Richard North, 29/09/2019  
 


Politically, the current situation is beyond manic. While the Tories are at conference, plotting is afoot to engineer a vote of no confidence – or maybe not. In this febrile atmosphere, you can never tell.

Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday is reporting that No 10 is investigating links between foreign governments and MPs behind the "Surrender Act". Furthermore, we are told, the same MPs are plotting to pass a second act empowering John Bercow to ask for an extension to the Brexit deadline.

We are also told that the rebels have even discussed using the legislation to give Bercow the power to appoint a new British commissioner to the EU, with pro-Remain former Home Secretary Amber Rudd mentioned as a candidate.

The Sunday Times, however, has chosen to lead on Jennifer Arcuri, claiming to have been told that she had confided to four friends that she was engaged in a sexual affair with Johnson while he was mayor of London, strengthening the suspicions that he was bankrolling his lover from the public purse.

And just to add spice to this tale, the ST also has Johnson accused of squeezing a journalist's thigh beneath the table at a private lunch - and doing the same to the woman sitting on his other side.

The accuser is Charlotte Edwardes who claims that the man now occupying the office of prime minister was guilty of serial groping at the Spectator's former HQ at 56 Doughty Street in London, shortly after he took over as the magazine's editor.

The narrative has him putting his hand "high" up her leg and had "enough inner flesh beneath his fingers" to make her "sit suddenly upright". Afterwards, we are told, she confided in the young woman sitting on Johnson's left, who replied: "Oh God, he did exactly the same to me". Edwardes dubbed Johnson "the double thigh-squeezer".

The Observer is also on the Arcuri trail, questioning the origins of £700,000 Johnson's "friend" was able to loan one of her companies, despite debts elsewhere and a reported legal action in the US over an unpaid $100,000 student loan.

As all sorts of devious goings-on emerge, this adds to an increasingly murky tale which seems set to run and run. But the mix of personal sleaze and high politics involving a serving prime minister makes for an unusual combination, rendering it increasingly difficult to separate Johnson the man from Johnson the politician. Certainly, the media aren't bothering to keep the two apart as personality politics take a front seat.

The two merge closer in another report from the Observer, headlined: "Michel Barnier: Boris Johnson's behaviour has 'limited the chance' of a Brexit deal".

The gist of this story is that Barnier has warned that Johnson's "divisive language" has effectively scuppered a deal in the Commons. He thus speaks of the "limited chance of approval of a deal in the current parliament" given recent events, telling EU diplomats that the "current polarisation in the UK has further reduced the chances of agreement".

This puts the EU in some difficulty as it is having to talk with an unstable government which has eroded any political goodwill to the extent that, even if it could agree a deal in Brussels, it could not get it ratified in Westminster. The concern now is that the government is seeking simply to ramp up a "blame game", rather than engaging in serious negotiations.

Such a view also seems to be shared by former chancellor Philip Hammond. He asserts that, "The radicals advising Boris do not want a deal. Like the Marxists on the Labour left, they see the shock of a disruptive no-deal Brexit as a chance to re-order our economy and society".

Hammond also asserts that Johnson is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a disorderly exit from the European Union. "There is only one outcome that works for them", he says, "a crash-out no-deal Brexit that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring".

I rather think, though, you read it here first, with good evidence of Johnson's involvement at an early stage. Considering what is coming out about the Accuri affair, it is entirely plausible that Johnson's motivation is anything other than pure.

In this, the role of think tanks, feeding of foreign money, needs to be explored. Not for nothing did I call their activities a dagger in the soft underbelly of democracy.

All of this, of course, Johnson is doing his best to ignore, or play down – even if it is getting increasingly difficult, while he indulges in "divide-to-conquer politics" that seeks to amplify hatred and existing divisions.

Trying to cut through the scandal as he arrived in Manchester for the Tory conference, he has made it clear that he wants to "get Brexit done" and then focus on his domestic agenda, with particular emphasis on the NHS and building new hospitals. But he's also going for dog-whistle issues such as banning the export of livestock and ending imports of trophy hunting souvenirs.

In any event, the proposition that we can get Brexit "done" is absurd. As a process rather than an event, Brexit will be with us for the next 20 years as an active issue, and for the next decade – at the very least – it will be a dominant theme in politics, whether we leave or not.

Nevertheless, given this confection of issues, where there is no certainty that Johnson will still be in office in a few weeks, and when the nation waits for a general election to clear the air, it is unsurprising that people are walking away from politics. Even I, as a confirmed news junkie, find it hard to watch televisions news, often pressing the "off" button in disgust, minutes into the running time.

Switching off, though, has its own perils. While we railed against being foisted with an unelected prime minister, if some of the moves being plotted come to fruition, we could end up with an unelected government, headed by an unrepentant Marxist, dedicated to overthrowing one of the biggest democratic mandates in living memory.

Yet, for the moment, my sympathy is with those who feel that the current news agenda is just too much to take. One can even sympathise with Josh Hardie, deputy director general of the CBI, who says businesses are "beyond disillusioned" with the political brinkmanship and impending risk of a no-deal Brexit. We need some order, a sense of direction, clarity – and a modicum of certainty.






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