In the Tory leadership debate on Tuesday 18th June Boris Johnson was challenged about his statement that the UK must leave the EU on the currently agreed date of October 31st, with or without an agreement. Michael Gove argued that if an acceptable deal with the EU was very close but not finalized on October 31st it would be madness to break off further discussion at that point and leave without any deal at all. Jeremy Hunt asked Boris: "What would you say to a sheep farmer in Shropshire that I met whose business would be destroyed by 40 per cent tariffs? He would say, you've got your dream of getting into No. 10, but what about my dream to have a family business?”
If I'd been in Boris's place and had thought quickly enough, which I admit is unlikely, I'd have replied something along these lines:
"I can say two things in reply, if Madame Chairwoman will allow me to finish for once. If a deal is nearly agreed but not quite agreed that would mean it was not yet agreed. And if we then asked the EU for yet another extension, do you know what? With all their new officials in office they'd say, 'Fine. But let's have no more deadlines. You can now have an extension as long as you like.' And the deal would never be finally agreed, and the UK would remain in the EU for ever. And to the Shropshire sheep farmer I would say, 'I fully understand your concerns. However, before we joined the EU this country imported much of its lamb from New Zealand, which is the other side of the world. When we joined the EU the New Zealand sheep farmers lost most of their business with the UK because of EU tariffs, just as you fear you will. But did they have to stop farming and go out of business? No, they found other markets. And you can do the same, because when we leave the EU all the rest of the world will be open to you through trade deals we shall be able to make with other countries. Life moves on and we can all move on with it and prosper if we will accept the challenge."
However, the big problem for Boris, if he manages to win the final round of votes and become the next Prime Minister, is that Parliament is unlikely to accept leaving without a deal. Any attempt by the Government to leave without a deal could trigger a vote of no confidence, and if that were not resolved within a fortnight it would automatically initiate a General Election. What would happen then is anybody's guess. My own guess is that the Conservative, Labour and Brexit parties, and perhaps even the LibDems, would all get similar support.
Boris's best tactic might be to call for a General Election himself on taking office, with a pledge that if a Tory government were re-elected it would leave, deal or no deal, on October 31st. That would kill off the Brexit party votes and ensure that everyone who had originally voted to leave the EU would vote Conservative. With the remain vote split between Labour and LibDems, and loyal Tory voters who wanted to remain either abstaining or voting Tory anyway, Boris should finally get his way.