.
Defeat also makes explicit that there is no majority for a no-deal exit, meaning that opposition parties could stand to gain from Johnson’s extreme stance.
Tonight’s defeat may secure him the election he wants, but it could well deliver an outcome very different from the one that the “bad boys of Brexit” thought they had in the bag.
If Britain leaves the EU without a deal, there will be economic chaos. In the existing situation Johnson will need a two-thirds majority to secure a general election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, and incidentally Jeremy Corbyn quickly made clear his party would not vote for the motion unless and until the anti no-deal bill had passed.
Johnson said: “It would enable our friends in Brussels to dictate the terms of the negotiation. That’s what it does. There is only one way to describe this deal: it is Jeremy Corbyn’s surrender bill.
It means running up the white flag.” In response, the Labour leader said he condemned the use of the word “surrender”, adding: “I hope he will reflect on his use of language. We’re not surrendering because we’re at war with Europe. They are, surely, our partners.”
Earlier, last week in a change of strategy the Prime Minister Boris Johnson had contemplated to call a snap general election if backbench rebels succeed in passing a bill to delay Brexit. In the changed situation the issue would be treated as “an expression of confidence” in the government.
It is explicit, Johnson’s political manoeuvrings under line, that his Brexit gamble has gone too far. He has also been resorting to populism and offering cheap sops something which could not be expected from UK prime minister for having his say.
He can be expected to resort to more tricks to “fulfil the will of the people”. The nature of populism he was practicing could be comprehended from what he said just after suspension of parliament: “I wanted to make your streets safer and that is why we are recruiting another 20,000 police officers;
I wanted to improve your hospital and reduce the waiting times at your GP; I am upgrading 20 new hospitals in addition to the extra £34 bn going into the NHS, and,
I wanted every child in this country to have a superb education and that’s why I announced last week that we are levelling up funding across the country and spending much more next year in both primary and secondary schools.”
He tried to send across the message that after Brexit the UK would develop more. He said, “as we come to that Brexit deadline I am encouraged by the progress we are making.”
The primary reason for putting these issues in the public domain has been to project the growth and development image of Brexit. It is significant that while 52 per cent of the votes had voted for exit from UK in 2016, the figure drastically went down to 21 per cent in a poll YouGov held last week.
It clearly manifest that Britons are frustrated with the reckless handling of the issue for three years by the rulers of Britain. Boris offering freebies and sops simply implies that he does not have an alternative.
On the contrary, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has an alternative but he is unable to put it in the right manner to his audience and supporters. This is the reason that he has been finding it tough to gather support for his claim to be entrusted to form alternative government.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in towns and cities across England, Scotland and Wales on Saturday to vent their fury at Johnson’s plan to suspend parliament.
Momentum, which backs Jeremy Corbyn, told its 40,000 members to “occupy bridges and blockade roads” and within hours, thousands of protesters brought Trafalgar Square to a standstill by sitting on the road.
Arun Srivastava is a freelance journalist.Views are personal.